I promised in a tweet exchange with @oldandrewuk that I would blog about the planning process. Below is my thread of replies.
Re: Skills (vs) knowledge There is a distinction between prepositional knowledge (facts) and procedural knowledge (skills). The misconception occurs when educators think of each as completely independent and/or generalize. Skills are knowledge-based but that is a correlation not causation. I may know the structure of a car (knowledge) but not be able to drive it (skill). The opposite is true as well – I may be an excellent driver yet have very little understanding of how a car works, how I can fix it and so forth.
Where teachers are wrong is generalizing. Analyzing historical documents is different from analyzing literature works, for instance. Hence, “skills” (analyzing, comparing etc.) are knowledge-dependent. Prepositional knowledge (facts) alone cannot trigger/develop procedural knowledge (skills). Committing facts to memory is critical but not the final step. I, too, think a strong curriculum is the foundation for effective learning but not the only one. Being “fluent with facts” enables you to do things but only superficially. Knowing Shakespeare’s works does not make you a literary critic. When I plan lessons I have a distinction between what students should know, do and understand. I’ll elaborate in a future blog.
So here we are. Why this distinction, especially between DO and UNDERSTAND? I talked about it here as performance (doing) does not equate understanding so if you are keen on having a bigger picture of these subtle differences, read it.
Back to planning. I work in an IB school where planning is considered critical to drive effective, in-depth learning. Each unit of inquiry is developed around a Central Idea that is intellectually challenging, abstract so as to be valid in any school setting, and open enough to allow for student-driven inquiry.
The example I selected is an inquiry unit under the IB Theme How We Share the Planet:
THEME – Sharing the planet
An inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.
Grade: 2 (second-language learners)
Unit title: Plant Power
Central Idea: Plants are a life sustaining resource for all living things.
What students should KNOW :
– specific scientific vocabulary (i.e. photosynthesis, oxygen, food chain etc.), as well as descriptive vocabulary (when describing plants, habitats etc.)
– different plant names
– specific information about plants (5 Why’s)
– part plants that are used by people (fruit, roots, seeds etc.)
– products made out of plants (cloth, medicine, buildings, fuel, plastic bags etc.)
(Obviously more go here but for the sake of not boring you I chose to restrict that.)
What students should DO:
– answer/ask plant-related questions using prior or newly-constructed knowledge
– elaborate on the processes (i.e. photosynthesis)
– connect information (i.e. for instance, deforestation has great impact on weather, soil, health etc.)
– compare plants (i.e. their structure) etc.
What students should UNDERSTAND:
– the concept of FUNCTION (how plants work)
– the concept of CONNECTION (how plants are connected with weather, environment, people – on all levels, from survival to economy)
– the concept of REFLECTION (How do I know?) and PERSPECTIVE (What do others think?)
Conceptual understanding is the final aim of any inquiry unit and it is built and refined slowly so as these big concepts can be transferred to any other knowledge domain. I will post tomorrow the entire unit of inquiry as it unfolded – maybe it will shed more light into this complex teaching adventure.