Saturday, September 25, 2010

Intelligent, Backward Design

It's probably safe to say that in fashioning creation, God had a clear picture of His end products prior to starting. I firmly believe that humans (and all of creation for that matter) did not occur by accident. Rather, we were made in God's image and likeness. We were fearfully made. We were wonderfully made. We were made for a specific purpose or end, and this end was clearly known prior to our creation.

Even if you factor in the theories of Evolution and Natural Selection, God still has a place and His Intelligent Design is easy to experience. Look at any aspect of creation and it's easy to see that Something smarter than a human is responsible. The intricacies of cells and atoms, the complexities of life cycles and our bodily systems-- all point toward God's Intelligent Design. And since it's intelligent, it's also fairly likely that the end was known before He ever began.

Few culinary feasts are created without an idea of the sights, smells and tastes that those who will dine at the table will experience.

Few embark on journeys by plane, car, foot or even boat, without first identifying a destination.

You don't start training for a marathon without an understanding of just how far 26.2 miles really is. Likewise, you don't participate in the race unless you've undergone some sort of training.

While I could go on with other examples to demonstrate earthly examples of having the end in mind before beginning, I'd rather not completely reveal my lack of impulsiveness. In addition, I'd like to get to the purpose for which I started this blog entry: how this relates to Catholic education.

As Catholic educators we must begin with our ends/purposes clearly in sight: to educate life-long Catholics in such a way that they not only contribute to but also positively change society. With these goals in plain view, we can approach our lessons, plans, assessments, extra-curriculars and all that we do so that they further this mission. Anything not advancing this mission should be scrutinized as to whether or not it should be included in the school's agenda. Similarly, simply knowing our objectives as Catholic educators makes it more likely that we'll actually accomplish them.

A similar method must be used regarding instruction-- teachers must begin with the end in mind. Known as "Understanding by Design" or "Backward Planning", this method asks for teachers to start their planning by identifying those concepts they hope students will learn by the time the lesson(s) is(are) over. This approach also moves past checking off a list of standards to imparting enduring understandings, concepts and ideas that are much broader in scope and much more important. Units don't typically end with a chapter test (although they can). Instead, teachers end with an assessment that tests whether or not students are able to use their new knowledge meaningfully.

While much too complex of a technique to adequately cover here, Understanding by Design is successful for the same reason that a recipe produces culinary delights, Mapquest directions and GPS systems get us to our destinations and marathon training plans enable us to complete a distance that toppled Pheidippides.

It may be backward, but in this case doing things backward is smart...even intelligent.