CBCI for the Thinking Classroom (CBCI)

What is CBCI?

Many of us grew up with the education practices of direct instruction with independent practice. We were taught to “sit and get” and regurgitate the information back on weekly assessments. 

Concept-based curriculum and instruction(CBCI) has transformed learning to provide more quality and lifelong learning by emphasizing the need for deep understanding of concepts versus simply memorization.  Concept-based curriculum and instruction is a three-dimensional approach that focuses on what the students know, understand, and can do after a lesson while traditional instruction focuses more on what students know and can do. Developing a deep understanding, the missing key in traditional curriculum, is essential in developing critically thinking adults and lifelong learners. 

Want to know more? Check out video below on teaching conceptual understanding.

Why CBCI and How It Has Benefited My Classroom

As an educator, CBCI has influenced my thinking and evolved my style of teaching to best benefit my students’ needs. “Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom” highlights some of the reasons why CBCI is so beneficial for this generation of learners. 

With CBCI, less is more. 

Often, as educators, we find ourselves in the struggle of trying to cover all of the standards with limited time to do so. CBCI encourages focusing on fewer items allowing time for students to focus on the information in detail so they are likely to remember it. (Sousa, 2011a, as cited in Erickson et. al, 2017, p.10) Curriculum should be organized in “important, transferable understandings” (Erickson et. al,  2017, p.10).

As a classroom teacher of 14 years, I have seen the importance of focusing on critical concepts and using them to dig deep and ensure my students not only know that information but understand it well enough to teach others and apply it to other disciplines. 

CBCI empowers student ownership by promoting creativity and critical thinking. 

When students take an active role in their learning, they learn and retain more because they are being personally invested and their motivation increases. (Erickson et. al, 2017). CBCI design focuses on merging lower and higher levels of thinking, also known as synergistic thinking. “Understanding requires knowledge, but goes beyond it.” (Ritchhart, 2015, as cited in Erickson et. al,  2017, p.10). Developing creative thinking skills in the classroom is essential. 

Creative thinking is the starting point of the inventions and advancements around us. Erickson, Lanning, and French sums it up best by saying “The future of our world depends on the marriage of creative, critical, conceptual and reflective thinking” (Erickson et. al, 2017, p.10)

Challenging my students to be able to explain their thinking to others, write explanations, model their thinking, and teach others math concepts instead of just providing “the right answer”  has been a powerful transition in the classroom from me being the keeper of knowledge to becoming a facilitator. This experience has not only transformed my students but also allowed me to see concepts in different ways and gain another perspective. I find my students pushing themselves further to discover multiple ways to approach a problem rather than settling for one way which sparks the curiosity of others and total engagement of the class.

CBCI develops transferable skills promoting retention of knowledge. 

CBCI aids the development of skills that transfer to other contexts. Through CBCI design, students learn critical thinking, problem solving, and inquiry skills that they can apply to future situations. (Erickson et. al, 2017)

As I incorporate CBCI into the classroom more, I have noticed my students acquiring more advanced skills and communicating their learning at a higher level. My students are able to make connections between subjects and recall information longer.

My Unit Plan

Unit Title: Ecosytems: We are all in this together

Concepts: Interactions, Relationships, Interdependence

Topic: Food chains, Food webs, Invasive species

Unit Overview: My CBCI unit will be on ecosystems. My students will explore how organisms depend on each other for energy and how invasive species can affect ecosystems and the flow of energy. My students will make personal connections by finding examples of these situations in Ohio.  My students will explore ecosystems through dissecting pellets, creating terrariums, and other hand-on activities that will give them an authentic representation of ecosystems.

Challenges that I anticipate

The challenges that I anticipate are language barriers that are present with my current group. My population of students includes ELL students, 3 of which are emergent English speakers. Despite this challenge, deep understanding is still the goal. I will anticipate this challenge by being prepared with a visuals and translations that may be helpful. I will also provide several opportunites to engage in the content in an interactive and hands-on purposeful way. I will utilize their ELL peers to help with translations and also advocate for additional resources and funds that would be helpful in fully executing this plan.

CBCI and TCE threshold concepts

Curriculum is more than standards, textbooks, or courses of study

  • CBCI encourages students to transfer their knowledge to other contexts.
  • CBCI promotes higher order thinking skills.
  • The focus is on understanding rather than just memorization.
  • CBCI is idea-centered to develop intellect and critical and creative thinking.

In my classroom, I have learned that our best conversations occur when we reach beyond the standards and textbooks. In order to develop our students into successful adults, they must be able to think for themselves.

Curriculum is co-constructed

  • CBCI puts students in the driver’s seat and allows teachers to take a facilator role.
  • Students share their thinking through inquiry based lessons allowing students to learn from their teacher and peers as well as the teacher to learn from the students.
  • Students bring their background knowledge to the table as opposed to being seen as a blank slate.
  • Learning is collaborative.

As a teacher, I look forward to learning from my students just as much as they learn from me and their peers. Providing opportunities for students to collaborate, reflect, and modify their thinking after effective feedback has transformed the dynamic of my classroom and empowered my students.

Want more information? Check out these blogs



Link to Twitter https://x.com/Mrs_Lampley/status/1708330820484648968?s=20

Link to Pinterest https://pin.it/6doNiTY


Erickson, H., Lanning, L., & French, R. (2017). Concept-Based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom. Corwin, https://doi.org/10.4135/9781506355382

Posted in Concept-Based, Cooperative Learning, Making Thinking Visible, Project-Based Learning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction (CBCI)

What is CBCI?

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction (CBCI) is curriculum and instruction that focuses on intellectual development, mindful learning, and creative expression in order for a learner to develop a deeper meaning of content taught to them. The purpose of CBCI is to foster higher-level thinking and create bridges that allow content to transfer from one context to another in order to help learners develop meaning into their learning. Critical thinking is a major component in CBCI because it requires learners to to examine factual information critically, relate new learning to prior knowledge, and see patterns and connections across content.

If you would like to watch a quick video that provides a little more information about CBCI, please check out Jennifer Chang Wathall YouTube Channel! She has some videos that discuss CBCI, as well as some other great teaching information videos. You can also follow her on Twitter @ twitter.com/JenniferWathall.

Three Influential CBCI Points

1.Synergistic Thinking: Creating complex thinking by creating synergy between the simpler and more complex processing centers in the brain. This requires the mind to process information on two cognitive levels- the factual skill level (lower) and the conceptual level (higher).

2.Integration of Thinking: Thinking that rises above the facts and basic skills to recognize patterns and connections that occur in interdisciplinary or intradisciplinary contexts. This must be considered when designing a curriculum and instruction.

3.Knowledge and Process Based Units: Organizing units around authentic experiences that mirror the types of knowledge and processes students will continue to face is crucial for preparing students for their future.

4.Transfer Learning: Deeper understanding and higher-order thinking are the result of one’s ability to transfer knowledge and skills to a new or similar context. CBCI is designed to facilitate high-road transfer that can go from one context to another when there is a connection between past and current learning. To see more information about the image above, click the link to visit the tweet. https://twitter.com/ProLearnInt/status/1432121462450634756

    The Importance of Teachers Incorporating CBCI

    As educators, our goal is to inspire students to be the best version of themselves and prepare them to face the complex world of the 21st century. Incorporating CBCI practices into our curriculum gives us the opportunity to prepare our students for the real world by providing a powerful framework for the development of intellectual beings. CBCI promotes opportunities for students to construct deep understandings of the content being taught to them. We want students to build understandings based off of our teachings, but also understand how they arrived at these understandings to foster meaningful learning. By focusing on the development of a students’ deeper conceptual understanding of a given content, you provide students with meaningful information that will assist them as they get older. Designing and implementing CBCI, encourages synergistic interplay between the concrete and abstract concepts, which allow students to have increase motivation to learn and become personally invested in their learning.

    Check out this twitter post about the importance of CBCI!


    Why CBCI for Students?

    In order for students to be successful in the world outside of school, they must be able to think critically and make connections across multiple contexts. To make these connections, students need to systematically build knowledge, conceptual understandings, and processes and skills throughout their school years. Motivation can be a major impact on a students’ learning and CBCI can inspire them to think independently and creatively. When teachers encourage students to think for themselves, students feel a sense of personal satisfaction due to the development of a meaningful connection with their learning. Students who are able to think at complex levels across multiple contexts will develop deeper understandings that align more with concepts and generalizations than simple facts and skills. CBCI allows students to develop the understandings that I have listed above and will help students function in today’s society.

    Check out the following link, where Sarah Plews provides her insight on the importance of incorporating CBCI components into today’s curriculum and the benefits students gain from CBCI. https://guide.fariaedu.com/concept-based-learning/part-2/why-concept-based-learning

    How CBCI Influences my Teaching

    As I learn more about CBCI, I realize the importance of incorporating it into the curriculum I teach. Here are three ways that CBCI influences my teaching:

    1. I use a Notice and Wonder routine when introducing a new read-aloud or math concept. During this time, students work in pairs to share what they have learned so far and create questions that the class focuses on throughout the entire time working with a specific content.
    2. I incorporate multiple subjects within a lesson in order to create pathways across content areas. For example, when learning about numbers 0-10, we incorporate counting picture books and then students develop a mini picture book of their own while continuing to work on counting to 10.
    3. Throughout the lesson, I give ample time for students to work collaboratively with their peers. I truly believe that students learn best through hands-on activities, especially when working with others.

    My Work in Progress Kindergarten CBCI Unit Plan

    For my CBCI Unit, I will create a unit plan that is focused around students’ writing process of an animal narrative piece. In this unit, students will be expected to write narrative piece that is centered around an animal that was taught to them from several read-alouds. The books will be a mixture of fictional and non-fiction. There are several components that are either missing or incomplete. The following is a rough draft of my future CBCI Unit.

    1. Unit Title: Writing an Animal Themed Narrative (Kindergarten)
    2. Conceptual Lens: Depicting Story Elements in a Narrative
    3. Web Strands: Reading Comprehension (Story Elements), Writing, Animals, Purposeful Drawing
    4. Unit Web: Possible standards to be discussed: Reading (RL.K.3, RL.K.10, RI.K.1, RF.K.1, RF.K.3), Writing (W.K.2, W.K.3, W.K.5), Language (L.K.1, L.K.2), Science (K.LS.1), Fine Arts/Visual Arts (2PR, 2RE). Texts include both fiction and nonfiction books focusing on animal themes. I will continue to work on the unit web as I start to relate the standards to the actual lesson plans and learn more about how to create unit webs.
    5. Generalizations: a) Writers create narratives to tell a story which may serve as a form of an entertainment, educational, or inspirational piece. b) Narratives can be fictional or based on facts. c) Writers include several story elements (characters, setting, problem, events, solution) when they write a narrative to allow a reader to understand what is happening in the story. d) Events in a story must be written or read in a logical order. e) Animals, even in a fictional story, have basic characteristics that need to be mentioned.
    6. Possible Guiding/Essential Questions: Factual Questions: Why do authors put events in a sequential order?, What story elements must a narrative have?, What are some characteristics of animals that you have learned about in this unit? Conceptual Questions: Why can you write animals as having human characteristics? Debatable Questions: TBD
    7. Critical Content: TBD
    8. Key Skills: a) Modeling a Story Map- identifying story elements, editing elements, sequencing events in a logical order. b) Interactive Writing- create a class narrative, collaborating between peers, revising elements, brainstorming original ideas, bring in current knowledge/experiences. c) Character Designing- The narrative includes animals with their characteristics. Students have the option to give their animal characters human characteristics. d) Use new knowledge from the unit and their imaginations to create a story that include pictures to support their words. 
    9. Culminating Assessment Task: TBD
    10.  Learning Experiences: TBD
    11. Unit Overview: Writers have the ability to use their imagination to create fun and informative narratives. During this unit, you will learn about different farm animals in various ways. We will see how authors depict animals in both nonfiction and fictional stories. We will examine artwork pieces that portray animals and how they live. After learning all of this, you will become writers yourselves! Your job will be to write a narrative story that features farm animals as the main characters. These animals can even have human characteristics. You will work with your peers in developing each other’s narratives. At the end of the unit, you will present your narrative to the class.
    12.  Teacher Resources & Notes: 3-4 books (f or nf), 1-2 visual artwork pieces, 1-2 supportive musical songs, story map pdf, K writing pdf that includes both writing lines and illustration boxes

    I believe the most challenging part of this CBCI unit will be making sure that I give my students enough exploration and independent learning moments. Many Kindergarteners enter school with very little background in reading, writing, and other fundamental skills. Due to this, I feel that sometimes I need to have a lot of explicit teaching because they have not been taught basic skills yet. I need to make sure that I am teaching facts and skills, but at the same time allowing them to make their own meaningful connections with learning experiences.

    TCE Thresholds Concepts Connected to CBCI

    Threshold Concept #1: Curriculum is more than standards, textbooks, or courses of study.

    • Content taught in schools must reflect situations and skills that will allow students to be successful as the enter adulthood. The skills we must teach our students, must go beyond the facts listed and inspire students to develop conceptual understandings and create a synergy between the lower and conceptual levels of thinking.
    • When students make meaningful connections with their learning, they are able to incorporate knowledge they have attained and apply it to complex situations they will face. Once students make meaningful connections, they will be able to make decisive and logical decisions about social justices.
    • At Mt. Healthy, we strive for students to have their own voice throughout their learning experiences. Both our reading and math curriculum encourage students to complete notices and wonders about their learning, explorative learning, and partner discussions of ‘how’ and ‘why’.
    • As an educator to teach CBCI successfully, I must give my students the opportunity to create those meaningful connections with their learning, instead of me telling them why it is important for them to learn the skills being taught.
    • Check out this blog that provides insight on a workshop that discusses the importance of inquiry-based learning and how we need to switch our mindset from thinking beyond the facts to conceptually thinking! https://www.thinkconceptually.com/blog/archives/02-2019

    Threshold Concept #2: Teachers and students engage in critical-consciousness.

    • Sometimes in the education field, standards and state tests can take over what others believe teachers should educate students on. However, teachers need to be preparing students for life outside of school, where they can solve real world problems. In order to do this, conceptual and critical thinking need to be embedded into our curriculum.
    • CBCI develops both conceptual and critical thinking, which allows students to prepare for complex social issues they will eventually face in the outside world. The perspectives and learning that students receive in school, will prepare students to develop their own views of society and social issues.
    • In order for me to make sure that my students are engaged in critical-consciousness, I must make sure that I am aware of my students’ backgrounds, experiences, and previous learning. Once I incorporate and understand who my students are, then I will be able to foster deeper levels of understanding and design cross-content lessons to make sure they are prepared for the real world.
    • Check out the link below to read more about the importance of critical-consciousness in education. In this article, it describes critical thinking, dialogue, and problem solving as key components to critical-consciousness. Which all three are components of CBCI! https://uncagedfhs.org/11124/opinion/defining-critical-consciousness-and-its-importance-in-education/
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    CBCI for the Thinking Classroom 

    As an educator, I agree with the need to tie classroom instruction to practical applications. CBCI emphasizes this because students are better able to understand the relevance of what they are learning as a result, and learning becomes more meaningful. Also, in CBCI, the teacher’s position changes from that of the sole information source to that of the facilitator and guide. Students can actively engage with subjects and build their comprehension in the environments that teachers design. This is important, especially for students in junior high. They are at the age where they start taking on responsibility for their own education. There is less handholding and parental involvement. As a teacher, I want to guide my students to learn, not directly hand them the tools to mindlessly get a task done. 

    Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction centers on a notion or concept that directs a unit in education. CBCI gives educators the chance to go deeply into a subject rather than just convey a concept’s surface level. The goal of CBCI is to give students the chance to deeply and purposefully interact with the subject matter. This is a new way of teaching and learning that puts an emphasis on ideas instead of just facts and skills. Concepts are the big ideas, overarching themes, and universal principles that connect different pieces of information. CBCI puts these ideas at the center of education and pushes students to explore, ask questions, and try to figure out how the world works from their point of view. The top three reasons educators, parents, students, etc. should be excited about CBCI are that it enhances student critical thinking skills, equips students with skills applicable to the real world, and prepares students to face challenges in the future. 

    I plan to create a strong argumentative unit plan that will aid students in the 7th grade in developing their argumentation abilities as well as a deeper comprehension of the concept and its application to their daily lives. The process to develop this unit plan will take some time. Some of the factors I will consider to align this unit with CBCI are listed below. 

    • Start by determining the argumentation unit’s main premise or central concept. 
    • Create precise learning goals that are in line with the idea and enduring understandings. These objectives should specify what these abilities are for each student.
    • Choose themes or topics that will interest and be of interest to 7th graders.
    • Decide how to evaluate students’ comprehension at various points in the unit. 
    • Give students the chance to conduct research, engage in critical thought, and reflect. 
    • Cater to individual needs and provide differentiated activities and assessments.
    • Finish the unit with a culminating activity that enables students to use what they have learned. 
    • Honor kids’ accomplishments and encourage them to share what they have learned. 

    I think the most challenging part of this unit is the hands-off facilitating approach. It is easy for teachers to use direct instruction because it has been put into practice for years. I am excited for this challenge because good educators do not need to use much direct instruction for their students to learn and thrive. 

    Threshold Concept #1 

    The curriculum is more than standards, textbooks, and courses of study.

    • By putting concepts, practical inquiry, and transferrable skills at the center of education, CBCI transforms the way that people traditionally view the curriculum. It changes the curriculum from a list of standards and textbooks to a dynamic, student-centered learning experience that prepares students not just for tests but for a lifetime of meaningful, deep understanding and critical thought.
    • At my school, it is encouraged for students to make mistakes. Administration harps on growth, and growth happens when you learn from your errors. Strictly teaching the standards and expecting students to learn is terrible teaching. 
    • In my community, people want young learners to have basic knowledge but be able to conquer real-world challenges. Following this threshold, if we follow a curriculum that is more than standards, textbooks, and courses of study, students will thrive in the community and as learners. 
    • The twitter link below shows putting theory to practice in a CBCI workshop!


    Threshold Concept #2

    Social justice requires awareness, action, activism, and practice.

    • When CBCI is part of the curriculum, it not only helps students understand ideas about social justice, but it also gives them the tools they need to do something about it. It helps people learn how to think critically, have empathy, and feel like they have a role in fixing social problems. In this way, CBCI is in line with the ideas of social justice education and helps students become more aware, take action, become activists, and put their knowledge into practice.
    • At my school, we encourage and celebrate diversity. Every day, the principal ends announcements with “Work hard and be kind.” As an educator, I value all of the differences that my students bring to the table and encourage them to be good human beings. We learn from each other and from different backgrounds and perspectives. 
    • In my community, there are different events that celebrate diversity. Cincinnati is a diverse city and there are some great events that take place to honor different cultures, identities, religions, etc. Kings Local incorporated a culture blueprint that aligns with this threshold. The link is attached below.
    • https://www.kingslocal.net/media/culture/KingsStrong%20Culture%20Blueprint%20FINAL.pdf
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    Project-Based Learning Method: Foreign Language Travel Guide

    Project-Based Learning Method 1: Foreign Language Travel Guide

    The world is becoming as diverse as ever before and it this awareness has created a need to understand from one another’s differences and multicultural backgrounds. Our inter-connectivity doesn’t just exist online, however, as traveling outside of one’s home country isn’t as uncommon as it once was. This increases the importance to understand different languages to communicate properly, thus when traveling it’s always efficient to carry around an organized travel guide.

    For my project-based learning idea, students would be required to create a short 1-2 page travel itinerary to use as though they were traveling abroad to a foreign country in which the language being taught in the classroom is a common language there. Students would be required to section off their travel guide with:

    • A day’s activities planned, including what times their flights are, places they’d like to see, restaurants they’d like to visit, and other attractions worth mentioning to the student in that target language using targeted vocabulary words in a ‘travelling abroad’ unit taught
    • A variety of common questions or phrases in that foreign language that can be used at an airport and outside of an airport. For example: “What time does flight 421 take off?” or “Where’s the nearest bathroom?”
    • A short section of how to convert from USD to that country’s respected currency
    • Common foods, traditions, or other miscellaneous ideas about that country that might be critical to keep in mind while traveling

    This project-based learning activity encourages students to get creative with things that would seem most useful to them if they were ever in a position to travel to that country. To encourage student-learning, it would be allowed for students to collaborate with one another on how to organize or phrase their ideas into their final project, however each student would need to individually design their own travel guide to turn in.

    PBL components would be highlighted in the following ways:

    Real-World Connection: Globalization has allowed us to become more advanced with the way we move and our ways of communication should follow. With populations on the rise and over 6,000 spoken languages worldwide today, understanding is critical to how we see one another.

    Core Learning: Students have the opportunity to gain knowledge about a country’s background, simple yet critical phrases or words to use while traveling, and promoting creativity while exercising their language skills

    Collaboration: Students perform this project individually, however they are encouraged to branch off their ideas and to ask questions with their peers to better understand how to approach such a project

    Student-Driven: Students are given a level of freedom here to pick a place to travel and areas they’d like to visit, while also allowing them to include ideas into their travel guides they deem would fit the project as if it were to actually take place

    Multifaceted Assessment: Following the end of the project, students would be given a short ‘I can…’ assessment in which students place check marks next to learning goals they should be able to reach once the project is over. Such statements can include:

    1. I can…use vocabulary words from this unit when travelling abroad
    2. I can…compare my culture to the target culture
    3. I can…use the language to present information to an audience
    4. I can…use the language to engage in interpersonal communication

    Such a project allows for students to be engaged in what they are learning because it relates to real-world problems in which they might be faced with a similar situation while promoting student freedom and creativity to learn within a developed curriculum.

    Lesson Plan:

    1. Introduce a ‘traveling’ unit to your world language class in which certain and critical vocabulary words are highlighted for students to use/remember
    2. Allow for students to think of a part of the world in which that language is commonly spoken and would be interesting for that student to travel to before introducing the project
    3. Pass out a list of important/required information needed for a travel guide along with any additional ideas that students might want to add themselves (as outlined above)
    4. Allow students time in class to research what they’d like to put on their travel guide/ask questions and collaborate with other students. Recommended time would be 1-2 days in class, although time outside of class would be permitted
    5. Allow students to come in the next day with their printed information/travel guide to turn in
    6. Have students perform an ‘I can…’ statement assessment sheet to understand where students feel after creating their projects

    For more information on PBL, this video explains it in further detail. I also referred to this  website that gave me some ideas of projects I could use (before later revising it to fit how I would use it in my own classroom) and finally this website that specializes in world languages that gave some examples of some ‘I can’ statements to use in the multifaceted assessment.

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    Prison Abolition? With Project Based Learning

    Photo by Nicholas Ganz

    Project Based Learning offers students the opportunity to  contextualize their education to discover the possibilities of addressing everyday issues that impact them. Additionally, PBL can equip students with research skills,  critical thinking opportunities, teambuilding opportunities, and groundwork to establish portfolios.  This seems like an optimal tool for students to utilize when discussing the growing movement to abolish prisons.


    Challenging Question:

    Should the prison system in the United States be abolished?


    Sustained Inquiry:

    • Step 1 Using the Question Focus process students will be presented with the following quote to stimulate questions. Students will respond to the quote below: “I heard Patrisse Cullors from the Black Lives Matter Global Network say a while ago that somebody had to actually first imagine prisons and the police themselves in order to create them. Everything you see in the world—somebody thought of it first. I think that’s true and I think that’s right. I also think that once things are actualized into the world and exist, you can’t imagine how the world functioned before it.” – Miriam Kaba, Prison Abolitionist
      • Step 2: Students produce questions using the 4 rules
        • ” The four rules are: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; write down every question exactly as it was stated; and change any statements into questions. Before students start generating their questions, the teacher introduces the rules and asks the students to think about and discuss possible challenges in following them. Once the students get to work, the rules provide a firm structure for an open-ended thinking process. Students are able to generate questions and think more broadly than they would have if they had not been guided by the rules.”


    From <http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/27_5/helarticle/teaching-students-to-ask-their-own-questions_507#home (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.>

    • Step 3: Students Improve Their Questions.
      • Students will juxtapose open and closed ended questions by shifting questions to the opposite.
    • Step 4: Students Prioritize Their Questions.
      • Students will identify 2 questions they want to use towards their research.
    • Step 5: Students and Teachers Decide the next exercise.
      • An example that could work for this particular discussion is

    Advocate Decision-Making Debate – Students are placed into groups of three and assigned a topic to debate. One person is in support of the topic, one is against, and one acts as the judge. The judge, or “Decision maker,” will create a list of questions to ask the advocates, which students will use as their debate outline. Then the judge will decide at the end of the debate who the winner is. This can be done in front of the class or in groups at the same time.


    From <http://www.teachhub.com/classroom-activities-how-hold-classroom-debate (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.>


    • Current public discourse calling for the abolition of ICE meet the threshold for authenticity.


    Student Voice and Choice

    • This will be incorporated throughout the process. Any Focus Questions will be guided by student interests and ultimately, questions and style of presentation will be student driven.




    Critique & Revision:

    Students will revise and critique work throughout this period using a speed dating peer review technique as found in Chronicle of Education. Students will identify one of their project (e.g research arguments) and will be given specific feedback on how to improve in under 4 minutes. Students will have to briefed in advance on what constructive feedback is useful for this an continued exercises.


    Public Product:

    • The final product will be a recording of the debate and an executive summary of information about the carceral state in America.
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    The Declaration of Independence: Standards Vs. Reality


    Students work to understand constitutional rights and social justice over the yearlong social studies course. This specific learning experience will focus around the question of wheather or not the Declaration of Independence, which established an original vision for what our country was intended to be-a society of equals furnished with unalienable rights, and controlling the power to direct government, is actually fulfilling its founding ideals. Students will explore the gaps between this historic model and reality. Students will be encouraged to explore and gain perceptions of history and present life In America.

    The Declaration of Independence-What is it? (Key Knowledge/Understanding)

    Show documentary or video discussing the Declaration of Independence. Display a chart with the text of the Declaration of Independence so that the class can read, internalize, and digest each segment of the document.

    Fun Facts Game:  

    Incorporate fun facts about the Declaration of Independence to keeps students engaged and interested:

    • Did you know a first printing of the Declaration of Independence was found at a flea market?
    • [In 1989, a Philadelphia financial analyst bought an old painting (a depiction of a country scene) for $4 at a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, mostly because he liked the frame. He liked it even more once he found that the painting housed a rare and valuable document.
    • The buyer was investigating a tear in the canvas, and the frame fell apart in his hands when he attempted to detach it from the painting, leading him to discover a folded document which appeared to be an old copy of the Declaration of Independence stored between the canvas and its wood backing. After a friend who collected Civil War memorabilia advised him to have it appraised, he learned that the document was in fact a rare original Dunlap broadside, one of 500 official copies from the first printing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Only twenty-three similar copies were known to exist before this find, of which a mere two were privately owned]
    • Did you know that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4th?
    • [On July 1, 1776, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, and on the following day 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor of Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence. The delegates then spent the next two days debating and revising the language of a statement drafted by Thomas Jefferson. On July 4(Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, and as a result the date is celebrated as Independence Day. Nearly a month would go by, however, before the actual signing of the document took place. First, New York’s delegates didn’t officially give their support until July 9 because their home assembly hadn’t yet authorized them to vote in favor of independence. Next, it took two weeks for the Declaration to be “engrossed”—written on parchment in a clear hand. Most of the delegates signed on August 2, but several—Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean and Matthew Thornton—signed on a later date. (Two others, John Dickinson and Robert R. Livingston, never signed at all.) The signed parchment copy now resides at the National Archives in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, alongside the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.]
    • There is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence..

    [In the movie “National Treasure,” Nicholas Cage’s character claims that the back of the Declaration contains a treasure map with encrypted instructions from the founding fathers, written in invisible ink. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is, however, a simpler message, written upside-down across the bottom of the signed document: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” No one knows who exactly wrote this or when, but during the Revolutionary War years the parchment was frequently rolled up for transport. It’s thought that the text was added as a label.]

    Foundation Questions: (Student Learning Goals)

    • What were the main reasons for the Declaration of Independence?
    • Is the Declaration of Independence a legally binding document?
    • What are the rights of the people?

    Guiding Questions: (Challenging Problem/Question) (Reflection)

    • Is America a society of equals?
    • Do we live in a true democracy?
    • Do we all have the rights that we deserve?
    • What rights are defined in the Declaration of Independence?
    • Does the Declaration of Independence still have meaning for Americans?
    • What are the gaps between these principles and the reality that we see?
    • In ways in which we can strive to create equality and justice for all?
    • If we could amend or add items what would they be? Do you think the document needs changed or is it a societal issue?
    • What are your ideas that will work to get back America back to he principles stated in the Declaration of Independence?
    •  Can you think of ways within your community that these ideas might work to enhance lives for everyone?

    Project: (Student Voice and Choice) (Authenticity) 

    Each student will create a community based social justice project in which they will work to create equity and fairness in an area that it may be lacking. Find a social justice problem within your community that requires action and create a plan to assist with this problem. Each student will present his or her idea in the classroom.

    You may present your idea in any way you see fit. Be creative and clearly explain your message.



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    Project Based Learning – Whalen

    Global Poetry Unit


    This will be a project I’d implement after my global poetry unit.  In this unit we do a standard poetry study, but also incorporate poets from all over the world and study how their culture/background influenced their poetry.  This will be a partner project (or small groups, depending on class size), and will culminate in a written project packet detailing a global poet, an analysis of their poem, a theme, and a connection to American culture. The idea is to show that people in other countries and cultures share the same themes (hopes, dreams, fears, etc.) as we do, even if they express that in completely different ways.

    • Challenging Problem or Questions

    What common themes can be found in global poetry?

    • Sustained Inquiry

    Students will find a global poet and choose a poem they write.  They will then inquire as to how the poet’s culture/background influenced the poem.  They will also identify the theme of the poem, which will lead – when the whole class has finished their projects – to a discussion on common global themes.  Each team will contribute a piece to create the whole picture for this discussion.

    Students can look for different global poets using a variety of options, including finding poet pages on Facebook and Twitter.  For example, students could get author background information from their pages, like Khaled Hosseini and Carmen Jimenez Smith:



    • Authenticity

    This is authentic because it will require research.  Students must find a poet and poem on their own.  They will find background info about the culture and life of the poet as well.  All of this will be formal research the students will do, including citing their information.  This is authentic because they are practicing their research skills, credibility checking, and data compiling.  This will culminate in a written project, so their writing skills will be practiced as well.

    • Student Voice and Choice

    Student’s have voice and choice in this project because they will be able to choose any global poet they want, from any country (other than the US and England).  They also have the choice of any poem that poet has written, which could be in the hundreds of options.  If they start with one poet/poem and decide they don’t like it, they are always free to switch to something they feel more passionate about.

    • Reflection

    Students will present their finished projects, which is an excellent reflection tool.  They will also reflect along the way in informal discussions we have on work days in class.  I will start (or end) each work day (3 work days, spaced out over time) with a 3-5 minute reflection time, where I will give students a guiding reflection question and give them time to ponder how it relates to their project.

    • Critique and Revision

    This will be a partner project, so along the way each team can work together to peer review each other.  In addition to that, I will have one day of formal peer revision in class.  In this, I will have rubrics and peer checklists for students to use while editing another team’s project.  This will ensure each team gets useful and meaningful feedback.

    • Public Product                                     

    Student will present their project in a formal report folder.  It will be about 5-6 pages long (author background, poem, annotated poem, analysis of poetic devices, analysis of theme, connection to American culture).  We will present these in a gallery walk, in which one member of the team stays with the project while the others go look at the other projects, then switch.  This is so that each kid can see each project, and can ask questions/get additional explanations from one of the kids that created the project.  After this we will have a formal discussion about the common themes they found in global poetry.

    I could also put these up for display in the school’s library, then even the public library.  The school’s Instagram account would be a great way to advertise – I’d snap of picture of the projects to let the students know they are there!  (I want to add the link, but Instagram is currently down!)


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    PBL – Designing A Program for Matching Tour Guides with Families

    Designing A Program for Matching Tour Guides with Families

    Objective: create a program or system that allows tour guides to match up with families of similar interests

    Essential Project Design Elements:

    1. Challenging problem or question:
      How can we improve our “breakout” techniques and develop a process that allows real connections between prospective families and students to be made?
    2. Sustained inquiry
      • Interview conducted by tour guides with prospective families about how they tour experience could be improved
      • Surveys sent out after each tour
    3. Authenticity
      The authenticity on this project will come with using technology. The students will be allowed to choose what program they would like to use to create a “matching system.” This project is to better the experience of the prospective families AND guides by determining a commonality between them so meaningful and memorable connections can be made.
      *I will allow them to experiment with programming systems and guide them with questions like “could you use excel with sorting data?” “What other online sources have we consulted before?”
    4. Student voice and choice
      • This project is run by students because the outcome is FOR the students
      • They will be the voice and representatives for the objective
    5. Reflection
      • Personal Blog Assignment
        Students will be encouraged to share their thoughts on a blog throughout the project duration. Using a blog allows growth to be documented for the student’s and supervisor’s reference.
        *I think it’s really important for the students, especially, to see a visual representation of their progress.
    6. Critique and Revision
      Launch Demonstration with Admission Staff 

      • All tours guide students will demonstrate how to use newly developed system. Immediately following, Admission Staff will give feedback and revisions will be made as needed.

    7. Public Product

    • Launch – Families will be able to match with a guide that has similar interests or is from the same hometown for a more personal tour experience!


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    Project Based Learning: Third Graders seek to Enrich Senior Living

    PBL Lesson Idea: Third Graders seeking to Enrich Senior Living

    Significant ContentThird Graders in an ELA class will hear from local senior living communities of current needs to engage elderly in meaningful activities. They will explore the resources currently available in the these communities and brainstorm additional ideas to add to the community. They will create a project to showcase their new ideas for the community and various clients that may choose to live here.

    21st Century Competencies

    CCR Reading Standards

    1. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; provide a summary or thorough analysis of the text, including the appropriate components.
    2. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
    3. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    4. Assess how point of view, perspective, or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
    5. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*

    CCR Writing Standards

    1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    2. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    3. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
    4. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
    5. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

    CCR Speaking and Listening Standards

    1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    3. Evaluate a speaker’s perspective, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
    4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

    CCR Language

    1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

    In-Depth Inquiry – “Many elderly live on fixed incomes, do not have someone to look out for them, and may be living in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. The number of people reaching the status of elderly is increasing.  Although countries differ as to what percentage of their population is elderly right now, the US’s elderly population will double in 25 years.  According to an article in the New York Times, the number of children under 15 will be outnumbered by the elderly by 2050, across the world.” – from penniesof time.com

    Why on Earth do I bring this up?  We need to be more active in caring for our elderly, and we need to teach our children to do the same.  I have lived in several communities where I went weeks and did not see a single elderly person. As I am being more deliberate with my boys on reaching out to others, I realize that this is a shame. My boys need to feel comfortable around the elderly.  Not only that, they need to learn the value that the elderly bring to society and our communities.

    Students will discuss the following questions from doinggoodtogether.org

    Talk about the issue.

    • Does it seem important to visit older people? Why?
    • What do you think you can learn from having friends of many different ages?
    • How would you feel if you couldn’t walk fast or couldn’t get around to visit your friends?
    • Sometimes seniors, whether they are living in institutions or independently, get lonely. Have you ever felt lonely? What helped you feel better?
    • Do you have any older friends or family members you’d like to share kindness with? Consider making a card or baking a treat to share and going for a visit.

    Driving Question- How can I as a student, help enrich the lives of elders living around me?

    Need to Know

    Students will read 2-3 picture books and analyze relationships between the children and the elderly characters of the books. This site offers a list of 13 picture books to choose from and rational for involving kids with elders. https://www.doinggoodtogether.org/bhf-book-lists/picture-books-about-aging

    Students will fill out a Book Report organizer about each book.


    Printable 3rd grade book report organizers: http://www.canbum.net/cdn/14/1990/843/3rd-grade-book-report-template_253565.png


    Students will explore the differences in senior living including retirement homes, assisted living and nursing homes. They will fill out a graphic organizer to list the characteristics of each community.




    Retirement Home: http://www.mapleknoll.org/retirementliving.php

    Assisted Living: http://www.mapleknoll.org/assistedliving.php

    Nursing Home: http://www.mapleknoll.org/skillednursing.php


    Voice and Choice

    Students will identify needs of the elderly and brainstorm new ideas they can participate in by exploring elements of this site: http://penniesoftime.com/service-projects-to-help-the-elderly. They will write their ideas on a separate graphic organizer as seen here.

    Students will work in partners to create a brochure, poster, or storybook to showcase their ideas of enriching senior lives in either a retirement community, assisted living facility, or nursing home. They can research and plan their project in partners, but each student must be responsible for 3 ideas written in paragraph form. Example: Gardening, Writing Thank You Cards, or Pet Visits.

    Students will create a persuasive essay answering the following question: Is it important to pay attention to elderly people and help them enjoy life?


    Critique and Revision – Students will peer edit the paragraphs for their brochure/poster/or storybook before transferring them to their final their projects. Peer editing will identify grammar and spelling mistakes. They will conference with the teacher 2 times before the project is complete. One of these sessions will be early to approve the plan students have come up with. The second session will be to double check after they’ve peer edited.
    Public Audience – Students will present their brochure/poster/storybook to visitors from the three senior living centers we will study. These may be employees of the centers and/or residents. Persuasive essays will be on display in the hallways during the week the visitors will be coming.

    Reflection: Students will be encouraged to choose one of the ideas from their project to do with seniors at Maple Knoll Village. The teacher can arrange a class field trip with pre-approved activities with residents, or the teacher can send parents contact information for Maple Knoll so students can go with their families. Teachers should put up a bulletin board of pictures taken during these visits and hang up student and resident reflection blurbs about the experience.

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    How do our cultural identities affect the way we experience the world? 5th grade PBL unit

    For context, I teach in a suburban school district that is very culturally diverse. Our school does a great job of naming the diversity but not celebrating it. This unit aims to provide space for students to dig into their own identities and to consider those of their peers. The bolded parts are BIE’s project design elements.

    Driving question: How do our cultural identities affect the way we experience the world?

    Unit details: Students will read and write to understand themselves and others around them. Initially, they will begin the work by reflecting on themselves and the characters in their literature circle books. Eventually, an emphasis will be placed on cross-cultural dialogue as students develop projects collaboratively to understand one another’s “culture” (defining culture broadly will also be important work, here).

    The video below is helpful for expanding students’ notions of culture. I’ve used it before and students respond to it well, seamlessly integrating the ideas from it into their thinking.

    Literature circle groups will read one of the following: Inside out and Back Again by Thannah Lai, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, or Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.

    Key knowledge, understanding, & success skills: Students will…

    • use information in a fictional story to make inferences about the character(s)
    • develop and adjust working definitions of “culture”
    • interview community members and peers as a form of “research”
    • identify the most important information to include in a profile of another person
    • use reading strategies to comprehend appropriate texts

    Sustained inquiry: What makes this a strong question is that it is open-ended, personal, and contextual. Therefore, the inquiry will be sustained as long as the student is interested (and, hopefully, this unit’s work will be integrated into who they are, resulting in a lifetime of sustained inquiry around the topic!) Additionally, I’ll provide many opportunities for students to develop and reflect on sub-questions posted somewhere in the room or online as we work through the unit.

    Authenticity: This project is authentic because it uses the real lived experiences of individuals (the students and other people in the community) to make sense of ourselves. This is a “REAL” problem, especially in the current national climate.

    Student voice & choice: Attempts will be made to let students guide the form of their final product. I’ll provide mentors and models, but what I prefer to do (rather than give templates and examples of products) is to give a set of guidelines like “the product must demonstrate four key components of your culture,” that way students can develop products that highlight their strengths. Of course there will always be students who need coaching and more structure/support — that’s our job anyway!

    Reflection: Students will keep a daily reflection journal. I will provide some of the prompts, some days I’ll provide a prompt as a suggestion, and other days I’ll encourage them to simply share what’s on their mind. Some questions will be about the topic, some about the process, some about the product.

    Critique & revision: As students develop products in the unit, we’ll use gallery walks, think-pair-share, and other collaborative learning structures to provide “warm and cool” feedback. An important part of the reflection, too, is how students integrate that feedback.

    Public product: Finally, students will develop a product that demonstrates what they learned about another person‘s culture, as explained and defined by that person. For this reason, critique and revision will be CRITICAL so that the student is in constant contact with the person whose culture they are representing. This way students avoid misrepresenting or appropriating another child’s culture — the “subject” will always have a role in the project about him/herself. This will foster intercultural dialogue.

    This “Bingo” board can help them in their discussion.

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