Reflection for Week 10: Understanding by Design and Twitter Session

EDET 637: Differentiating Instruction through Technology with Dr. Lee Graham

by Aleta May

Two assignments this week helped me grow in my skills. The first was when I cohosted a Twitter session with Kate Mullins. Second was writing a fractions unit to be used with middle school students who need to learn adding/subtracting and reducing fractions in a way that is meaningful and motivational to them.

We did not have specific reading assigned to us this particular week, because it was the week for applying what we had read extensively throughout the semester and written to each other about to designing a unit for actual use in our schools. The Understanding by Design (UbD) developed by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins is the framework I used. This is one that is known as a backward design; but is better described as beginning with one or more essential questions. In order to help me review and gain new insight into what the UbD should focus on and how this looks in other content areas, as well as in teaching fractions, I looked up articles and websites to help me develop questions for our Wednesday, 3-10-16, class Twitter session. I wrote several questions from the resources that will be added to this reflection. Using Twitter and email, I presented these questions to Kate for consideration. She had a very similar focus in mind with questions she had thought of.   I asked her to interweave her questions into the list I had sent in a way that made sense to her. Then after conferring more, we decided to come to the Twitter session early enough to speak to each other with opening ice breaker questions, inviting people in our class to join into our conversation as they arrived. This worked really well! We were early to the session, yet we were both very thankful we had a plan to come early since we both had to quickly solve internet situations in our respective homes.

What I took away from this was: 1) a better understanding of how we should focus our teaching via a UbD unit, 2) the experience of cohosting allowed me to think about when to step to improvise our plan if need be (connectivity issues in our separate homes, etc.) and when to back up and not take over the session—we followed an alternating questioning pattern with some necessary modifications 3) I am much more confident that this is a really great way to teach because quiet people contribute, and we are all forced to make our responses concise, thereby preventing anyone from taking over a session 4) I can now utilize another tool for communicating with students that they are already accustomed to using in their every day lives.

Here are the questions Kate and I came up with and the references we used to come up with quality discussion:

Twitter Session:

Ice Breakers—

What kind of Alaska foods have you eaten? What Alaska foods should be added to school lunches?

 Did the volcano impact travel (airplanes not flying or backed up flights due to ash in the air) for anyone out there or someone close to you?

 Let’s generate a list of overarching or essential questions used in your unit design.

 What types of pre-tests are you using? Computer, observation, paper/pencil. . .?

 What hooks are you using in your unit to engage students initially?

What is an example of how your student learning goals and achievements will show understanding? 

Are these tailored to allow individual style to shine? If so, how?

What are good examples of ways students can use the information learned later; transfer?

Name a real-world situations or problems students can use their new knowledge for.

Tell about scenario goals, challenges, roles played in a scenario, … in your UbD.

Are there tools, resources, or strategies you are using that you’d like to share?

How are portions of your lessons personalized for students?

Examples of formative assessment, checking for understanding in your unit are …?

What are ways our students may rethink, reflect or revise their product? 


Donhouser, M., Hersey, H., Stutzman, C. & Zane, M. (2014). From lesson plan to learning plan: An introduction to the inquiry learning plan. School Library Monthly, 31(1), pp. 11-13.

Keeling, M. (2015). Backwards design considerations for the 21st-century school library. School Library Monthly, 31(4), pp. 22-24.

Lubiner, G. (2014). Understanding by design: A unit on color theory. Arts & Activities, 156(1), pp. 20-44.

McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2013).   Essential questions: Opening doors to student understanding. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD).  Ch. 1. What Makes a Question Essential?  Retrieved 3-27-16.

UbD in a Nutshell.   Retrieved 3-28-16.

Throughout the week, I blogged with students in class regarding our UbD units:

I wrote to Sara (she inspired me to take the UbD to the next level and help our science teacher apply the real world application to learning)—


A bubble map is such a great way to review. With this visual, the students can see the connections between energy types and trigger memories from what they already know.

I had never heard of Actively Learn. Thank you for sharing this! I have the link bookmarked on my toolbar now. is new to me too. Another awesome site with videos to use for teaching! Thank you again!

Kahoot   to   Thank you again! Games for any subject. I’m excited to go into these sites, especially to focus on my current UbD unit for reducing fractions.

By sharing your links and ideas, I am able to research specific games/activities my students can use this coming week to choose how they will want to improve their skills. This will be a student centered focus and I am truly becoming a more exciting facilitator / educator with a large technology tool bag.

Wow! Your performance plan assessment with transfer of energy, using simple models they build and using iPads. Here are video notes I took from your video post:

Step One: Take four images from different angles; and using contrasting color (light imaging camera using light lengths which is close to thermal imaging) images of their model to see where energy loss is.

Step Two: Taking temperatures using temperature probes.

Question: In step one: is there a special website you go to in order to take pictures using contrasting colors, or is it built into the camera that is on the iPad already.

Step Three:  Cotton for Insulation with hot glue to take a second round of thermal images. Compare to the first set of pictures, compare/contrast, make connections to heat transfer. Students experimented using tape instead of cotton. The scotch tape was better at keeping heat inside the model house than cotton.

Closing Reflections:

Temperature data sheet. Respond to what does the data show about energy transfer in model homes not insulated vs. insulated by different materials?

Energy conservation – how does it benefit you and your parents?

Big picture—how does this understanding help the environment?

Amy wrote to me and I replied:


Since we’re both doing fractions units, I was especially interested to check out your unit. Since it is geared for middle school RTI students, it gives me future ideas for my students, as we’re focusing on third and fourth grade skills right now. I like how you tie your fraction work to real-world activities, like cooking, sewing and coding. This will let your students see that what they’re learning has authentic uses in life and is worth mastering. I feel like this is an area that I will strengthen in my fractions unit and spend more time discussing how we use fractions in real life. Your students should be motivated by the use of online games, and it’s wonderful how you’re able to use the pretest results to differentiate games for each student. That is something that I love about small groups! I like how students will be doing self-assessment in your group so that they see their growth and are motivated to keep working. I’m going to try self-reflection journals in my group to help kids clarify their thinking during the unit, and that might be an idea for you to try also, so that students can ask questions or make connections. One thing I worry about with the journals, though, is the difference in writing ability that my students have, with some able to quickly jot down ideas and others laboring over their words. I will check out the radial fractions activity that you are doing, as it sounds like a good way for students to see their work visually. I like your update after teaching your unit for a few days and how your ideas will continue to grow as you assess your students’ needs. Thanks for sharing your thinking!

Amy, 4-2-16

I think your idea for trying self-reflection journals for asking questions or making connections is perfect! Thank you for your feedback and idea! Maybe this is where I can have them actually take notes and reflect on how fractions are used in real life situations. Although students at every age need to think about real life applications, it seems to become even more important as a way to give older students a reason to invest their time or to engage more deeply and try learning this again–it must be so discouraging to older students who have not learned a concept that many of their peers have already caught on to.

I wrote to Sally 4-1-16:


I think Lee was telling us on our Twitter session last night that what you wrote here would be a perfect example of the concept of transfer, because it has real world applications:

“Use order to calculate cost when different factors are involved. For example: fees, taxes when purchasing items.”

When I was learning to use this the word transfer in my previous training for special education, it included the idea of transfer of learning from one subject to another. Naturally, we thought about transferring their skills to the job as we started students into a special education transition program at a high school I worked at. So ultimately, transfer is for the real world. Here’s another awesome example you provided in your plan:

“Students will be skilled at…

  • Finding the cost of joining a club with fee, purchase and taxes.”

Also, your day by day planning in Stage 2 looks perfect! I need to improve mine. Thank you for sharing! Your examples help me see the whole picture better.


 I wrote to Sarah 4-3-16:

The way you built in choices “by taking in information about the behavior of gases” looks like a great plan mainly because the students are working together, then regrouping to discuss results. Students listen to, watch and talk to each other at different levels of understanding.

I looked up Poll Everywhere apps . Are you using the mobile app through student phones; or your phone as a clicker with a PowerPoint? Since this is new to me, I went to:

Thank you for sharing about this app and how you use it for formative assessment!

I wrote to Anastasia on 4-1-16—it was still awaiting moderation when I checked back on this on 4-3-16

aletakmay says:.comment-author

April 1, 2016 at 1:48 am.comment-metadata

Your comment is awaiting moderation.


The student who is working far below his grade level is participating in a way that helps him to visualize nature in a way that may help him retain the information; especially with pictures to go by from books and websites. He likely loves to be in your classroom participating on the same subject with peers.

The individualized KWL chart is such a great idea! Fifth grade students can make really good use of this visual to set goals and note what they have learned.


Post to Genevieve on 4-2-16:


Wow, your UbD is wonderful! It is so detailed and easy to read. Everything is embedded in it from using a visual KWL to describe student understanding from the beginning throughout the end of your unit, to using Google Maps, QR codes, iPads and screenshots to apply technology to create engaging learning, to making it meaningful–the study of Salmon, a resource we depend on in Alaska! That rubric is such an excellent example of using assessment in a way that is detailed and descriptive to students–perfect for conferencing with students to help them set individual goals!

1 thought on “Reflection for Week 10: Understanding by Design and Twitter Session

  1. Pingback: Week 10 Reflection | Kate Mullin

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