Curriculum change and Understanding by Design, what are they solving?

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Not many teachers make an issue about curriculum framework or standards in this part of the globe. The only time I remember teachers raised an issue about it was in 1989, when the mathematics curriculum moved from compartmentalized (elem. algebra, intermediate algebra, geometry, adv. algebra & statistics) to spiral-integrated approach. The reason behind the change was the poor performance of the students. Many teachers didn’t like the change in the beginning not only because it’s the first time that the mathematics curriculum is organized that way, hence new, but also because it demands re-learning other areas of mathematics which they have not taught for years.  Also, teachers were not taught mathematics in high school nor in college that way. But the curriculum was pushed through just the same and eventually teachers complaints about it died down. Why? No one knows. They just continue teaching what they know in the way they think best.

Sometime in late 2001 or was it 2002, the then secretary of DepEd made a phone call to one of the country’s math education consultants. The country’s students seem not getting any better. Something’s got to be done about it. So one day, in 2002, the country’s basic math community woke up with a new curriculum, back to the compartmentalized system. The identified culprit according to the sponsor of the compartmentalized curriculum was that teachers are not that capable yet to implement the spiral-integrated curriculum that is why the still low students’ achievement. Clearly teachers need upgrading in their content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge and they need a lot of support resources for teaching.  The solution made to this problem? Change the curriculum; in fact not only to change it back to where it was but DepEd reduced the content further to minimum competencies consisting of learning of facts and procedures, a sprinkling of problem solving and an inch thick of content for mathematics. Did the teachers like it? Did it work? No one knows. They just continue teaching what they know in the way they think best.

It’s 2010. The minimum learning competencies lived up to its name. It provided minimum knowledge and skills. The students’ achievements did not get any better.

By June this year, the Math 1 (Year 7) teachers will be making their lesson plans based on UbD. UbD or Understanding by Design is the title of a book which proposes a new way of doing curriculum planning. In the school level, its in the way the teachers will be preparing their lesson plans. UbD is based on backward design. The main difference between backward design and the usual way of writing the lesson plan is that you spend time first formulating how you will assess the students based on your identified goals (aka enduring understanding and essential questions using UbD lingo) before thinking about the activity you will provide the class and how you will facilitate the learning.  I’ve yet to see and read a report from the proponents and users of UbD for evidence that it really works. And working in what aspect? in which subject area? and, whether it is better than the usual way teachers prepare their lesson plan?  Some schools who have tried it reported that at first, teachers had a lot of difficulty in making a UbD-based plan but they eventually got the hang of it. Are they teaching any better? Are the students doing well? Silence. I’m asking the wrong questions. For indeed, a great distance exist between way of preparing lesson plans and students’ achievement. So why are schools all over the country mandated to adopt UbD? I don’t know.

But this is what I know.  I know that teachers need support in upgrading and updating their knowledge of content and pedagogy.  I know that teachers teach what they know in the way they know.  These are things that cannot be addressed by simply changing the curriculum or changing the way of preparing the lesson plan, much more its format. The book The Teaching Gap which reports the TIMSS 1999 video study tells us what we should focus our attention and resources more on:

“Standards [curriculum] set the course, and assessments provide the benchmarks, but it is teaching that must be improved to push us along the path to success” (Stigler & Hiebert, The Teaching Gap, p.92).

I couldn’t agree more to this statement. I’m not very good at memorizing so to commit it to memory I paraphrased Stigler & Hiebert’s statement to: It’s the teaching, stupid.

Click here for my other post about UbD.


17 Responses to Curriculum change and Understanding by Design, what are they solving?

  1. G says:

    As a student, I hate the new curriculum. Due to the new curriculum, we are bombarded with around 10 projects at a single time with the exact same deadline. We’re given a week or two to create all those projects and we’ve got 8 hours of school. We’re exerting all our after school hours into creating projects since we’re not always given project making time in class. It doesn’t hurt either that they put the deadline schedule in line with Long Test (Hell) week… I mean, seriously, we’re not really learning more from this. Maybe if the distribution of projects and such were spread out more, then the curriculum could work, but with the new curriculum we have no time for our extra curricular activities. I had to quit debate and pep just so I could work on my projects and have time for studying. It’s really draining. I’m even contemplating to cut my Chinese classes just so I could have around 8 hours of sleep a night. :/

    Also, I agree with the “It’s the teaching, stupid”. Most kids in our level do better when the teacher is an effective teacher– we don’t need to like the teacher, we just need teachers who actually know how to teach. We don’t need some teacher who just tells us to open a book, read and understand or a teacher who reads verbatim from the books or powerpoint– we need a teacher who can really elaborate on a subject and actually answer our questions.

  2. bioa12010 says:

    UbD looks good in principle, it has the potential of keeping the curricular structure coherent and the learning focused. I don’t particularly believe that “it’s the teaching”, rather it’s the philosophy behind the teaching. If we continue to teach content and principles as if we were in a vacuum, then the vacuum will reside within the students’ heads. Vacuum education is the cause for low achievement, because there is no point in achieving.

  3. joan victorino says:

    iam enrolled in graduate school and were asked to prepare a feasibility study regarding a proposed bachelor of secondary education curriculum major in TLE or any major subjects in high school, philippine setting, assuming that i ll be the principal or a dean of a particular school, please send me a detailed inquiries/data on how to make a feasibility study regarding this matter

    • Erlina Ronda says:

      I’m sorry but i have not done any feasibility study myself.

      The way I understand it is that a feasibility study is an evaluation of a proposal designed to determine the difficulty in carrying it out. This means there must be a proposal first before a feasibility study should be done. I could be wrong.

  4. Pingback: Misunderstanding of Understanding by Design | Keeping Mathematics Simple

  5. Pingback: Understanding by Design and Pedagogical Content Knowledge « keeping mathematics simple

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  7. Whit Ford says:

    I believe the method of planning lessons is less important than WHAT you are asking the students to think about. Most Algebra I and II texts I have come across suffer severely from “elementitis” (see “Making Learning Whole” by David Perkins), which makes it very challenging for teacher to convey “the whole game” to students while still following the text. For example…

    A teacher who is talking about how to “collect like terms” is not going to motivate the students as much as one who succeeds in relating this to a more interesting and complex problem which is related to student’s daily lives in some way. This is a HUGE challenge when teaching mathematical abstractions, one I am struggling with as I prepare to teach the first semester of Algebra I using a traditional text. However, it does lead to some interesting potential exercises:

    – Ask students to give you examples of two objects in their lives (or in the room). Chances are you will get answers like two apples, two desks, two eyes, etc. Note these on the board as students mention them, then ask… so do you ever come across “two” all by itself? The answer is NO – “two” is an abstract concept, one which we apply constantly in our daily lives, but an abstraction nevertheless.

    – So how do we come up with “two” of something? By finding them, collecting them, putting them together, etc. The abstraction of this process is what we have called “addition”. But what kinds of things can you add together and have it make sense? A foot and another foot – certainly. An apple and a pear – only if you recast each as “a fruit” – then you have “two pieces of fruit”. A meter and three centimeters – only if you recast each in the same units – then you have “103 centimeters”. So what is to be learned from this process? We can only add “like” things together, or quantities that are measured in the same units, if the answer is to make any sense. Addition certainly lets us add the quantities of one apple and one pear… 1+1=2, but 2 of what? The answer must make sense in the real world, and the abstract process of adding abstract quantities does not always result in a useful answer.

    – So what about 2x+3y? We have two of “x” and 3 of “y”. Can we simplify this abstract expression? Until we know what “x” and “y” represent, until we have been given values for each of them (with units), we don’t even know if adding them together will produce an answer that makes any sense (see apples and pears above). Furthermore, since we have differing quantities of each, we will have to postpone combining them until we know values for each variable (since one value must be doubled, while the other must be tripled). On the other hand, if the problem were 2x+3x, we are being asked to assemble two and three of the same quantity “x”… intuitively, this MUST be 5 of the same quantity “x” – no matter what quantity and units “x” represents, since the units of both terms will always be the same.

    I am hoping that such approach (extended considerably with more examples and practice) will begin to build both a conceptual and a practical understanding of the mathematical abstraction “like terms”, along with how to combine them when they occur… yet, this is just ONE of the many topics covered at a very procedural level by most Algebra I texts. Our challenge is to get students to understand the forest, when the textbook spends most of its time talking about trees.

  8. Adi says:

    nice site. thank you. good stuff here.

  9. Ray Butch Mahinay says:

    Hahaha. I like you posts. Witty. I am like you a teacher and perhaps like you, I aspire for good changes in our department. Good luck to us with this new SEC.

  10. Ralph Mason says:

    I am disappointed in the interpretation of UbD that linked UbD with Polya’s working backwards. In all efforts to reform classroom math, the weakest interpretations of the reform provide ample opportunity to condemn the effort. Are we to judge honorable efforts by your ministry (or mine) by their weaker interpretations and enactments? I hope not. I agree (almost) that “It’s the teaching, stupid”, with the proviso you put on the second UbD post, that it’s the students learning from the experience, not the teaching that ultimately matters. UbD may not be your priority–I gather that you see PCK and CK as the core issue. But at least UbD positions teachers as the decision-makers rather than imposing lessons on them. ‘It’s the teaching’: in other words, the action zone needs to be defined and managed with and by the teachers. I am not a UbD proponent, but I think it’s a structure I could work with, a structure I could infuse with my beliefs and goals, because it puts teachers at the center of the decision making, with student understanding as the target.

    • aldz1975 says:

      Teachers being the center of the decision making…Does this mean that UbD follows the teacher-centered approach? If that is the case, I thought that we were moving away from that traditional approach to adopt student-centered approach? So which way are we going?

  11. You can expect that a few years from now and the achievement scores still low, DepEd will just say that teachers are not yet prepared to teach using UbD. And well, we will just continue teaching we know the way we do.

    • mar says:

      I like your straighforward and reader-friendly way of expressing your ideas. I’ve been teaching math for 19 years. Based on experience, I believe that while a good plan matters, teaching greatly influences the students’ understanding and learning of a lesson.

  12. Pingback: Understanding by Design, one more go « assessing and teaching K-12 mathematics

  13. Pingback: Understanding by Design from WikiPilipinas « assessing and teaching K-12 mathematics

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