Defense of Unit Activities and Assessments

The desired outcome of my unit is social change. The underlying objective is for students to recognize that every one of us is part of the water shortage/pollution problem and every one of us has the ability (and responsibility) to initiate positive change for the benefit of the environment and the survival of mankind. The intended audience for my unit is 4-6 grade, and the lessons are scaffolded for students to construct knowledge.

The first step in change is recognizing there is a problem. My first lesson focusses on the limited availability of fresh water on our planet. The visual simulation format was created to capture attention and physically demonstrate how precious fresh water is as a resource. The assessment for activity one is designed to solidify the understanding that, although it seems that water is everywhere on our planet, the freshwater we use daily is in very limited supply.

The assessment for lesson one is also designed to spark conversation and stimulate critical thinking regarding how each of us waste water and contribute to pollution. This concept is explored further by the Home Environment Checklist in Activity two. At this age, students have limited exposure to environmental issues, and daily routines are filled with reading, writing, and math. Self reflection and meaningful dialogue can be a powerful tool in constructing knowledge. It is important to note the characteristic of the learners for this unit is somewhat unique. My unit is designed as a field trip where students from a variety of classrooms would come to me for a portion of the learning. Some sections of the unit are designed to be facilitated by the teacher in the classroom while others will be hands-on with me during the field trip. I hope this unit would be related and connected to a curricular topic of study in the classrooms, but it is possible that it will be somewhat artificially inserted into a rigid schedule. The discussion and follow-up activities are where much of the real potential for learning lies. All are designed with collaboration and social interaction in mind. Discussing new ideas and understandings with classmates, as they brainstorm lists and define vocabulary terms, helps make meaning of the new information.

Activity two involves the whole class in a role play scenario. Students are assigned an occupation and a container of contaminants. As the Catchment Story unfolds students physically dump their pollution into a clear tank of water. Because water waste/pollution is a real-world, collective problem, I chose to incorporate a Project Based Learning model. The use of storytelling and role playing in this activity aims to immerse students in the problem, and collectively generate possible solutions. Differentiation is incorporated through multiple methods of communication and delivery, thereby catering to various learning modalities. The Home Environment Checklist bridges the gap between home and school. It is designed to critically examine habits and behaviors that add to pollution with the assistance of a parent (who will be paramount in initiating any lasting change). The Checklist offers real-world examples to begin solving real-world problems.

Activity 3 involves students in another role-playing situation. Students learn about, and conduct various indicator tests to measure levels of pollution in different water sources. The activity and discussion, based on The Water Quality Interpretation Chart, is designed to help students understand how human behavior leads to the diminished water quality from samples they just tested. This is a very busy, active-learning experience with characteristics of the learners in mind. Because this is not my class of students and therefore I don’t know individual learning styles, preferences, or disabilities, this activity incorporates a variety of learning modalities. The assessment is largely built into the activity. The predicting, comparing and contrasting, and measuring water quality with indicator tests are all objectives and activities in which the students will participate.

The final activity brings the unit together with a deliverable. Students take their newly gained information and create a product that shares a message with the greater community. This fits into the model of Project Based Learning as well, by engaging student voice as well as collaboration with peers, teachers, professionals, and community. This activity is designed to be completed with the guidance of the classroom teacher, and the provided prompts, resource videos, and student created projects will assist in idea generation. I would like to facilitate publicly posting brochures and posters at the store to create incentive and add perceived value to the final product.

Throughout this course, and specifically through the study of learning theories, I have discovered that my philosophy for teaching and learning is deeply rooted in constructivism.
The lessons and activities in my unit are developed so that students are active participants in constructing knowledge through social interactions and hands-on learning.
In general, assessments are designed to reflect the knowledge that students have constructed through learning activities and discussions. Assessments are measurable and speak directly to the learning objectives outlined.

4 thoughts on “Defense of Unit Activities and Assessments

  1. Hi Craig,

    I’m going to put my comments here – rather than on the links to your unit plan.

    Congratulations! This is very nicely done.

    Your unit plan, in particular, is impressive. Your conception and implementation of feedback shows deep thinking and solid pedagogical design leading toward your intended outcomes. Your plan includes an appropriate amount of material for your planned time frame.

    Your plan includes learning objectives, learning activities, assessment strategies, and feedback cycles. Your rationale provides evidence that your planned learning activities will lead to desired outcomes and measurable learning.

    Overall, your work is impressive. It represents substantial effort and solid, quality practice. Your activities and assessments are innovative. I’m a huge fan of your role-playing activities and I think your students will find them engaging and fun.

    Where does role-play fit into our discussion of learning theory?

    Again, this is nicely done and congratulations on completing this significant milestone!


    1. Well, like I said in the opening paragraph, the lessons are designed and scaffolded to construct knowledge. PBL is a constructivist approach. The role playing, storytelling, incorporation of student voice, and collaboration woven throughout the unit are a product of my constructivist philosophy.

  2. Just like Owen, I’m gonna comment here. You very clearly put a LOT of work and effort into this. That’s clear just from opening up your beautiful tables! I’m starting to feel like I under performed when I look through your unit 🙂

    Because of the amount of work and detail you put in, you might think about making the unit all pretty and flourishing it up with pictures some time and then putting it up on TeachersPayTeachers or some other site! I think other teachers will want to see this because it’s so complete. I’m not exactly sure what’s all involved in that but it might be worth looking into.

    I’m so happy to see science teachers advocating for social change. So often I feel like STEM is pushed on students for the money money money and not for anything really worthwhile. I certainly need to think about my water consumption, as even though I live an extremely “green” life, I know I take showers that are too long! Your activities and write up have me thinking about my water usage without me even being one of your students, so I’d call that an indicator of success!

  3. Hi Craig,

    I can’t believe how far this unit has come over the course of the semester. It’s pretty amazing what you have done here and I will not be surprised to see a Chanel 2 news report highlighting a visit to your store from the kids at Denali Elementary! It looks like all the things that needed to get hashed out and boiled down….did.

    As I was reading through it I was thinking about the different perspectives kids from areas outside Anchorage would have. I spent five years walking down to the creek every morning, breaking ice with an ax and dipping in buckets to haul that precious resource home on my blue plastic sled. I lived in the desert for years and never appreciated water as much as I did when I had to haul every drop myself!

    I don’t have any suggestions for you, so I am just chatting now. Great job.

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