Backwards Planning and Curriculum Design

Backwards Planning from PEF STEM Innovation Hub on Vimeo.

Backwards planning is the methodology used by our faculty in designing STEM curriculum units of study for our students.  The faculty began the process of backwards planning by seeking out STEM issues and problems that are current and relevant in our world.  Our school consistently seeks out business, industry, and higher education partners in this process so that we are connected to what is happening in the real world.

Our backwards planning process focuses on the below curriculum design format.  For our teachers, this is the guidelines for how we design and plan each unit prior to the unit implementation.  This process provides a road map for both the teachers and students of what is essential to learn and be able to do by the end of the unit.

Step 1:  Define the Essential Question or Problem for the Unit
This is the theme or central idea for the unit.

  • Question: How do we __central idea__?
  • Problem: Design/solve __central idea__.

Step 2: Establish the Learning Targets
These are statements that list what a student will learn in the unit.  It should begin with "I can" and state the knowledge and/or skill.  It should be written so that students can understand the statement.

  • I can ___knowledge and/or skill____.

Step 3: Create the Performance Task
This is the task or product the student will do for the PBL to show they have learned the knowledge and/or skill.  This statement should begin with "I will," state the task, say "in order to," and briefly re-state the learning targets.

  • I will __task___ in order to ___learning target(s)___.

Step 4: Craft the PBL Rubric
This is where you differentiate between a proficient and advanced student submission for the PBL.  You are scoring the performance task.  The best PBL rubrics are where the criteria for basic, proficient, and advanced are so clear that students can score themselves.

Step 5: Generate the Summative Assessment
This assessment should be broken down into sections so that there is a different grade for each learning target.  If you are testing three learning targets, then the summative assessment will have three grades.  Each section should be broken down by proficient and advanced, and include the requirements for meeting each level of proficiency.

Step 6: Generate the Placement Assessment
This assessment should assess learning target knowledge and comprehension.  Students should be scored as either proficient or non-proficient on the placement assessment.  Placement assessments are used prior to each unit so that students can sign up for the appropriately placed class in the upcoming unit.  For example, any student who scores proficient on the placement assessment in science class for the upcoming unit will have the opportunity to sign up for the advanced section of the science class in the upcoming unit.  These assessments should be short and relatively quick to administer and score.

Step 7: Collect Digital Curriculum
There are two parts to the digital curriculum.  

  • Part 1: Curriculum posted to Edmodo for students to do prior to a placement assessment. Videos are the most frequently used digital items for this purpose, but you can use other items beyond video.
  • Part 2: Curriculum posted to Edmodo for students to do for practice. These are posted once students have been scheduled into their classes after the placement assessment. This is the digital curriculum students will need throughout the unit.