Imagine IT: Phase 3

This page reflects my action plan as of August 2016 for implementing professional development around teaching for conceptual understanding.


Desired Results:


My goals for the year are to help teachers understand teaching for conceptual understanding and disciplinary thinking in context and to support them as they transition their instruction away from just teaching content knowledge. I have been an educator for over ten years and the discussion about what students should learn to be successful in the 21st century has encompassed my entire tenure in education. Mansilla and Gardner (2008) note that conventional teaching is concerned with “subject matter” and the teaching of facts and information. They argue that current educational systems should be teaching disciplinary thinking so that students can learn how to think and apply information in novel experiences. Kereluik, et. al. (2013) evaluated fifteen frameworks for 21st century education and argue that the learning must include ways foundational, meta, and humanistic knowledge, which essentially encompasses the content, including disciplinary thinking and applications, how to approach and understand the world, and what values are necessary to navigate the world. Kereluik’s work also notes that while learning technology is only one subset of the foundational knowledge, the ubiquity of technology in today’s culture also calls for shifts in information literacy and the use of technology as a teaching tool to help enrich conceptual understanding and make it accessible.



Acceptable Evidence/ performances of understanding.

Evidence of teachers’ level of understanding will be ongoing throughout the year. Acceptable evidence will be units, learning engagements, and performances of understanding that are student centered, conceptually based, open-ended, and require students to apply their knowledge in novel settings. This will be formally evaluated in three unit plans teachers revise or rewrite, the performances of understanding they create for their own classes, and their ability to lead future professional learning for the school as the process of reflection and revision of work throughout the year continues.  I will collect baseline data about teachers’ current level of understanding of teaching for conceptual understanding and disciplinary thinking through the use of a teacher self-assessment survey and evaluation of unit plans from the 2015-16 school year. The self- assessment will inquire into their proficiency in teaching for conceptual understanding, creating units of study using Understanding by Design, developing performances of understanding, and designing inquiry-based learning experiences. I will analyze submitted unit plans and assessments from the 2015-16 school year using a rubric that modifies some of the language of the IB MYP Evaluating IB Unit Planners and Wiggens and McTighe’s Understanding by Design Framework. These rubrics will help describe areas of strength and growth in current pedagogical practices that align to teaching for conceptual understanding.



Throughout the year, I will continue to analyze teacher progress using multiple tools. Our school uses Managebac, an online educational platform, to organize planning documents, assignments, and long-term projects. Through this platform, I am will access teacher unit plans and descriptions of learning experience. I will continually monitor planning documents using the rubric from the pre-assessment to objectively analyze teacher understanding and application of teaching for conceptual understanding and disciplinary thinking. Teachers will be provided feedback regarding areas of strength and growth in their planning documents. In addition to analyzing planning documents, teachers and I will engage in classroom observations of learning experiences designed to increase conceptual understanding. Observation data will be collated, analyzed and shared with the faculty so that they may reflect on the implementation of this approach to instruction and their own practice. The teacher self- assessment will also be administered mid-year so that I may reflect on teacher progress and how professional development should be planned for the second half of the year. More importantly, teachers will engage in a cycle of professional development where they share their plans, assessments and learning experiences with their colleagues and engage in professional discourse to improve upon all instruction in the building.

The teacher self-assessment, unit plan evaluation, and observational data will be collected and analyzed at the conclusion of the school year and compared to the beginning of the year data. Additionally, a student survey will be conducted, which asks students to reflect on strengths and weaknesses of instruction in the school. These results will be compared to the ’15-’16 student survey.  These assessments will provide data so that the instructional leadership team and teachers can reflect on changes that have occurred and areas of growth. Teachers will also be asked for input on next steps for professional development for the ’17-‘18 school year so that we may continue to build on their understanding in a way that interests and engages them.

Learning Experiences:


I am an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator at a K-12 public school in Chicago, Illinois. My background is in secondary mathematics, with a focus on teaching in urban settings. In my role as coordinator, I assist teachers in planning and teaching using the MYP Framework, which focuses on inquiry-based, conceptual learning. Because of my background in mathematics I feel best equip to support math and science teachers, but I also am excited by teaching in learning in all content areas and interdisciplinary connections. The MYP also has a Design course,  which is in development at our school and should serve as the foundation for how all of our courses are taught and approached by students. The best parts of my position are that I am able to work with all teachers and support them in developing student centered, inquiry based instruction. Some of the challenges of this position are finding ways for teachers to engage in honest discourse and reflection about current teaching practices and effective teaching strategies.  We have the good fortune of being a high performing CPS neighborhood school. While there is an incredible amount of great instruction happening in our school, we are always able to make tweaks to our instruction that will push students further and more readily engage them in deep inquiry in a variety of disciplines. We have not fully shifted to teaching for conceptual understanding in context or understood why it is valuable and how shifts in our instruction may address some of the issues with lasting student understanding or lack thereof.


Our school has a decent amount of technology and the resources to acquire more if needed. In our school, half of the classrooms have smartboards. We also have four computer labs, four chromebook carts (30 each) , two ipad carts (20 each), document cameras, and more. Additionally, the vast majority of our students have smartphones and access to the internet at home. We are currently working towards converting half the library into a  maker-space for our design class and other instructional purposes. Even with all this access to technology, the vast majority of tech use in our school consists of online research and word processing. There is incredible room for growth in the integration of myriad tech tools.



My primary goal for content area learning at our school is that students to understand is the big ideas of the content areas, how to approach information in those contents, and the connections between both intra- and inter-disciplinary concepts. The intermediary step towards this goal is teaching teachers about conceptual understanding and how to help design learning experiences that support it, that make connections to the world, and that teach skills as well as concepts.



The professional development for teachers will model the pedagogical approaches we expect from teachers. Firstly, the professional development will be very “student”=-centered. Teachers will have an active role in exploring and researching ideas, reporting out their findings, and debating the relevance of various perspectives and the implications for their own practice. When discussing the creation of products, teachers will be asked to create them during our meeting time, whether they are formative learning experiences, performances of understanding, creating inquiry questions, or generating learning objectives that focus on conceptual understanding. Our professional development will allow teachers to immediately apply and tinker with the ideas being discussed. There will also be space and time for the sharing of ideas, products and questions both formally and informally structured so that teachers can receive feedback in real time. While some lecture will be utilized, there will be many discussions, writing opportunities, labs, and opportunities for public review.



I hope to integrate many apps that will be beneficial to teachers in their own instruction. Apps like padlet will be used in lieu of actual post-its to help teachers brainstorm and then organize ideas. I will set up a google classroom to help organize and record the learning throughout the year. I can also integrate apps like Plickers, Kahoot, Adobe Voice, Seesaw, and more to help assess teacher understanding and model how teachers can integrate technology into their own classes. I will also work individually with teachers in planning their specific content and will use the TPACK frame  as a reference for planning individual learning experiences.


Works Cited:

Kereluik, Kristen, Punya Mishra, Kris Fahnoe, and Laura Terry. “What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning.” Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education 29.4 (2013): 127-40. Web.

Mansilla, Veronica Boix, and Gardner Howard. “Disciplining the Mind.”Educational Leadership 65 (2008): 14-19. Print.

Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.