Dan Drmacich at Rochester’s School Without Walls developed the following guidelines for his staff to use in constructing learning experiences.
1. Brainstorm. Teachers and administrators, students, and small groups should list all topics, issues, themes, and problems that students would like to learn about (depending on course flexibility). Don’t limit your brainstorming by eliminating what normally are regarded as irrelevant topics to yoursubject areas. For example, football has a direct relationship with math; so does knitting.
2. Select the topic. Develop criteria for choosing the topic. Is the topic a burning issue? Does it really concern or interest students? Will it help students develop better insights about themselves, their values or goals? Will it help make them “better people”? Will the topic help stduents develop a better understanding of the world they live in? Will it help them become more effective? Will it help students develop skills in reading, writing, thinking, and problem solving? Can we get enough information on this topic?
3. Develop a chart. Using “the spider” [or concept map], brainstorm all the issues, ideas, problems, feelings, and subtopics related to the topic. Discover the range of possibilities and interdisciplinary relationships.
4. Construct a question census. Brainstorm a list of questions that would be important for gaining an understanding of the topic. Include perceived needs from students and teachers. Organize questions on three levels: Factual (who? where? when?); for example, “What is solar energy?” Conceptual (how? why? what if? compare); for example, “What would happen if our community did not have petroleum?” Value (should? would? choose); for example, “Should the U.S. invade other countries to obtain oil?”
5. Identify available resources. Readings (books, magazines, articles, poems, etc.); audiovisuals (movies, filmstrips, TV programs, video or audio tapes, records, etc.); field trips (museums, parks, agencies, organizations, displays, businesses, libraries, etc.); people (parents, students, community leaders, business people, otherteachers, etc.); manipulative devices (learning games, science apparatus, plants, animals, tools, art supplies, junk, etc.).
6. Develop activities from the question census. Have teachers or students work in pairs or as individuals, each selecting the question from the census that they are most interested in, then developing an activity. Some suggested activities to motivate students: personal experiences, value judgments, moral dilemmas, sense activities, interviews, surveys, role playing, team competition, computers, creating books, plays or skits, videotaping.
7. “Purpose” the unit. As teachers or with students determine the unit’s objectives. Make a grid and record the objectives (creative writing; critical thinking; using comunity resources, etc.) vertically and the activities (field trip, discussion, art, etc.) horizontally.
8. Make revisions. Examine the grid for patterns. If it reflects too heavy an emphasis on certain types of objectives (value, cognitive skill or knowledge, affective, etc.), add activities that emphasize other objectives.
9. Sequence the unit. Use teacher guidance, group decisions, and individual decisions. All students may not have to accomplish all activities and objectives.
10. Structure the unit to facilitate teaching and learning. What classroom organization and structure (learning centers, individual study centers, conventional seating, room dividers, project areas, storage, etc.) will work best? What activities or objectives should be required for all, or for some? What methods of evaluation (learning contracts, self-evaluation, peer evaluation, conferences, feedback forms, rating scales, conventional grades, pass/fail, credit/no credit, portfolios, etc.) will work best?