Google form for assessing technology lessons

This page provides some background information that may help teachers think about technology integrated units and lesson plans.

According to Understanding by Design (McTighe and Wiggins, 2005), a unit (short for "unit of study") "represents a coherent chunk of work in courses or strands, across days or weeks" (p. 353). While they acknowledge that there is no hard and fast criteria for a unit, they offer the following guidelines. A unit:
  • is a body of subject matter;
  • is somewhere in length between a lesson and an entire course of study;
  • focuses on a major topic (e.g., the U. S. Civil War) or process (how to do research);
  • lasts between a few days and a few weeks.

Units are delivered via individual lessons. So in McTighe and Wiggins' hierarchy of teaching:
  • the subject (e.g. 3rd grade science) is taught through courses (e.g. "living things")
  • the course is composed of units (e.g."habitats and adaptations")
  • units are delivered via lessons (e.g., "animals of the tundra")

The Understanding By Design model is a backwards-design model. It starts with results or outcomes, and works backwards to figure out what needs to be done to achieve that outcome. An educator designs the unit in three stages:

I. Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are already prescribed by ISBE as goals and standards, although teachers should feel free to elaborate or extend them as needed. Learning outcomes embody "big" or "essential" ideas. Through teaching a unit, students will gain a deeper understanding of the big idea. A "big idea" is "a concept, theme, or issue that gives meaning and connection to discrete facts and skills." Big ideas guide the unit.

Examples of big ideas that McTighe and Wiggins provide include: adaptation, how form and function interrelate; the distributive property (in math); defining justice; the importance of audience and purpose for a writer.

A big (or essential) question turns the big idea into a big question that students wrestle with explicitly or implicitly over the course of the unit. The questions do not lend themselves to simple yes or no answers, but require thought and understanding.

Since "big ideas" are embedded in good learning goals, a good place to start looking for how to phrase "big ideas" for your subject is to review the ISBE learning goals.

II. Assessments

The second stage of the UBD design process is the development of assessments. How will you determine if the students attained the learning goal? What evidence will you look for? Assessments are designed to provide evidence that the desired understandings are reached. Note that by designing assessments after outcomes are determined, and before activities are designed helps to ensure that students are only assessed on material that they have covered.

III. Learning activities

McTighe and Wiggins use the term "learning activities" to describe the actual activities that students engage in. The activities are organized into lessons defined by lesson plans. Learning activities or lessons are intended to enable the students to successfully complete assessments.

Unit plans

A unit plan documents how the unit will be carried out. It should the be the product of each of the three stages of the design process.

Click the button below for an example of a unit plan created using Instruction Planner, a web-based pay service that some areas in CPS use.

The important elements of the unit plan include:
  • Unit dates, class, subject and teacher
  • Essential questions to be addressed (the "Big ideas")
  • State or Common Core standards to be addressed
  • NETS-S standards to be addressed
  • Technology integration strategies used in the unit
  • Required resources
  • Content (descriptive nouns of what the student will learn) and skills (expressed as verbs -- actions the students can demonstrate)
  • Assessments to determine if students attained the learning goal

Technology integrated unit plans

A "technology integrated unit plan" is a unit plan that incorporates new technologies in a significant way to achieve learning outcomes. This does not mean that each lesson necessarily uses new technologies in a significant way, but that some portion of the plan does. It is critical that the technology supports and enhances instruction, not unnecessarily complicate and obstruct it.

In designing the unit, the educator wants to keep several things in mind:
  • What are appropriate technology integration strategies to use (e.g., drill/tutor, teacher-directed inquiry, student-directed inquiry)?
  • What are appropriate tools for the students given age, cognitive development, and technology skills?
  • What are appropriate tools given teacher skills, school resources and available time?
  • What does the TPCK model suggest? How does my technological knowledge, including the technologies I choose and the way I use them, affect the content and pedagogy?
  • The two biggest assets that new technologies bring to the classroom are (1) enhanced student engagement and (2) products that are widely shareable. How can these assets enhance the lesson?
  • What NETS-S standards will be addressed (what makes sense)?
  • If new technologies are incorporated into the lesson, is it integral to the lesson, or a separate kind of activity. Again, what makes sense to you, the teacher?


McTighe, J. and Wiggins, G. 2006. Understanding by design. (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

A five-step lesson plan template

Sample technology integrated lessons
Algeanna Griffin Unit and Lesson

Addie and Julianne's lesson / House on Mango Street

Kelly Taglia, Angela Bursich and Maria Ramirez Graphing Unit and Lesson

Rebecca Fink and Rob Marchese Roaring Twenties Unit and Lesson

Melissa Van Dygriff and Monica Adamski Human Body Unit and Bones Lesson

Ashley and Marc's lesson on Feminist Art

Kathy Salzano and Courtney Crawford's Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lesson
Frida and Diego

Circulation Unit

Veselina Sevova and Petya Vasko American Revolution Unit and Causes of the American Revolution Lesson Plan

Art 101 Unit/Lesson:

Cubism Web Quest Art 101