Significant Learning Plan

In my previous post, I approached my cloud-based unit of instruction based on L. Dee Fink’s 3-column table. I began by setting a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”, which summed up what I wanted my students to be able to do as a result of the unit. This overarching goal allowed me to plan with the end in mind, while focusing on six categorical learning goals. I created activities and assessments that indicated my students’ understanding of the unit, using each of these six categories as basis for instruction.

In this post, I approach the same unit using the UbD model of instruction. Like the 3-column table, UbD is based on a backward design; that is, the ultimate goal of the unit provides a starting point for determining the steps and lessons necessary for achieving it. But a significant difference between the two is in the process of teaching the unit. While the 3-column table consistently places the focus of learning on the ultimate goal, the UbD model calls for breaking the unit into smaller goals which ultimately work together to get the job done. This is the version that I prefer to use when designing my lessons.

My UbD breaks my cloud-based unit into three sub-units, each of which focuses on a feature of Office 365, and the students’ recalling of previously learned features of Microsoft Office.  I appreciate the UbD model as a planning tool because it calls for attention to detail and focus on more specific goals and objectives than Fink’s model. In my experience, there is much to be gained by approaching larger tasks through a series of smaller ones. Not only does it allow for more realistic and precise goals, but it provides for a more constructive process as students build on previous learning to discover new skills, all working toward the same big goal.

Stage 1 – Desired Results
Established Goals


Learners will analyze the functional uses of Office 365 as a means for organizing, creating, communicating and collaborating in the learning environment.


Learners will apply previously learned skills using Word to create a Word document in OneDrive.


Learners will create a table and format a document for the purpose of organizing data in a research activity.


Learners will consider the technology available in their classroom learning environments and outside the computer lab.


Students will discuss and demonstrate the benefits of using cloud-based documents in a classroom-based research project.


Learners will use the cloud to discuss in small groups the ways in which cloud-based computing could benefit them in a career-based environment.


Students will work collaboratively to create a presentation about an assigned topic.

Students will be able to independently use their learning to…


T1 – Use OneDrive to create and share Word documents and Powerpoint presentations.

T2 – Use OneDrive to collaborate with others online.

T3 – Use various online resources to gather and share information effectively.



Students will understand that…


U1 – OneDrive can be used as a creative, organizational and collaborative tool.

U2 – Formatting a document can make it more effective



Students will keep considering…


Q1 – Who is my audience?

Q2 – What is my purpose?

Q3 – What tools should I use?

Students will recall/know…


K1 – They can access OneDrive files from any Internet accessible device

K2 – They can create the same Office documents online as they can on their classroom computers.

K3 – How to be responsible digital citizens

Students will be skilled at…


S1 – Accessing OneDrive files

S2 – Sharing OneDrive files

S3 – Creating works collaboratively

S4 – Formatting documents to make them more effective.

S5 – Choosing the tools needed to most effectively complete a task

S6 – Demonstrate digital citizenship.



Stage 2 – Evidence
Code Evaluative Criteria
All transfer goals




All Meaning Goals











Students will show that they really understand by evidence of…


Students will transfer their learning into real-world applications of Word and PowerPoint. For example,

1.       Task: Students will upload a previously made Word file into OneDrive and edit it in Word online.

2.       Task: Students will create a PowerPoint presentation and share it with teachers/students.

3.       Task: Students will use a new online Word document to organize research information.

All Meaning Goals


All Skill and Transfer goals







Digital Ethics


Students will show they have achieved Stage 1 goals by…

1.       Identifying their audience and explaining choices in formatting and design in their work

2.       Identifying Word and PowerPoint formatting tools

3.       Show evidence of discrete skills and overall fluency in using OneDrive

4.       Demonstrate digital responsibility and ethics when collaborating online.



Stage 3 – Learning Plan
Code Pre-assessment based on previously made documents and classroom experiences.






































Learning Events


Student success at transfer, meaning and acquisition depends on previous knowledge of Microsoft Word and formatting tools. Instruction will take place and be assessed through a system of increased independence in three sub-units.


Sub-unit 1

o  Log into Office 365.

o  Access OneDrive and upload a previously made file (Word document).

o  Edit the uploaded document demonstrating use of formatting tools.

o  Discuss (compare and contrast) online and offline versions of Word.

Sub-unit 2

o  Create a new Word document in O365.

o  Use formatting tools to insert a 2×5 table.

o  Label columns appropriately for research.

o  Record researched information in the table.

o  Share the document with teacher and partner. Partners edit one another’s documents.

Sub-unit 3

o  Create a new PowerPoint presentation in O365.

o  Use a total of five slides to share the information gathered in research.

o  Add images and design the presentation appropriately for the topic and audience.


Examples of design themes will be modeled and discussed, with emphasis on the significance of font, color and image choice.


Learning the beginner (and intermediate) tools of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Examples of successfully completed work are provided. Instruction on manipulation of design elements are used.


Skill development and real-world practice in:

Keyboarding Collaborating Communicating
Writing Design Digital Ethics
Internet Research Troubleshooting
Uploading/Downloading Organization
Creating Editing Formatting
Progress Monitoring


·       Formative assessment and informal feedback by instructor as students share their work.

·       Look for common problems, including:

o   Failure to name documents appropriately

o   Failure to share documents

o   Lack of contribution to collaborative work

o   Improper sentence structure/spelling

o   Inconsistencies in formatting/design

o   Improper use of digital tools

o   Issues of online respect, online safety and/or responsibility.




The unit planned in the UbD above contributes significantly to the success of my innovation plan. Employing cloud-based learning strategies prepares my students for a blended learning environment in their classrooms. But perhaps just as important is the fact that their teachers are becoming familiar with how the tools can be used effectively. The students’ successful sharing of documents with their teachers almost forces them to consider the benefits of sharing documents online. It also promotes their ethical and responsible use of the Internet as they collaborate with one another.

Including my UbD in the cloud and sharing it with my colleagues gives them ideas for how they can incorporate what the students are learning in technology through their own classroom lessons. In some sense, my UbD offers examples for blended learning that all of my co-workers can benefit from.

Fink, L.D. (2003). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved from Designing Significant Learning Experiences: Materials in Print website:…


Aligning Outcomes, Assessments and Activities


I’ve been fortunate enough to work in private schools and public schools, and based on my own experiences, there is a distinct difference between how lessons are designed depending on which environment you are working in. The single biggest distinguishing factor lies in the standardized test requirements that often determine the direction and implementation of a lesson in a public school. Often, I’ve witnessed public school teachers declining opportunities to integrate technology in their classrooms, out of fear that they won’t have time to address the mandated curriculum and key concepts on which their students will be assessed. The idea that technology could be used to teach it more effectively often isn’t seen as time-effective to them, most likely because of the work involved in redesigning the curriculum that has already been provided to them. In my private school environment, our curriculum committee was made up of teachers who worked with their departments to develop the curriculum each year.

Dee Fink’s “Self-Directed Guide to Course Design” discusses the idea of looking forward when designing lessons (Fink, 2003). Considering how a student will be able to use what we’re teaching in the future rather than what they remember right now is the key to making the learning effective. Offering them scenarios in which they may need to know the information later in life provides an authentic example of its significance. It is with this in mind that I design my units and lessons. I am a technology teacher, and in the area of technology, it doesn’t make sense to teach for today. Technology is constantly evolving, so the content of my lessons isn’t about specific tools. It’s about concepts, including the cloud, collaboration, communication, and creative production.

Below is an example of a unit designed with the future of my 4th grade students in mind. Beginning with what I want my students to be able to do in the future, I’ve created  series of activities and assessments that will prepare them well for what the future holds.

A year or more after this unit is over, I want and hope that students will be comfortable with using the cloud to communicate and collaborate effectively and respectfully with others.


The unit I am addressing below is designed for 4th-grade students at my elementary school. By the 4th grade level, students have mastered the ability to:

  • Create Word documents and PowerPoint presentations
  • Change font and size
  • Insert objects and images
  • Edit objects and images (rotate, resize, change color, etc.)
  • Insert tables
  • Align text
  • Use indentation
  • Select and use Office-based themes and designs

For the successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

  • Save and access new and previously made files from anywhere, using cloud-based storage.
  • Recognize and utilize the features and functions of communication and collaboration tools.
  • Create original works and learn strategies for editing, formatting and collaborating to create new artifacts.


This unit will teach students to think creatively as they develop their own documents and presentations. They will think practically as they make decisions in how to design artifacts that are appropriate for their audience. They will think critically as they analyze and evaluate information they gather in research of independent topics.

They will gain skills in sharing documents for the purpose of peer assessment and creative collaboration as they manage independent and team-based complex projects.


Throughout this unit, students will be integrating a number of skills to complete their work. These include:

  • Technology skills: keyboarding, student login information, file creation, text formatting, online research…
  • Curriculum skills: communicating effectively through writing, making inferences (research),
  • Personal skills: peer assessment, collaboration, designing


Students should learn that they can be successful contributors to group work and that tools are accessible that allow them to work with and share their success with others. They are not just consumers of technology, but should be producers as well.

This unit also allows students to demonstrate digital citizenship as they recognize and respect the opinions and works of other online contributors. Collaborative activity allows them to work together to more effectively communicate shared ideas.


It is my hope that students will understand the significant role they can play as contributing citizens in a digital environment. The tools they are learning today will help them to be more successful in their future careers, whatever they may be. The opportunity to create and share does not have to be limited to school work, but can be used to explore their own personal interests, such as creating a series of personal stories, or exploring and researching ideas that interest them.


I would like students to recognize the incredible opportunity that they have been given in the use of the Internet and cloud based storage. To be a good student requires their exploration of things outside the classroom and how they apply to them. In the subject of technology, it’s important for them to explore and find out what they can do with these tools. It is my hope that they will realize the incredible potential that OneDrive provides for them to be more independent and successful learners by allowing them to document their independent explorations or create their own works outside of school. It’s important that they see technology not as a school tool, but as a life tool. Learning to use it in a way that works best for them is really the key to their success.


Upon completion of this unit, learners will be able to communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using OneDrive and digital media. 

Learning Goals

Learning Activities

Assessment Activities


Learners will analyze the functional uses of Office 365 as a means for organizing, creating, communicating and collaborating in the learning environment.

Review, discuss and explore the uses of Office 365/OneDrive and “cloud” computing.

Model existing OneDrive accounts demonstrating accessibility of “shared” work and organization of student-owned work.

Upload previously created Word documents into OneDrive.

Create new Word documents in OneDrive naming them appropriately.

Access teacher-shared documents in OneDrive.


Learners will apply previously learned skills using Word to create a Word document in OneDrive.

Learners will create a table and format a document for the purpose of organizing data in a research activity.

Discuss how the cloud can help students to complete work more efficiently.

Insert a 2×5 table in a new document to be used as a graphic organizer.

Create a new document and name it appropriately.

Format a table, labeling each row appropriately as demonstrated by the instructor.


Learners will consider the technology available in their classroom learning environments and outside the computer lab.

Students will discuss and demonstrate the benefits of using cloud-based documents in a classroom-based research project.

Begin research based on classroom curriculum and record it in online document.

Demonstrate use of the cloud-based document outside the computer lab.

Record research findings in the graphic organizer.

Share the document with technology teacher and classroom teacher.

Continue research outside of the computer lab, using devices available in the classroom and/or at home.


Learners will use the cloud to discuss in small groups the ways in which cloud-based computing could benefit them in a career-based environment.



Discuss and research the benefits of using the cloud.

Use shared documents to collaborate and discuss careers in which the cloud may be used.

Access a document that has been previously created and shared by the instructor.  

Research career topics in Britannica Image Quest and locate images in which technology is being used.

Share findings (images and reasoning) with group members in the shared document.


Students will work collaboratively to create a presentation about an assigned topic.

Discuss in small groups, plans for creating a PowerPoint presentation about an assigned topic.

Teams will create and share a research document with a partner and the instructor.

Teams will create and share the PowerPoint file with a partner and the instructor.

Collaborate to create and design the presentation, using student research.  

Determine team members’ roles in the group project.

Use Britannica to research and record findings in a shared document.

Create a five-slide presentation, including images and demonstrating new knowledge.


There are about 100 4th-grade students in my school. They are divided into four classes, each consisting of about 25 students. Each group visits my computer lab for thirty minutes each week, where they log into their own personal network accounts on desktop computers and are guided via projection from a teacher station.

Employees and students within the district have Office 365 accounts. While students do not have access to email, they do share the same accessibility with other online applications as their teachers. In the past, students have saved their work to a network drive that could be accessed anywhere in the district. The fact that OneDrive makes their work accessible from anywhere makes it a much more effective means of storing their files.

4th-grade teachers vary in their willingness and ability to blend technology into their learning plans. Their classrooms share two laptop carts and an iPad cart, which are accessible as needed. Devices are typically used for research and assessments, but rarely creative projects or independent problem-based activities. My unit prepares students for future learning opportunities that are cloud-based, while making the process of incorporating OneDrive easier for their classroom teachers. In my efforts to create a more blended learning environment throughout my school, this unit plays


The incorporation of a new district-mandated curriculum includes a technology component, which has encouraged classroom teachers to employ more technology-based lessons in their classrooms. Students have access to curriculum tools and assignments online, which can be accessed at home via the district website as well as at school.

The district technology team has developed a set of grade level standards on which units and lessons are based. Our limited time with students on a weekly basis limits our ability to continue building on new skills throughout the week, so I am constantly trying to integrate classroom curriculum with my technology lessons in order to make connections in all subjects.


I see the subject of technology as a practical one. It is important for students to learn about those tools that will help them to learn more effectively and to apply what they’ve learned in a digital environment. The Internet is not just for consumers, but for creators, and the potential for students to become contributors in a world filled with technology is one they need to understand and explore. The biggest challenge that I face as a technology educator is in the interest of time and practice. While I’d like to think that students are learning skills that will help them learn in the classroom, that is not always the case. Many teachers are not as comfortable with technology as their students are. This unit introduces students to the benefits and knowledge needed for cloud-based works, relieving their teachers of the responsibility of doing so, hopefully making them more comfortable with practicing those skills in their own lessons.


My school is not in an affluent area. A majority of students are from low-income families, and breakfast and lunch is provided. Our student body is also mostly Hispanic, and at the 4th-grade level, there is one sheltered classroom.

Reading and writing abilities vary drastically among this group. Language barriers can play a role in the effectiveness of instruction, so students often help one another when understanding is in question.

Our 4th-grade students are curious, unafraid of technology, and excited to learn about new technology tools. However, many of them do not have access to computers or Internet at home, so there are no expectations of technology work outside of school. Students are encouraged to explore what they are learning at home, or at the public library if the opportunity does exist, but it is not required.


Technology is a fun subject for students, especially when they are being introduced to new tools. It is also one that is difficult to standardize, as it is constantly evolving and there are so many ways to accomplish the same task. I am a constructivist and enjoy watching students explore and discover learning opportunities independently. I encourage growth through student-centered goals and rewards, and I learn much about my students through the processes they choose in problem-based activities. I find learning to be much more effective in an environment where students can share and discuss with their neighbors. Quiet is not necessarily productive in my practical problem-based learning environment. This contradicts the philosophy of most classroom teachers, who aren’t comfortable with relinquishing control over the conversation and how concepts are being presented.  

As an English-speaking educator in a heavily bilingual school, I welcome students to communicate and help one another during class. The process of instructing is in itself a learning experience. Many of my students are very enthusiastic about playing a leadership role in helping their classmates. Allowing them to share with others provides many with a sense of pride and accomplishment, encouraging them to do their best work. OneDrive allows all of my students an opportunity to do so.

This unit of instruction is one that serves not only my students, but their teachers as well. The introduction and practice of cloud storage and collaboration provides students with a foundation that teachers could take advantage of in their classrooms. While many teachers are admittedly not as comfortable with O365 as they would like to be, the idea that their students know how to use it may provide some encouragement, and even ease their anxiety about making it a part of the classroom experience. Since my innovation plan is focused on creating a more blended learning environment throughout my school, I’m confident that this unit will play a role in making the shift at my school. The fact that students will be sharing the work they complete in the lab with their classroom teachers will provide their teachers with examples of the learning that can take place with technology as a tool. 


Fink, L.D. (2003) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Creating a Significant Learning Environment


My boys in 2nd grade and Pre-K

One of the brightest minds I’ve witnessed was that of my now 23-year-old son when he in primary school. He was a curious child, and one who observed and soaked in everything around him. He was also extremely creative, and all it took for him to learn is the idea of being challenged. When he started 2nd grade, he told his teacher that I had already taught him everything he needed to know about 2nd grade. Her response was to challenge him. “Oh yeah? Well what’s the square root of 64?” she asked him. When I picked him up after school that day, the first thing out of his mouth was a question about square roots and the number 64.  I explained, and it was enough for him to ask me to quiz him on some square roots. He just got it. He was exceptional with numbers, and his teachers and I really had very little to do with it. As problems arose, he did what he had to, to solve them. I’m sure the process of learning math isn’t that easy for everyone, but he thirsted for knowledge of numbers. He never once used his fingers to add or subtract, and math is a concept he has always understood.  My second son had no interest in mathematics, but he too, was able to learn what he needed to on his own. His passions were more practical, and before he was 1 year old, I could finding him standing on kitchen counters trying to get cookies out of the cabinet, with a chair pushed up to the junk drawer, where he could climb.

The process of learning is a natural one for all of us. Babies learn by observing, and putting things in their mouths. They imitate what they see, and they solve problems naturally. No instruction is needed for them to figure out how to move across the living room floor. It starts with rolling over and evolves into crawling. Ultimately, they build on those basic skills to figure out that they can hold on to the furniture to navigate their way around a room. And eventually, they take the risks involved with letting go, and walking independently.

Knowledge comes from experience and events that occur by chance. It’s organic, and doesn’t necessarily require planning or instruction. But it’s based on necessity and challenges that we need to solve. So why do we focus so much attention on how we teach our kids? Does it really need to be the teacher’s job to give them the knowledge they need? Doesn’t it make more sense that we offer situations and experiences that promote their independent learning?

In a video I watched last week, Professor Dr. Douglas Thomas discussed three areas that are required in fundamental learning (Thomas, 2012). First, there must be passion, because where there is passion, you can’t stop people from learning. Second, imagination must be encouraged, because change comes from those who think “what if…” Third, there must be constraints, because motivation comes from obstacles, or challenges that must be overcome. It makes sense, because these three characteristics of learning occur naturally. And yet this idea contradicts the traditional education system, in which information is transferred from the teacher and the student.

Shouldn’t learning be focused on the student? Doesn’t it make more sense to create environments that encourage independent and natural learning?  Professional educators, philosophers and administrators think so. Evidence overwhelmingly supports the importance of creating significant learning environments, rather than providing information to our students.

Professor Tony Bates stresses the importance of teaching students how to learn. His idea of an effective learning environment allows students to work independently. He compares the educational environment to a garden (Chang School, 2015). It is the teacher’s job to create an ideal environment in which students can grow.

Dwayne Harapnuik agrees. His video about Creating Significant Learning Environments clearly supports the idea that a majority of today’s learners thrive in collaborative and media rich environments (Harapnuik, 2015). In his argument, the network is the focal point of the environment. Allowing students to use the cloud to connect and share with one another teaches them to use technology when and where necessary.

There is little argument that technology should play an important role in effective education today.  The U.S. Office of Education has pushed for the inclusion of digital resources in American schools since 2010, Technology Plan. (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). As a result of the push for inclusion of technology in education, a growing number of online resources exist that focus on instructional technology strategies. Many curriculum plans have been designed to include an online element, and a number of grants have been offered to with the purchase of digital devices that provide online opportunities for all students at school.

serbiaMaking the shift toward a significant, student-centered, media-rich learning environment requires our willingness to accept change. Those who support traditional education believe that “knowledge exists that is both worth communicating and doesn’t tend to change much over time. (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011). While such information may exist, it is becoming increasingly hard to find. Technology presents new opportunities daily and even “traditional” concepts are being presented in new and creative ways.

The Internet began as a source of information we thought to be most relevant (much like our traditional teachers), but it is now changing constantly, as users create tools and media of their own. Many users think of the Internet more as an activity than a source of information. It’s taken on a life of its own, and is constantly being changed and reshaped by the people who use it.

That is perhaps our most important reason for making a shift in how we teach our students. We need to recognize that today’s youth think of technology not just as a resource, but as a means of exploring, imagining, and challenging themselves. Educators who think of their role as the sole presenters of information do not prepare today’s students for the ever-changing world around them. Their focus needs to be on the process, and not the content.


My innovation plan, Motivating Blended Learning Environments (MoBLE), encourages a shift in the way students are taught. Based on the theory and evidence that a blend of traditional instruction and digital learning would create a more effective and significant learning environment, I have created a proposal and timeline for the development and implementation of a number of activities promoting the use of digital tools in classrooms throughout my building.

Since the initial creation of my plan, I have already made efforts to encourage my co-workers to think differently about their learning environments. I’ve introduced O365 to my third, fourth and fifth grade students, and we’ve created presentations, research documents and graphic organizers that I’ve had them share with their classroom teachers. In my mind, it encourages my co-workers to work with their students, and to use tools they may have been afraid to introduce in their own classrooms. I’ve also accompanied a number of educators in their classrooms as they’ve introduced new digital strategies of their own. I’ve even encouraged some of them to allow their students to help them explore the use of tools for the first time. (It’s fascinating to me how quickly kids understand those tools that it takes some of my co-workers weeks to figure out.)

It helps that a recent staff meeting included discussion of our own lesson plans, and which levels of “depth of knowledge” we were using. It provided me with a great opportunity to share how digital tools could make some of those lessons more significant. I decided to create some helpful ideas to post in my restroom posts of Tech Updates.

 Cited Works:

[Chang School]. (2015, December 14). Dr. Tony Bates on Building Effective Learning Environments. [Video File]. Retrieved from (2010, November 10). Learning: Engage and Empower. Retrieved April 19, 2013, from

National Conference of State Legislators. (2015). Educational Bill Tracking Database. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from

NMC. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Education. Austin: New Media Consortium.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). (2003). 21st Century skills: Literacy in the Digital Age. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from

[TedxTalks]. (2012, September 12). A new culture of learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Thomas, D., & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A New Culture Of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace Independent Publisher Platform.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. Washington, DC.: Office of Educational Technology.