15: Understanding by Design Project Planning Form





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  • The following project planning form was inspired by the backwards design process in Understanding by Design:
    • Blank project planning form: link
    • Sample completed planning form: ink
  • Section 1: Standards: This section is used to highlight key concepts and verbs in standards.
    • Underline nouns and bold verbs in the standards
  • Section 2: Essential Questions: This section is used to brainstorm authentic project contexts that relate to standards.
    • WHAT concepts will student learn? See NOUNS in standards.
    • HOW will students interact with concepts? See VERBS in standards.
    • WHO will do the WHAT and WHO? Brainstorm list of experts who have a reason to do the NOUNS and VERBS.
    • WHERE will the pros perform the skills and use the knowledge? Brainstorm contexts where experts will apply NOUNS and VERBS in standards.
    • WHEN will the pros perform the skills and use the knowledge? Brainstorm instances and events that cause experts to apply NOUNS and VERBS in standards.
    • WHY will the pros perform the skills and use the knowledge? Brainstorm lists of probable causes for pros call to action to apply  NOUNS and VERBS in standards.
  • Section 3: Problem Statement: Select a specific project context by choosing from the lists above to populate a sentence stem for a problem statement that includes the WHAT, HOW, WHO, WHERE, WHEN, and WHY
  • Section 4: 21st Century Skills & Products: Brainstorm project projects that align to standards and are expressions of 21st century skills: critical thinking, written communication, oral communication, agency, and collaboration.
  • Section 5: Rubric:  Design a three-level rubric.  Level 1 has Foundational skills, prerequisite skills needed to achieve mastery in targeted standards.  Level 2 has Mastery skills, skills embedded in the standards as written.  Level 3 has Transfer skills, skills that transfer knowledge and skills in standards to authentic contexts.  The WHAT & HOW responses to Section 2 make-up part of the Mastery rubric criteria.  The WHO, WHEN, WHY, & WHERE responses to Section 2 can inspire the Transfer rubric criteria.
  • Section 6: Assessments: List Foundational, Mastery, and Transfer level skills.  Brainstorm assessments that will produce evidence of student mastery of each of the skills.
  • Section 7: Scaffolding: List Foundational, Mastery, and Transfer level skills.  Brainstorm learning tasks that will help students achieve mastery of each of the skills.



The project planning form can used to make sure design of project is based on an analysis of standards and based on contexts (professionals, settings, events) that plausibly relate to the standards.   This form helps teachers design products that are expressions of 21st century skills.  It uses essential questions to facilitate brainstorming that can help one write the Proficient section and the harder-to-write Advanced section of the project rubric.  Breaking skills into Foundation, Mastery, and Transfers levels helps teachers develop sequences of learning tasks and assessments that build from low to high rigor skills.


Preparation Steps
  • Study sample project planning form to learn how to complete project planning form
  • Use blank project planning form  to analyze standards, brainstorm project contexts, project products, assessments and scaffolding
  • Create scaffolding and assessment resources
  • Create a project calendar that contains time slots for all scaffolding and assessments
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement scaffolding and formative assessments
  • Use formative assessment results to evaluate success of learning tasks and to make adjustments as needed
  • Use formative assessments results to give timely feedback to students that they can use to improve their understanding and products
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Integrate elements of Human-Centered design into design of project.  See HCD resources below.
  • Integrate 6 facets of understanding into design of project.  See 14: Six Facets of Understanding.



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