Planning a PBL: Design Thinking Backwards Planning for Teachers

Starting a unit or project with the end goal in mind helps teachers to authentically integrate all content and plan the steps to achieve the
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About This Strategy

Design thinking backwards planning is a way for teachers to plan a unit or project with the end in mind. Design thinking is an iterative process focused on a solution-based approach to learning, where the teacher is focused on recognizing student needs, supporting students as they challenge assumptions, and helping students prototype, test, and revise new solutions. Using backwards planning, teachers first decide what the end goal or product is and then work backwards to create a plan to move the students towards that end goal or product. By working backwards, teachers are able to define where they want their students to be and develop new and creative ways to get the students there. This strategy can be used in any grade or content level and is also great for interdisciplinary planning.

Implementation Steps

60-90 minutes
  1. Complete the Design Thinking Backwards Planning template included as a resource below.

  2. Follow the 7 steps on the template to backwards plan a unit or PBL. Each step has instructions, tips, and examples to reference.

  3. An alternative to a "main course" PBL project is a "dessert project". To learn more about dessert projects, consult the "The Main Course, Not Dessert" resource below.

Questions to Consider

  1. What specific skills or content understanding will students need to achieve the outcome or complete the project?

  2. What will count as evidence to show that students have mastered the content?

  3. How much time do students need to complete the outcome, project, or goal?

Tech Tools

Google Docs

  1. Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser.

  2. Google Docs allows teachers to create and share a backwards planning template for each unit or project. Teachers can work collaboratively with each other or with their coach on a backwards plan throughout the design process.

Research Base

  • To learn more about backwards design, read "The Logic of Backwards Design" by ASCD.

  • To learn more about design thinking, read "Understanding by Design" published by Vanderbilt University linked below.

Related Lessons

Explore the Human Body 2.0 lesson by 7th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher Mariana Garcia Serrato to see how her students engage in a dessert project.