simplebooklet thumbnail

of 0





Design Proposal

Using PBL as a
Novel Approach
to Teach Unit Planning

By:  Erika Wise and Susan Neal

Project Design and Development Goal


Our project involves the design, development and implementation of a problem-based learning activity for a transition to teaching university course entitled Principles and Problems.

This course explores what instructional problems impact teaching and learning within a professional context and centers on instructional planning and designing lesson and unit plans.

The problem based learning activity proposed focuses on the development of unit plans with the central problem question, "How can a teacher create a standards-based and objective driven unit plan to best support the diverse learning needs of a small group of students to ensure 90% mastery of the content?"

The Principles and Problems course is a part of a two-year part-time program entitled
Transition to Teaching (T2T) at Marian University. This program is an alternative route teacher preparation program.

The T2T program is partnered with the national education programs, Teach For America and The New Teacher Project Indianapolis Teaching Fellows, that provide teacher candidates with state licensure coursework and the ability to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching degree.

During the two-year commitment, teacher candidates are placed in high-need local schools and work as classroom teachers in local Indianapolis schools. (Note: All of the teachers do not work in high need content areas).


Learning Context

The essential question for the The Principles and Problems university course is, "What instructional problems impact teaching and learning within your professional context?" that includes the following components:

  • What are the essential elements of a unit plan?

  • What is the best format/template to use to create a unit plan?

  • What are the best instructional strategies to teach the content?

  • What are the most effective differentiated strategies to support learners with learning disabilities and academic needs?



Learning Context

Learner Demographics


  • 21 students (16 females and 5 males) in the Principles and Problems course.

  • Age range is between 22 and 55 years old.
    • 14 participants are 25 or younger.
    • 5 participants are between 28-33 years old.
    • 2 participants are over 46 years of age.

  • 8 students are pursuing an Elementary Exceptional Needs license.

  • 13 students are pursuing a Secondary Exceptional Needs license. 

  • 10 participants enrolled immediately after undergraduate program.

  • 11 transitioned from a previous career with three working in a school environment. 

  • All students reside in Indianapolis and are currently teaching in a high needs school in the urban area.

Learner Analysis

Teacher candidates are currently enrolled in the third semester of the T2T program.

  • Semester I: Five-week crash course in instructional methods and an Introduction to Exceptional Needs course
  • Semester II: Completed two courses; Special Education Methods and Teaching Reading
  • Semester III: Currently taking two courses; Special Education Assessment and Principles and Problems in Education.

In the Principles and Problems course this semester, the following prerequisites for this activity have been completed:

  • Created lesson plans using the MU Special Education Lesson Plan template based on the Council for Exceptional Children standards.
  • Completed two class sessions on differentiated instruction.




PBL Activity Objectives

Teacher candidates will be able to:

    • Work collaboratively with peers to make decisions and find solutions for instructional problems. 

    • Identify the essential components of an effective unit plan. 

    • Develop a standards-based instructional unit plan that includes evidence-based differentiated strategies to address strengths and challenges for students with learning disabilities.

    • Select and integrate differentiated instructional strategies to best support teaching and learning for special education students with diverse learning needs. 

    • Provide a rationale to support instructional decisions.

    • Write reflective syntheses that summarize, specify, and explain their understanding of creating effective unit plans that address the needs of students with learning disabilities. 

 PBL Delivery Plan


A variety of formative and summative assessments have been planned for this PBL activity based on the following outcomes:

  • Work collaboratively with peers to identify and explain the components of an effective unit plan.

  • Evaluate and justify the selection of differentiated instructional strategies to support teaching and learning of students with learning disabilities.

  • Design a five-lesson unit plan that includes differentiated instructional strategies to address the needs and support learning for the targeted student population.

  • Document learning through reflective synthesis. 


PBL Activity Assessments


PBL Outcomes
Evaluation Method

 PBL Evaluation Questions

 Evaluation Method  




The assessments outlined for this learning activity are designed to increase understandings on the utilization of a problem based learned structure for creating instructional unit plans in a professional development learning environment.

In addition, it is anticipated that the planned qualitative post-activity assessments will forward understandings in the area of professional development for instruction for diverse learning needs.

These include the delayed feedback reflections and interviews that specifically target the participants' experiences with actual practice of diverse learning strategies in their teaching assignments.  




Evaluation Plan Summary

Appendix A - Facilitation Guide

Appendix B - Student Handouts