What is LBD?
LBD Cycle
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Seeking Teachers

What is Learning by Design™?
How does Learning by Design™ work?
Why does Learning by Design™ work?
Why should I use Learning by Design™?
What do people who have used the LBD™ System say?
Q: What is Learning By Design™?

A: Learning By Design™ is a project-based inquiry approach to science aimed at the middle school grades - 6th through 8th. Our aim is for students to learn science content deeply and at the same time develop the skills and understanding needed to undertake solution of complex, ill-structured problems. We accomplish this by having students learn science in the context of trying to achieve design challenges. For example, to learn about forces and motion, they design and build miniature vehicles and their propulsion systems, optimizing their performance until they can go over several hills and beyond. Rather than memorizing facts and formulas to be reproduced on tests, students become involved in the scientific concepts being covered and learn them in services of completing the design challenge before them. As they work towards successfully achieving design challenges, they get practice designing and running experiments, analyzing data and drawing conclusions, making informed decisions and justifying them with evidence, collaborating, and communicating. They not only learn facts and formulas; they also learn science practices and scientific reasoning and how to apply the facts and skills they are learning.

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Q: How does Learning By Design™ work?

A: Each unit begins by introducing students to a design challenge. The students work in small groups messing about with materials or devices that will help them understand what they need to learn to successfully achieve the challenge. Then they get together as a class around a specially-formatted whiteboard to share their experiences and ideas for achieving the challenge and to articulate what they need to learn more about. We provide guidelines on orchestrating the "messing about" activities so that students will generate questions about the targeted science. From there, the class decides which are the most important of the questions they've identified and divides into small groups, each of which designs and runs an investigation aimed at answering their question. Students report to each other in a poster session about their methods and results, and peers ask questions and make suggestions. They might send their peers back to redo their experiments if they think that a group's methodology wasn't good enough (maybe they didn't measure accurately or they didn't manage variables well). The class tries to extract design rules of thumb from investigative results - to help them connect the science they are learning to its application. When students agree that they can trust the investigative results of their peers, the class breaks into small groups again and moves on to making a first pass at achieving the challenge. They present their ideas to the class in a pin-up session, reporting to the class about their design decisions, why they think each is a good one, and predicting how their design will behave when constructed. After class discussion, they move on to constructing and testing their designs. They almost never work as expected, and students now engage in trying to explain why. Students present their experiences to each other in a gallery walk, asking their peers to help them explain why their designs didn't work and suggest ways of fixing the problems. Class discussion after gallery walks leads to generating more questions and additional investigations or reading about and discussing science content together. The design/test/explain/present-results cycle is repeated until everyone has reached an appropriate degree of success.

There are several important characteristics of LBD™ embedded in these activities:

  1. During the cycle or designing, testing, explaining, learning, and redesign, as students work "iteratively" to make their design solutions better and better, they also enhance their understandings of science concepts and get a chance to practice a variety of science skills.
  2. There are a variety of opportunities for students to publicly describe to their peers what they've done and how they've been reasoning, allowing the teacher and their peers to hear their reasoning and help them around hurdles. Hearing each others' reasoning also provides kids with many different examples of science practice and scientific reasoning. If not-so-good reasoning is questioned and discussed along with excellent reasoning, students have a chance to incrementally better their skills. By presenting and discussing their results with the class, the class as a whole can learn from the successes and failures of each group.
  3. Throughout, the design challenge provides the glue that connects inquiry, investigation, drawing conclusions, and application. Students engage in those activities in a context of need.
  4. The teacher's role is quite different than in the traditional classroom. She acts as a "facilitator" sometimes, guiding students to ask good questions of each other and to see the similarities and differences and draw conclusions from their experiences. At other times, she acts as a "modeler," engaging in scientific skills aloud in front of the class in ways that show students what's expected. Sometimes she is expected to lecture, but in small chunks when needed, and often she is a "conductor," managing the orchestration set in the LBD™ units so that the class runs smoothly.
  5. Within the context of the orchestration of messing about, whiteboarding, and presentation activities, the class participates as a whole in choosing what to investigate and how to move forward.
  6. Using good scientific methodology is quite important to making the cycle work. Through designing and running experiments whose results other students need, discussion of scientific method become a natural practice in the classroom, and students gradually internalize what it means to manage variables well, measure accurately, observe well, analyze data, and so on. This set of practices carries over as they test their designs - just as experiments need to have "fair procedures" - ones that focus on the question being asked and that are run the same way each time - so do tests of designs need to be fair - testing predictions in ways that llow explanations to be drawn out. Observing and recording results is critical in both contexts.

To get a more detailed look at how Learning By Design™ works, visit LBD in Action.

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Q: Why does Learning By Design™ work?

A: Students experience and apply the concepts they are learning. Too often teachers see that students can mark answers on a test, but can't apply those same concepts outside of the classroom. Learning By Design™ not only teaches children how to apply the concepts they are learning, but why they would be useful in "the real world." This makes what the children are learning more meaningful and better retained.
        LBD™'s design comes from what we know about learning and transfer - i.e., the ability to use what one has learned in one situation in another. The transfer literature tells us how important it is for students to deeply understanding the domain they are working in. But that isn't enough. In addition, students need to experience a variety of contexts of use of what they are learning to allow them to transfer flexibly; they need to be encouraged to think about their experiences in ways that will allow easy recognition of similarity when a similar situation arises. They also need practice trying their hands at transfer, with useful hinting (scaffolding) along the way to help them remember things they've forgotten, notice similarities, and apply what they've learned. Learning by Design™ provides all that.

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Q: Why should I use Learning By Design™?

A: Learning By Design™ gives students the experience of "doing" science, asking questions and investigating, and applying what they've learned to meet their goal. Students learn key concepts more deeply than in a conventional classroom because they are applying these concepts. Learning By Design™ creates a connection between the student's own experiences, science, and the world around them. Learning By Design™ motivates students to learn by making the classroom more engaging. Students also learn life skills such as how to work in a group and as a team, how to make critical decisions, justifying decisions, and arguing for or against a decision. Learning By Design™ teaches students how to address complex problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable problems.

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Q: What do people who have used the LBD™ System say?

A: Visit our Testimonials page to see what students and teachers have to say about their experiences Learning By Design™ System.

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Want to know more? Check out the Publications section to view papers written by LBD™ insiders.

Learning by Design™ • Georgia Institute of Technology • 801 Atlantic • Atlanta, GA 30332-0280 • lbd@cc.gatech.edu