Engineering an Enduring Understanding

Earlier this school year, Ross Cooper and I published a piece on Edutopia in which we outlined a plan for students to tell their makerspace stories through a reflection video. It was our hope that these videos would be applied not only to making in a makerspace, but also to making across all content areas and grade levels. This post puts what we outlined in that piece into practice.


The Maker Movement is not oftentimes associated with World History, however, as many have shown, 'making' in K-12 can support content and curriculum across all disciplines. The World History students at my school recently embarked on a maker journey, related to their content area, and shared their maker stories through a video reflection.  The goal in creating this unit was to create a new lens for opening, the content and related standards that needed to be covered, up to students.  This unit was a collaboration between myself, the Library Media Specialist at my school, and our World History teacher.

Desired Results:

Ultimately, we wanted to be sure that the unit understandings were "enduring" – that the deeper understanding of the content the students gained had enduring value beyond the classroom.  We strove to create a framework that would ensure their learning would be meaningful and valuable outside of school.  We accomplished this by offering them opportunities for authentic, discipline-based work, while at the same time allowing for a license for them to be creative.  This unit pulls principles from project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and maker education.  We chose to connect this unit to the Renaissance because it is such a creative period in history and would speak to our students' creativity.

Learning Plan:

  • Hook and engage students in the content 
  • Student 'making' is linked to the unit's enduring understandings and student-generated essential questions
  • Through the making process- students have opportunities to rethink and revise their work- iterative process
  • Through a video reflection, students have the opportunity to exhibit their understandings and deeper inquiry
  • Materials and supplies and tech used to make provide an authentic, hands-on experience for the student
  • Foster collaboration, communication, problem-solving and teamwork

Assessment Evidence:

We provided multiple opportunities within the unit for students to demonstrate mastery of the unit learning goals through varied and frequent formative assessments.  We made the decision from the start NOT to evaluate WHAT the students made, nor how they made it. We encouraged them to take risks and fail and fully encouraged and supported the iterative process. The video reflection was used as a tool to asssure that student learning became an enduring understanding, and it served as our summative assessment.  Through our guidance, students created videos that were thoughtful and meaningful and that linked directly to our unit. Students were able to show, through their video reflections, how through making what they chose to make, they gained a deeper understanding of the Renaissance.

Day 1 kicked off with immersing the students in the Renaissance through group research and collaboration.  We had a mini-lesson about using our school databases as resources and using Chromebooks and their own devices, students crafted paragraphs in a Google Doc that reflecting their basic understanding of the Renaissance.  This served as our first formative assessment. 

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Day two kicked off with a mini lesson on crafting essential questions.  Our World History teacher introduced our students to the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  We spoke to students about what an essential question is and gave them guidance for crafting their own essential questions in relation to the Renaissance.  We encouraged students to tap into their passions in creating their essential questions and choose areas of the Renaissance that would allow them to further explore their passions and interests.  We explained to them that their essential question would drive their maker journey.

On day three, we had a group discussion about the challenges in creating essential questions.  Many students expressed that they had to revise their questions several times before getting them to be just right.  This opened up a discussion on the importance of having a growth mindset.  We empowered them to take risks and chances in this unit and explained the process and strategies of the iterative process. We reminded them that their classroom was a judge-free zone and that they should feel free to explore whatever speaks to them.  The creation of their essential questions served as another formative assessment.

From here, students began collaborating with their groups on choosing what it was they wanted to make to help them demonstrate deeper learning about their essential question, and therefore an enduring understanding of the Renaissance.  We spoke to them about connecting what they decide to make to their passions and how this relevancy is what was going to make what they learned to about the Renaissance have value and meaning beyond just the classroom or this unit, a true enduring understanding.  Through their essential questions, many students chose to compare elements of the Renaissance to things in the modern world, helping them to uncover that much more relevancy.

Students then began brainstorming, designing, and planning the creation of their final authentic products.  They were encouraged by us to be open-minded, follow their passions, to be creative and to have fun.  Students were captured and enthusiastic about being able to take control of their learning and to create and discover things that had meaning to them, especially in regards to a topic that felt often does not have relevancy to them.  The things the students decided to make and do were nothing short of amazing.  

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Hair and makeup of the Renaissance and how it influenced modern trends

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3d Mona Lisa represents the shift in the art of the Renaissance

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Bringing DaVinci's inventions to life

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Mona Lisa cake in which every element chosen, was a metaphor for something to do with the Renaissance

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Cooking recipes from the Renaissance

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Interactive Renaissance trade simulation game

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Renaissance Vogue fashion magazine

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Renaissance fashion design

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Stained Glass

The unit concluded with students creating a one-minue video, which reflected their groups process of creation, essential question and enduring understanding of the Renaissance.  Students were given printable directions, storyboards, and templates, pulled from this Edutopia piece. Students has to complete a project storyboard which served as another formative assessment. In their video, students reflected on the iterative process, but also had the opportunity to demonstrate the deeper learning of their essential question that was uncovered through the process of making what they made.  Student videos were posted to Instagram to give them an authentic, global audience for their work.  

For more on connecting your makerspace to what is happening in your school community, be sure to check out my course!