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Teachers Helping Teachers at the Rubicon Curriculum Summit

Last fall, Dr. Greg Sawyer and Mrs. Michelle Sawyer both presented professional development sessions at the Rubicon Curriculum Summit in Porto, Portugal. They are two of numerous GWA faculty members presenting this year at conferences from Europe to the Persian Gulf.

Dr. Sawyer teaches High School Global Politics and Foundations of Knowledge at GWA, and his wife, Mrs. Sawyer, teachers third grade. Both Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer submitted proposals to Atlas Rubicon and were accepted to lead sessions at the October Curriculum Summit in Europe. 

Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer described the Curriculum Summit as two and a half days of “teachers helping teachers improve their practice.” Teachers from schools in over 20 different countries came together to share best practices and ideas that they were already implementing in their own classrooms. For this reason, both Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer found all the workshops and sessions they attended to be very authentic and practical.

Both GWA educators focused the sessions they led at the Curriculum Summit on Understanding by Design: an educational planning approach to designing instruction adopted by the administration and used by GWA faculty because of its focus on student understanding. Dr. Sawyer explains Understanding by Design (UbD) as a planning approach that helps a teacher or teaching team see the big picture of any content area by organizing learning in a way that always focuses on what students will know and be able to do at the end of the unit. 

Mrs. Sawyer led a two-hour work session for elementary teachers entitled, Empower, Equip and Energize Learners Using Backwards Design. The goal of the work session was for the participating teachers to design impactful learning experiences using UbD. Each teacher brought the materials they needed to design a unit of study (a 4-6 week period of instruction) for their own classroom. Participants left the session with drafts of authentic units of study focused on student learning and achievement to take back to their schools.

Dr. Sawyer led a two-hour workshop on The Power of AERO Standards Meeting UbD. Last year, GWA adopted the AERO standards for Social Studies, and this changed how our educators design lessons and experiences for their students. The AERO standards, which were designed for international schools, use a student’s local knowledge and local experience to create Social Studies understanding. They are designed to teach students how to think and reason like social scientists. Dr. Sawyer brought the AERO standards and the UbD approach together to explore how standards can drive teaching and how UbD gives teachers the framework to successfully implement those standards. Dr. Sawyer explained that his session helped teachers determine priorities in Social Studies teaching. Once the teachers determined what they were trying to accomplish, the workshop helped them apply the UbD format to unit planning and lesson creation. Dr. Sawyer also talked about how to work with a very formal and fixed national curriculum and improve its delivery using UbD.

In addition to the workshops they led, both Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer had the opportunity to attend many sessions as participants. Mrs. Sawyer particularly enjoyed a session on teaching math and how to grow mathematical thinkers. She has used what she learned in that session in her own teaching this year. A highlight for Dr. Sawyer was a session on how to create research-based lessons. The activities and lesson ideas he took away from that session have helped his students become better consumers of information—both in their research skills and their ability to evaluate whether a resource is valuable or useful. 

In addition to the helpful information they learned at the Curriculum Summit, both Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer are still in touch with some of the teachers they met in Porto. They found the Summit to be an incredibly helpful place to network with other educators. 

Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer encourage their GWA colleagues to submit proposals for future Rubicon Curriculum Summits. It was a great experience for both of them to learn from other teachers and to share the important work they do at GWA.