Saturday, August 8, 2015

Building a Yearly Plan from an Amorphous Curriculum, Step by Step

Do you have a vague idea of what you will be teaching in a few weeks (!!!) but no clue how to  arrange it into a logical plan?  Let's build it together! Here is how I do it:

Step 1  

List the big units you will be covering across a page. (Lost on how to do this? Read this post!)  I'm a paper and pencil person, so I like to write them out across a few pages.  

Step 2

Ok--this part is tedious, but if you stick through it, it will make your year a lot easier!  Go through all of the content standards you need to cover, and list them under the category that makes the most sense. You don't have to write out the whole standard--a word or two summarizing the idea and the standard number works fine.  Some of the standards are hard to pin into one category, but you'll eventually find a nice home for them. This is a messy process. Be prepared to re-write, erase, draw arrows and make strange notes so that it works!  By the end of it you should have a general idea of what content you'll teach in each unit.

Here's what my standards-driven outline looks like!

Step 3 

Figure out how many weeks you need to teach each unit.

Step 4 

What? You're still trying to figure out Step 3? This part has a lot of moving parts to consider, but we'll try to take it step-by-step!  Also, please skim the "Things to Consider" section at the end before proceeding--it might save you time!  

At this point, I like to get out a new piece of paper (or the digital equivalent) and re-write my units. You may not need to do this, but for some reason it helps me!  I start the year with an introduction, so I'll write that as my first "unit" (see a picture of my draft below).  This will include team-building and beginning of the year activities, safety reviews, and key aspects about science or the specific discipline. I then write out the units from my curriculum overview. For each unit, I scan through the standards I listed and summarize them in an order that would make sense to teach.  I only write down essential vocabulary in a logical sequence.

I then estimate how many weeks I will need to teach each unit. I do this by clumping similar sub-topics together and estimating how many of those topics are shorter lessons (1 day or less) versus longer block or multi-day lessons. Do not think a long list of standards = a long unit. Vocabulary-centered content typically can be covered in a day or two. Conceptual stuff or lab-centered ideas will take longer.

For example, say I was teaching the following concepts in a unit on Cells:   
  • cell theory 
  • structure & function
  • single vs. multi-celled organisms
  • plant vs. animal cells 
  • order of organization from cell to organisms 

I would give a week or two to structure & function, since this will cover all of the organelles and their jobs—a lot for a kid to learn and remember!  I’d also give two weeks to plant vs. animal cells, since this will be a good review of organelles and a nice chance to use microscopes to compare the two (which means practice using microscopes beforehand, taking a week).  I would bunch the other aspects (cell theory, single vs. multi-cellular organisms, etc.) into these weeks, totaling a minimum 4 weeks.  It would be tight to teach all of it in this time, but I could do it if I had to.  If I find I have more time to spare after calculating my other units, I will add extra week(s) to this unit, but it’s best to plan for the minimum time first and add weeks after.

 After my last content unit, I usually include a review unit, since I typically teach classes that have a cumulative assessment (e.g., state test).  Studies show that it is far more effective to review material in a mixed fashion throughout the year, rather than cram sessions at the end of the year (skim to the end of this article to learn more). Although I try to do this, honestly many of my attempts (exit tickets, extra review questions) get skipped because I run out of time in the daily lessons. If you are better at this, please share how you do it!  I often rely on an end of year review to ensure I’ve prepared students adequately for any cumulative test.

Here is my slightly-neater, second outline

Step 5:  Plan It Out!

You've done all the hard work--the last part is easy.  I recommend doing this last step on an online academic calendar, or be prepared to erase and re-write a few times. Write your unit headings into the correct spaces, leaving enough weeks according to your plan.  Hopefully you have some extra time at the end of the year. If so, figure out how many weeks that is, and add them to the most tightly-packed units.  If you are in the other boat and have run out of time, skim weeks off of the units that can afford it the most (or take a little off each unit if you can't do this!).

Try to end units logically in the calendar—before a holiday break or at the end of a grading period.  Use week-long inquiry projects to help stretch weeks to these end dates. Inquiry projects should also be considered at the end of units that are lab-centered.  For example, an inquiry project could be included after units on cells and plants--students could explore how salt affects elodea cells! Including week-long inquiry projects also allows buffer space if you run out of time with curriculum (but please try to include open inquiry projects in your year!)

Things to Consider:
  • Start with the state test date!
 Some state tests are much earlier than the end of the school year.  Be sure you know when the state assessment is, so you can plan backwards from then.  What to do with the week(s) after the test? That is a great time for dissections, inquiry labs, or less-tested curriculum.  Some science teachers are responsible for teaching sex ed. I found the weeks after the state test to be the perfect time to do this!  Nutrition, healthy living, and other topics also fit nicely here.

  • Don't plan for students to master everything
One huge lesson I didn’t quite get my first year teaching is that some content is meant to be introduced to students while other content is meant to be mastered.  Students may not fully grasp how homeostasis is a key function of organisms in 6th grade, but should be able to differentiate between abiotic and biotic.  How can you tell what needs to be mastered vs. introduced?  Some states are kind enough to mark this in their standards.  If you are not so lucky, look at the assessments—the type and number of questions will give you a sense of the level of depth you have to go to for that area. Make sure you are familiar with this before allotting two weeks to electron configuration when it is not tested in your assessments! 

  •  Not all weeks are the same
Don't assume that all your week numbers have the same number of days in them. Be mindful of shortened days (especially 2-day weeks, like Thanksgiving Break), and plan accordingly. Also, try to find out when field trips and beginning/middle/end of year testing dates are. You may not get much teaching in during these times! 

Next Steps:

In the next post we'll discuss planning weekly lessons, including the first week of school!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this!!! I was in desperate need of how to create a functional map of the whole year. I'm finally out of survival mode and going into my third year. Your plans have given me much needed confidence in how to more forward.


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