Friday, August 7, 2015

Planning Your Curriculum Overview

Once you know how many teaching days and weeks you have (see past post), it's time to look at your state standards and break them into logical units.  If you are a new teacher, I strongly recommend looking at how colleagues in your district or state organize content.  Textbooks are also a good way to see how units are organized. 

Up to Your Neck in Standards
Before you can organize your curriculum, you first have to know what you are teaching!  It is time to look at the dreaded standards.  There are many standards to consider and it can feel overwhelming!  For example, the New York State Standards have the state standards (including content standards and thematic standards), NGSS standards, as well as literacy/math standards for the Common Core.  Although it is important to consider all of these pieces in teaching, it can be very overwhelming to try to juggle them while planning curriculum for your first time!  If you are feeling lost, I recommend only looking at the content standards (from the state standards) for now. 

You may notice state standards that are about inquiry or lab safety. Although these are also important to consider, do not worry about them at this point. Your first step is to get a grasp of the content you need to teach and you can easily incorporate them into your content. NGSS and Common Core standards also should be incorporated into the content, but first things first: content!

Once you have isolated the relevant content standards, read through them and get a clear sense of what bigger subjects you'll be teaching. It also helps to scan through some past or sample state assessments.  This will help you in the first step, which is to map out the overall flow of your content.

An Overview of the Curriculum Overview
If you are teaching middle school science, it is likely that you are teaching different disciplines of science (physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology). It is important to think about what foundational concepts need to be covered first. For example, if you are planning on teaching an earth science unit that includes plate tectonics, you should cover physics first, including forces.  Typically chemistry and physics should come before earth science, astronomy or even biology. 
I prefer to start with chemistry concepts first.  They offer engaging labs that can start of the year with a bang (literally) and can also offer opportunities to teach and practice lab safety early on.

At this stage you should iron out the biggest units--whole disciplines if possible.  These units will be 1 - 2 months long, not the smaller units.  If you are teaching within one discipline of science (e.g., Biology), you can separate it out to its biggest components (e.g.: cells, organisms, populations/biomes, ecology, human anatomy, sexual reproduction).

From Small to Big or Big to Small
I prefer to organize content from a micro to macro system or vice versa.  For example, I may start with Chemistry/Physics, focusing on atoms and molecules, then move to Biology/Ecology, focusing on organisms and systems on Earth, then Geology, looking at Earth as a planet, and finally Astronomy, zooming out beyond Earth.

Summary of What To Do:
  •  Isolate key content standards and review them, along with relevant tests (know what you are teaching!)
  •  Look at other teachers', textbooks and the state's curriculum overviews and find one that fits for you
  •  Sketch out a big plan of what you'll teach--remember, start with the foundational topics and plan from micro to macro or vice versa

 Next Steps:
In the next blog, we'll start drilling down to specific units to plan out a detailed yearly overview!

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