Spinning my wheels
Is anyone else is finding themselves filling their time with things besides actually planning lessons? I have definitely been falling into that. In the last couple weeks I have made carefully color coded pacing calendars for 8th grade. Here was my first version:
Notice how awesomely the unit colors match the book colors. Made me so happy.
This one looks great on my computer screen, but when I printed it, my printer did not translate colors well. So I spent about 3 more hours and what seemed like a full ream of paper until I got it to print in colors I was happy with. Here is that version.
Then I made a binder with color coded tabs by unit for my teaching notes. Then I added lesson tabs to my copy of the Unit 1 teacher’s edition. Then I decided I wanted to do the same for my student edition. Now I have decided that tabs on the side were maybe a bad idea, because they get bent on the shelf. So I begin contemplating moving all my tabs to the top.
If I was a classroom teacher I am sure I would also be spending time on labeling my storage bins, creating file folders, deciding on how to arrange desks, handle geometry toolkits, etc, etc. And all those things would be awesome and make it easier to stay organized as the year progressed. But none of those things alone help me know what I am going to say when the students are sitting in front of me.
So wherever you are in your prep, at some point you need to evaluate the time you have left and say, “Enough of the side dishes. Time to dig in to the lessons themselves.”
How to begin
The experience of planning feels a little different to me now that I have a print teacher’s edition. This January I planned a bit of Grade 8 Unit 1 using materials I was looking at online. This summer I am planning with a hard copy of my teacher’s edition in hand. To be fair, 100% of the teacher edition material is on line. But the way the teachers editions are put together helped me personally not skip important steps, and allowed me to make notes and highlight questions and ideas I wanted to make sure to include when I ran the lesson. Here is a picture of the table of contents for my Grade 8 Unit 1 teacher’s edition:
Step 1: Unit Overview
So I started at the beginning and read the Unit Overview. I underlined, circled and highlighted the things that I wanted to remember and come back to just before we start the unit. I made a list of terms that students would be learning in the unit, and I added post-its to things I did not understand or wanted to read more about.
In the picture above, the post-it quotes “Experimentally verify the properties of transformations, reflections and rotations.” I wondered which properties in specific. To resolve this I looked at the 8th grade common core standards for Geometry. Because I am obsessively thorough, I also talked to some knowledgeable friends who suggested I read the 6-8 Geometry progression documents from Achieve the Core. Any of these are good options for your questions as you plan. The facebook community, Open Up Resources 6–8, by Illustrative Mathematics is a great place to look for knowledgable friends.
Here is what I found:
“Which properties?” was answered right there, under the main standard. Yeah!
Being an old high school teacher, I wanted to also include that reflections carried a point perpendicularly and an equal distance across the line of reflection. When experimenting, students might notice that, but it is not an 8th grade standard and I do not need to add that detailed definition at this point. I share this because no matter which grade or which unit you are teaching, it is easy to overteach. So as you begin to go through the unit, it is important to decide what you are actually responsible for. This is the number one thing you can do to make sure you are able to make it through the whole year of curriculum. Good news – The reason there is only one post-it on that page is because all my other questions were answered as I read the materials included with the curriculum and worked through the rest of my planning.
Step 2: Assessments
Next, with the overview fresh in my mind, I worked through the assessments – pre, mid- unit, and end-of-unit. Most units do not have a Mid Unit Assessment, but if they do, realize that most of that material will not again be tested on the End of Unit assessment. You and your PLC need to come to some decision about whether those will be counted as two separate unit exams, two half exams, or a quiz and a full assessment. In 8th grade, because the first unit is so long and we need to send report cards at the end of 6 weeks, I am leaning toward weighting them equally just to get more grades in the grade book.
When you are looking at the assessments in the teacher’s edition or teacher materials online, you are looking at the full answer key. In the Pre-assessment that includes why each question topic was chosen and when they are going to need that information in the unit. In the later assessments, solutions include discussion about what misunderstandings would cause students to pick each multiple choice answer, and rubrics that helped me fine tune my understanding of what was expected from students.
As I worked through these I removed many of my question post-its and added details to my notes on the overview page.
Step 3: Sections
Next I opened the teacher materials on the computer and marked out section grouping on the table of contents ( see pencil brackets in picture above). The lessons in the same sections are developing the same set of ideas. I found it helped to think of them as one giant lesson, because one day does not complete one idea like it did in my previous textbooks.
In one sitting, I:
- Read through each lessons learning goals and learning targets,
- Looked at the Alignments in the print version (called CCSS Standards online), and
- Read through the cool down and possible answers.
Then I moved to the next day. In the Alignment section, I noted whether the standards were listed as Building on, Addressing, or Building Toward. This really helped me get a better feeling what I needed to talk about in each day, and what could wait for a day or two.
I especially liked this one from 8.1.3, which should me they were addressing standard 8.G.A.1 in that lesson, but there would be more work in subsequent days on that same standard.
Why so many days on a single standard?
According to course guide, each sequence of lessons includes the following:
- Activate prior knowledge – invites all students in
- Introduce representations and contexts – essential for developing an understanding of the mathematics
- Concepts – where I used to start if I did a great lesson
- Language and notation – where I started if I was pressed for time
- Connections and consolidation – the place where students can move to the most efficient method of solving problems
- Procedural fluency – the goal
As you look through the section, think about which of parts of this progression are happening during each lesson. Having a clear grasp of what exactly you are trying to accomplish in the day will make sense of everything you are doing. It will also help your activity and lesson synthesis be clearer and to the point.
In a perfect world, you would do this for all of the sections of the unit before you begin you lesson planning and teaching for the unit. Having the assessments fresh in your mind will be a huge help in figuring out where you are headed. If it’s summer and school is still two weeks away, invest that time. If you need to know what you are teaching tomorrow, that is probably not realistic. Finish your one section and then begin digging into the lessons. Not optimal but it will probably happen sometime this year.
So Much Time
Yes, planning for new curriculum is going to take time. But until now, you have probably been in the curriculum writing business. Writing warm ups, searching out and adapting activities to support your lessons, finding or writing performance tasks or other problem solving opportunities – all that took time that you no longer have to spend. And the thing that is making you nervous now is the nagging feeling that you have no idea what you’re getting into. So let’s fix that. Sit down and put in the time. The confidence you gain in knowing where you are headed and what you are talking about from day one of the unit will definitely be worth it.
Up next- Planning a lesson