I am currently getting my last unit plan completed for each of my Middle School Science classes. And, I am exhausted! Our school is on Spring Break but my husband and I go to work every morning so that we can get caught up. Our two LO’s still have half day school, so we use that time to get work done. On a daily basis, we choose to come home early and spend time with our girls rather than bring work home with us. Now, we pay for it!
I should preface this post by saying that we work at a small International School. My husband teaches all five high school science classes the school offers. I teach all three middle school (6-8) science classes and have two pull out special education Math/ELA classes. I came into my position as Learning Support Coordinator/Specialist with no resources and no previous documentation. All together, we each have five different “classes” to prepare for.
The majority of our time during breaks is spent planning. IT takes a lot of up front, but to plan units is far more effective and time consuming in the end.
My classroom is chaos!
I run a very student-centered classroom rooted in natural phenomena. This means that each unit starts with a fairly basic idea that kids have already experienced. During Weather, the unit phenomena was “Why do we have clouds?”. During Physics, the unit phenomena was “Why do skateboarders fall down?”. Starting the unit with a question or idea that students can already relate to or that piques their interest creates a lot of buy-in to the new unit.
The current unit my 7th grade class is learning is about ecosystems. To introduce the new unit, we watched a short video on Operation Cat Drop. Yes, this is a real thing. Click on the link to read more about it. The students were totally into it! And, it led me to unleash my project for the end of the unit: create a food web that introduces a new species into our ecosystem that will mitigate the mosquito population. (Since I live in West Africa, malaria and dengue fever are very rampant, thus the focus on mosquitoes.)
Why I Don’t Plan Lessons:
Now, to further explain why I don’t plan lessons, but units – I bought in to the Understanding by Design (UbD) practice put forth by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. (Side note: I actually got to meet Jay McTighe at a UbD conference in Muscat, Oman! And, yes, I geeked out!) If you aren’t aware (have been hiding under a rock, maybe) UbD is basically planning the end of your unit first. You need to know where you are going before you can map out how you are going to get there.
So, my process goes something like this:
- Read and unpack the unit standards. My school uses AERO standards. Thus, I delve into NGSS which incorporates Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Science and Engineering Practices.
- Create the unit rubric from the standards. I am a standards based grading teacher. (We do not have a formal grading system currently, so each teacher gets to choose!)
- Choose as many activities as possible for students to learn and show understanding of each unit standard.
- Decide which activities will be mandatory.
- Decide how many activities each student MUST DO. (I give students a set time schedule and they have to manage their time to accomplish their tasks within that time frame.)
- This is flexible for my ESL and Special Education students.
- Create documents (or format documents) for each activity in the unit.
- Finalize the menu of activities, make copies of EVERYTHING.
This process takes me anywhere from 7-12 hours. And, that’s IF I have stuff to go on and am not making it all up from scratch! But, once I’m done, I’ve got the entire unit planned. That means I’ve got the next 5-8 weeks planned! (Feel free to check out some of my stuff at Teachers Pay Teachers.)
Here’s a short version of how I plan units:
Your Challenge: Try your own UbD Planning strategy. Comment with your steps!
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