Tuesday, 30 July 2013

How I Plan a Unit in 5 Steps

     After finding out that I would be joining the "S-School" team as a full-time teacher, naturally, many of my blog posts turned to discussions of planning and sharing of classroom resources. Since that time, I've received quite a few emails regarding how I specifically go about planning out my classroom units. Now, I by no means consider myself any type of "expert" in classroom planning. In fact, with the ever changing face of education I don't think anyone can truly master this task... ever. Furthermore, this is my first classroom, EVER, so everything is completely brand new to me and every single teacher and classroom is very different.

     With that disclosure mentioned, however, I am more than happy to share the steps that I have been going through as I plan out my classes. Since I have already shared my resources for all of the units in my Grade 7 Science class, I will use this class as my example through this post.

Determine How Many Units I Have To Teach & Lay Out A Tentative Timeline

     The very first thing that I do is head to the Grade 7 Science curriculum document to determine how many units I will teach throughout the year and how much time I can devote to each one. **Now I will say right now that I do utilize the Backwards-by-Design method of planning (which I will discuss more later) so I am not a fan of the coverage method of planning. I do, however, plan out a tentative timeline so that I am not spending 6 months on one unit and then trying to cram the remaining 3 units into 4 months. 
Manitoba Grade 7 science curriculum, manitoba science curriculum
Grade Seven Science at a Glance - Thematic Clusters. (2013). Manitoba Education & Training. Available online at: http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/science/outcomes/5-8/topic_charts.pdf
     After viewing the curriculum document I understand that there are 4 units to cover throughout the school year:
I then referenced our Divisional Calendar and determined that I have a maximum of 194 school days (after subtracting PD days) to achieve this. Using this information I created myself a very-tentative timeline to help keep my planning on track and best utilize season-specific resources. I also consciously build in contingency time to account for student needs and any days lost. My resulting timeline looks something like this:
- Interactions with Ecosystems (7 Weeks)
     - I placed this unit first to take advantage of the ability to
       be outside for ecosystem lab activities.
- The Earth's Crust                  (7 Weeks)
     - I placed this unit second because of the ability to finish it,
       in full, by Christmas break so that we weren't in the middle of
       a unit during break. 
- Particle Theory of Matter      (10 Weeks)
     - I placed this unit third because it is the longest & has a natural
       break in the middle that I can plan around our semester break.
- Forces & Structures              (6 Weeks)
     - I placed this unit last because it lends itself naturally to a lot of
       hands-on activities at the end of the year and allows construction
       to take place outside.

Pick a Unit & Utilize the Backwards-by-Design Method of Planning

     I started with the unit, Interactions with Ecosystems, and completed the Backwards-by-Design Method of Planning (also referred to as Understanding by Design). This involved me determining what Enduring Understandings I wanted my students to know at the end of the unit, and working backwards to determine the best activities and assessment strategies to meet this goal. Here are the questions I answer as I make my way through this process:
What are the Enduring Understandings or GLO’s for Grade 7 Science: Interactions with Ecosystems?
     - Ecosystems contain complex interactions between organisms and their 
     - Environmental, social, and economic factors influence human relationships with
        ecosystems, including management and preservation.
     - Matter and energy are cycled naturally within an ecosystem through the
       relationship between producers and consumers.
     - Knowledge and understanding of micro-organisms have improved food production
       and preservation techniques, as well as ease of human consumption.
What are the specific outcomes or SLO’s for Grade 7 Science: Interactions with Ecosystems?
      - See the "Grade Seven Science at a Glance - Thematic Clusters" image in Step 1
What are the BIG idea(s) for Grade 7 Science: Interactions with Ecosystems?
     - Ecosystems            - Abiotic              - Biotic
     - Matter Cycling       - Preservation       - Ecological Pyramids
     - Micro-organisms 
What will students know after learning about Grade 7 Science: Interactions with Ecosystems?
     - The distinguishing components of ecosystems and the role that they play,
        including abiotic and biotic components.
     - The role humans play in management & preservation of ecosystems.
     - How matter and energy is cycled through various ecosystems, including the role 
       of photosynthesis, food webs, consumers, producers, scavenger, and 
     - The role micro-organisms play in food production, preservation and human
What will students be able to do after learning about Grade 7 Science: Interactions with Ecosystems?
Students will:
     - Be able to identify distinguishing components of ecosystems and explain the role
       that they play: including abiotic and biotic components.
     - Be able to describe the role humans play in management & preservation of 
     - Be able to analyze how matter and energy is cycled through an ecosystem using
       ecological pyramids and food webs: including the role or photosynthesis,
       consumers, producers, scavengers, and decomposers.
     - Be able to evaluate how micro-organisms have influenced food production and
How will students be assessed on what they know and can do?                                                           
- In-class Observation         - Personal Communication / Metacognition Meetings
- Entrance/Exit Slips            - Student Products
- Journal Entries                  - Displays
- Role Playing Scenarios      - Final Unit Portfolio 

To read more about this method, check out this great PDF review. Manitoba teachers also have the awesome resources available from the Manitoba Rural Learning Consortium (mRLC) to assist them with their Backwards-by-Design planning.

Organize Resources To Help Students Meet the Unit Goals

     I utilize both hard-copy and online resources that I have found personally or that a colleague has shared with me. While I never intend to use every single resource that I find, I try to collect a diverse mix of online and offline resources that can:
- Meet the needs of students at different learning levels
- Meet the needs of students with different type of intelligence
- Fit large-group, small-group, and individual work environments
- Fit online and offline options
- Meet the needs of a substitute teacher
Grade 7 Science Curriculum Manitoba
I Spy an Ecosystem. (Accessed 2013). Uploaded by ASU Ask a Biologist. Available online at: http://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/i-spy-ecosystem
The online resources that I curated for the unit, Interactions with Ecosystems, can be viewed in one of my previous posts

Create a Tentative Calendar of Activities to Meet the Unit Goals

     Using a simple Word Document table I create myself a very tentative calendar of activities to take us through the unit to work towards our unit goals. I understand that every single one of these calendars will change based on student needs, interest levels, and school activities but it serves as a good framework to keep me organized in regards to:
- Accumulating classroom/activity supplies
- Booking field trips/lab equipment/extra classrooms
- Organizing multi-grade mentoring activities
- Allowing appropriate time for assessment activities

Go Through My Unit Checklist

     After I've curated my available resources and tentatively planned out the activities that can meet the unit goals, I go through a simple checklist that I created for myself. This checklist summarizes my personal goals as well as some of our school and divisional goals to ensure that I am including certain aspects into my planning. I do not use the exact same checklist for every single class and subject, but it is a good strategy to ensure that I am providing a variety of different learning opportunities. Here is the checklist I went through for this unit:


Layered Curriculum

- Activities Divided Amongst Levels 1-4

Opportunities Outside of the Classroom

- Ecosystem Sampling Outdoor Activity

Lab Activity

- Ecosystem Sampling Outdoor Activity
- Candle in a Jar Activity

Mentoring Activity with Another Class

- Share Take Action Project with Another

Community Involvement


Linguistic Activities

- Notes                         
- Debatable Qs Choices
- Handouts                         
- Entrance/Exit Slips
- Discussions

Logical/Mathematical Activities

- Ecosystems Sampling Outdoor Activity
- Candle in a Jar Lab
- Missing Ecosystem    
- Food Web/E. Pryamid

Visual/Spatial Activities

- Ecosystem Illustrations
- Habitat Take Action Project
- Food Chain/E. Pyramid Illustration/Display

Kinaesthetic Activities

- Web of Life                    
- Candle in a Jar Lab
- Ecosystem Sampling Outdoor Activity
- Post-it Activity            
- Role Playing Activity

Musical Activities

- Ecosystem Rap Review
- Microbes They Might Kill You Sing Along

Interpersonal Activities

- Discussions                                       
- K.W.Ls
- Web of Life                           
- Post-it Activity
- Center Activities                       
- Lab Partners

Intrapersonal Activities

- Outcome Framework Tracking
- Entrance/Exit Slips
- Layered Curriculum Provides Choices

     STEP SIX (if there was a step six) would be to repeat STEPS 1-5 for each of the remaining units until the year is planned out! 

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