Make it work, then make it pretty: Lesson plans, Year 2

Last time, I wrote about how I went into my first year of teaching working for perfection, even in the details of my PowerPoint slides and the handouts I gave to my students. One reason why my first year was so rough. A few days later, much to my amusement, Rosalind Walker wrote an excellent post about the value of teachers’ time. At its core, this is what the “Make it work, then make it pretty” series is about, and in fact, many of the strategies that Rosalind discusses in her recent post will be exemplified throughout this blog.


Last August, as I started my second year teaching, I swore off technology. No PowerPoint, no Word, no printed or digital handouts. Over the summer, I had gotten really excited for the Classroom Performance clickers and tech that was available to our department, but I talked myself out of them. This year I was going to live “Make it work, then make it pretty.”

Having no tech was pretty shocking for my juniors and seniors. After all, they had spent years at a one-to-one (laptop) school, learning science from teachers who rock teaching with PowerPoints. The students were completely thrown off-guard when I started filling two to four large whiteboards with physics every class. We got through it, though, and now they won’t be surprised when they get to college and their professor does the same.

So this is what my lesson plans look like:

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Each individual lesson takes me about thirty minutes to put together. I write in 0.7 mm Pilot pens that scan well for the day I decide to digitize these. I can switch quickly between colors to annotate my work. Scratch-outs are perfectly acceptable and the unlined page gives me complete freedom to write and draw in whatever spatial arrangement makes sense for the day.

Every lesson plan starts with a Goal (lesson objective) and a Do Now, which are copied to the board for the students to see as they walk in. The Do Now will range from “Get these supplies ready” to “Find a group of four and discuss the following question.”

I copy definitions from the text as I want my students to remember them. Thankfully, I have many resources to provide sample problems or they’re easy to come up with on the spot. I work out the problems, annotating as I go and switching colors to highlight informal assessments that I don’t want to miss.

Once written, my lesson plan goes into a plastic sleeve. The extra protection allows me to handle it throughout the day with minimal wear and tear. I can even use a dry erase marker to make minor notes to myself while I teach. I refer to my plan as necessary throughout class, copying definitions and problems onto the board, checking our solutions, and reminding myself of key questions to pose to my students. As I teach, I constantly walk around my students’ desks, listening for key points in their discussions and making sure they have good notes.

At the end of the day, any notes or comments about what worked or what didn’t are written on a post-it and stuck to to the lesson plan. I make notes on timing, good impromptu formative assessments, questions or activities that were especially memorable, and material that got moved around as I taught different sections of the same class. Any handouts or worksheets for the day are placed in the same sleeve. Then it all goes at the end of the three-ring binder for that subject.

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That’s it. That’s what I can do this year. Next year, my goal is to have useful, consistent bell work and sample problems available to students so they don’t have to copy them to their notes.

Someday, we’ll whiteboard all the time. There will be solutions available so they can check their work in an efficient way without me. My lecture notes will be posted after class along with a video of the lecture for students who are absent and others who want to look back to review. There will be a thought-provoking reflection question for the last ten minutes of every lesson.

Not this year, though, and that’s okay. This year, I’m making it work. Later I’ll make it pretty.


What are you doing right now to make it work first? Let me know in the comments! I would love more ideas to simplify my life.

Author’s Note: I realize that I have a lot of freedom in how I design my lessons. Your district or school might require lesson plan submission in a certain format or a specific electronic document by a specific day/time each week. But maybe doing something quick, imperfect, and handwritten like this might make your formal lesson plan submission easier.

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