Lesson Plan Evolution and Note-Taking Assistance

I wrote previously about how I tackled my lesson plans in my first couple of years of teaching. In this post I’ll write about how I’ve moved to digital lesson plans and developed notes for my students to use as tools in their note-taking and studying. To summarize…

Year 1: Made my life miserable trying to make perfect PowerPoints (Taught Algebra 2 and Calculus)

Year 2: Ditched ALL technology and wrote all my lesson plans on paper (Started teaching Chemistry 1 and AP Physics 1)

Year 3: Digitized lesson plans for myself, slowly found the value of posting my personal notes (Still teaching Chemistry 1 and AP Physics 1)

Year 4 (now): I’m making completely digitized lesson plans and now provide students with Instructor Notes (So lucky! Three years in a row with Chemistry 1 and AP Physics 1)

I felt a lot more comfortable teaching in my second year when I freed myself from the restrictions of PowerPoint and my nit-pickiness over format and alignment. Doing so also helped me discover that in my personal style of teaching, I need the freedom of a large whiteboard and the ability to return to diagrams and definitions from earlier in the lesson.

Last year, I began to settle into my teaching style and had the chance to teach the same content two years in a row. I kept many lessons similar to what I had done the first time around, adjusting as needed based on my notes and memories of the previous year. As I tweaked my lessons, I found it useful to convert my handwritten lesson plans to a word document.

digital lesson plan.PNG

A few aspects of the digital lesson plan I should highlight:

  • All lesson plans for a unit are in a single file. This keeps me from having to open multiple files when I’m looking for a detail in a given lesson. It’s also easy to adjust pacing and move material from one day to the next.
  • Different lessons within a unit are separated using Microsot Word’s built-in headings. I use Heading 1 for each day and Heading 2 for sub-headings in a single lesson.
  • The Navigation pane can be accessed from the “View” ribbon by checking the “Navigation Pane” box. Clicking on the headings and sub-headings in the Navigation pane allows me to jump to a specific part of the unit’s lesson plans.
  • The beginning of each lesson plan shows me at a glance what is needed for the lesson, my objectives, and what needs to be written on my “Do Now” board.

I adapted the idea of having a single file for all my lesson plans to some of my handouts. For example, I have a single file in my Unit 1 folder for all the exit tickets/formative assessments in that unit. This helps me to avoid having to open and close multiple files of questionable names when I’m looking for one specific question or detail.

As time goes on, I find myself able to print multiple days’ worth of exit tickets from this file at a time and make class copies up front, batching these tasks (see #3) as I learned from Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.

Now that I’m using this digital approach to lesson plans for a second year, I can say that very little has changed in the format and style of my lesson plans. This year, especially in my AP Physics 1 class, I am able to copy and paste lesson plans from previous years and make small changes as needed.

I feel fairly confident in how I prepare my lessons, but how do my students feel?

In the past, my students have struggled to take notes in my class because I don’t have a guiding PowerPoint for my lessons like many other teachers in my school do. I previously wrote briefly about some steps I have taken to support my students and their note-taking, but I felt for a long time that there was a gap in what I expected my students to take away from the class and what actually made it into their notes.

Then Jennifer Gonzales came out with this awesome summary of what the research says on note-taking. After I read this piece, the first change I made to my teaching practice was to provide my students with Teacher Notes. This happened in tandem with digitizing my lesson plans, as I found myself narrating how I would explain a concept to my students in class. The product was a mini-textbook aligned with my approach to various concepts and written in [what is hopefully] a student-friendly voice.

in class notes.PNG

Here’s another example:

class notes

This year I was very intentional with how I introduced my AP students to the Instructor Notes. I acknowledged that our class likely would be different from their other classes with all the activities and demonstrations that we would do in the lab. I told them that they should take notes as we move through a lesson (as the research in the blog linked above says, “More is better”), but when asked to take part in a discussion or manipulate a piece of equipment, they should participate fully as this experience is also crucial to their learning. In exchange, I promised to post my personal notes online for them to access outside of class.

One of their tools for studying, then, is to compare their notes side-by-side with my own, and fill in any gaps or make additions as needed.

I still have a long way to go in implementing all the best practices in supporting students in note-taking. Something I could work on this year is building time into my lessons for students to revise their notes in collaboration with a partner or group. I hope to provide students with guided notes in the coming years, but there are other aspects to teaching that need my attention first.

**Side Note. All of what I’ve done with note-taking has worked with how I’ve taught chemistry and physics up to now. This year I’m trying out Modeling Instruction in chemistry and I’m navigating really murky waters when it comes to note-taking. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how to support students in this setting, I would really appreciate them!**


How do you prepare your lesson plans? Has this changed over the years? How do you support your students with note-taking? Let me know in the comments!

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