Curriculum Design

*Update: Check out my first ever Algebra lesson: The Real Number Line*

So apparently this curriculum design thing is hard.

Really hard. Especially when you are totally unprepared. I don't feel like I have learned anything about how to plan and design a lesson, let alone the entire curriculum. Sure, we learned how to make a lesson fit Madeline Hunter's lesson plan outline but that doesn't help me answer the questions I'm asking myself now.

Where do I start? How much should I review? What order does it make sense for me to teach these lessons in? What format will I teach each lesson in? How do I set up each lesson? How do I involve students and give them ownership of their learning? How do I start the lesson? How do I close it? What's best for the students?

These are hard questions that I know I can't possibly figure out all at one time. I know that I can't know everything my first year. But I want to.

My perfectionist nature is taking over to the point that I am so overwhelmed with options, ideas, suggestions, formats, and so on that I end up doing nothing and getting nowhere.

One important thing that I have learned about myself is this: I need to see the big picture first.

I was overwhelmed because I had no idea where to start. So I started with order. I opened up my Algebra 1 book and started looking at each section. Some things didn't make sense- it looked like the authors just threw it in random places to make sure it was covered. So I began to take things out and move them around, or cut it out completely. I kept questioning my PLN to make sure I wasn't making any huge mistakes or totally screwing up. I talked to the other math teacher who teaches higher levels and he helped me decide what could be taken out of my class that would be taught in his class. He even gave me his plan book from last year to see how far he got, what sections he skipped, and how long he spent on each topic. This was all very important for me to get a sense of where to begin. I had to have my framework in order before I could even begin planning a single lesson. Your brain may not work that way, but it definitely worked for me.

So after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears I came up with an outline for the entire year, broken down into separate units and sections. Ta-da!

I would love your feedback on this list. It took a lot of work but it could always use improvement. I hope that by posting this, someone else will find it a little easier to start their lesson planning,

I have since started creating my day 1 lesson, but have not finished. It's slow going and complicated to produce something that you've read about but never seen or experienced. I think I know what I want it to be like, but I'm creating it blind. I've had many recommendations to use the book Understand by Design and I've ordered it but haven't got it yet. =( And it doesn't help that the mail doesn't run until 3:30.

But I digress.

I covet your suggestions, recommendations, guidelines, feedback, and critique. These are the hard but important stages. It's easy and exciting to create a class website, design student and parent letters, organize supplies, and decorate a classroom. But the most important and time consuming thing is to plan the day in and day out high quality content and assessment that every student deserves. This is where I find fault with a lot of teachers. We, myself included, usually don't want to do the work it takes to develop high quality content. We rationalize that doing all these other things like having color coordinated folders, and keeping our desks in five perfectly straightened rows and sponsoring these clubs and coming to x amount of basketball games and high-fiving y amount of students in the hallway or even using z amount of technology in our class are the ingredients to being a good teacher. Those are good ingredients obviously. Ingredients for a good friend, supporter, mentor, sponsor, person that relates well to youth, and etc. But that's not what makes a good teacher. Only one thing matters.

Did they learn?


  1. I'm wondering about if you have practice homeschooling or worked as a homeschool teacher! I think if U really wants to practice a very good teacher profession you may try it some time... i just recommend U, about the importance of a quality instructor textbooks

  2. As you plan your first few days, you might want to incorporate some type of pre-assessment. It doesn't have to be long or complicated, but with my Algebra 1 students I tend to find they already know and understand a good part of your first two units. If you find that's true for your students, it will give you more time to focus on the other units.

  3. Jessica,
    You're definitely right and I'm looking for a good pre-test to start the year with. Our school is using STI. a computer assessment program and supposedly they have a huge database of "aligned to standards" questions to assessed every standard. Any advice on doing one giant pre-test as opposed to pre-testing for each topic? My students don't have a very stable math background, so I'm building in the "review" as the first two units. Gotta have the foundation before we can build!

  4. I always start with the end in mind. What do I want them to know when we are done? Then I work backwards to get there. You also need to know what they know before you can start.

  5. Dkzody,
    You are right and that's my mantra. Always working backwards.

  6. When I pre-assess, I do it in chunks. At the beginning of the year, I start with a pre-assessment over the topics we'll cover first. It's more of a traditional pre-test. As we move to other topics, I use anticipation guides, quick-writes, and other types of assessments to find out what they know so it mixes up pre-assessments a bit. Any way you find to meet your students where they are is great; it's just important that you take the time to find out.

  7. Thanks for the explanation Jessica. Your way makes the most sense of anything else I've heard. I think one of the biggest failures at my school is not pre-assessing. I'm not sure if they ever have. It is such a little thing to do that can make such a big difference.

  8. I like to involve some of the other senses when I'm teaching negative numbers. I have this little Gatorade demo... Get a big clear plastic bottle of Gatorade. Mark the starting level with a permanent marker. Then pour out one cup and place it on the table. Mark the new level. Discuss how that "gap" can be described numerically... you're trying to get them to say -1. Pour out another cup and mark it. Ask them what the "gap" is now. Pour out a third cup and mark the level. Once they recognize it is now -3. Ask them what happens when you pour one cup back in. Do just that. Steer them towards seeing this is -3 + 1 = -2 Everytime they get hung up on negative numbers you can remind of how negative numbers are like the empty space in the Gatorade bottle. You can ask them to put a problem like -5 + 7 in words in terms of Gatorade. Oh...and maybe you could give them each a bit of Gatorade...something fun they'll remember.

  9. Nimmy T,
    That's a great idea! Love it!