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[Back to School] Lessons, Standards, Objectives, Oh My!

September 14, 2013

In our third week of “Step 1: Inquiry Approaches to Teaching”, we were given the details of the lesson we’ll be teaching in a few weeks time.  All lessons plans follow the 5E model (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate). All of the E’s in the lessons are filled out more or less except for the “Engage”. In addition to figuring out what we’ll have to do for the engage, we are asked to write up a few sentences about the concepts that are the focus of the lesson, identify the common core standards that apply to the lesson, and to write three learning objectives based on the concepts and standards.

For example, the lesson I’ve been assigned (for fifth grade) involves an activity in which students are given a collection of different length measuring instruments–yard sticks, string, a surveyor’s wheel, measuring tape, etc. Students are supposed to plan how they might determine the perimeter of their classroom, in the context of how we’ll be replacing all the baseboards. The ultimate goal is to determine the price of replacing the baseboards. That’s really just the explore of the lesson. It’s not really clear from the lesson plan we’ve been given what they intend to happen with the explain, but it seems as if maybe students will be sharing their results, explaining how they arrived at them, and the teacher helping the class reach a consensus and introduce terms like perimeter.

One of the issues that has come up is that the menu of lessons teachers can pick from for us to teach were aligned to the old TN state standards, and so now the menu of lessons don’t quite match the way they should. It’s not too much of a problem, but it means re-thinking what the learning objectives for lesson might be. For example, ideas about perimeter used to be a grade 5 standard in the old TN standards. So previously you could find standards about perimeter on the grade level. Now, with the common core, perimeter is a grade 3 standard.  They didn’t want me identifying grade 3 standards for a fifth grade lesson, so we had to go shopping for possible grade 5 standards. One of the standards in grade 5 that we found is something like “solving multi-step, real world problems that involve unit conversions with a measurement system”.  So, now we’ve made the perimeter lesson just the context for a learning objectives about problem-solving and unit conversions.

In that context, my quick draft for learning objectives were the following:

  • SWBAT communicate plans about how to measure the perimeter of an irregular shaped polygon (including which tools they’ll use, how they’ll use them, and why their plan will yield the perimeter)
  • SWBAT identify situations (or aspects of a problem) where unit conversions might be necessary and explain why.
  • SWBAT to correctly perform unit conversions where whole numbers are involved.

I was in the classroom yesterday making observations and students have been practicing unit conversions, so it seems like a reasonable thing to ask them to do in the context.

Forward Rather than Backward Design

One of the things I’ve been thinking about in this process is what early teaching practices students are being introduced to either explicitly and implicitly. One of things we seem to be doing is saying, “Hey here’s this good/cool lesson. Now go figure out what standards might be there”. I’ve been thinking about this in the context of Wiggins’ Backwards Design, and how we are doing the exact opposite of this. I’m not saying that this is good or bad at the moment, I’m just noting it. I heard that they started teaching this course with students designing lessons, but it was just too much. So they switched to giving students lessons to go with, giving them an opportunity to flesh them out, practice them, and link to standards and learning objectives.

Next week, I have to have my lesson all ready to go for a practice teach, so I’ll try to post more about how that gets fleshed out.



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