Wednesday, August 6, 2014

1st Day Plans

I have had many requests to explain how I set up my classroom to allow students a voice in what they learn, so I thought I would blog through my planning of it to share with those that want to try.

When I start school, I have no plans for the year at all.  I have goals, objectives, and hopes - but no actual day to day plans.  This is what my "lesson plans" look like as I begin this school year.

Here is a link to the actual schedule if you are curious as to how it turns out :) 

I know this would cause some people stress and anxiety - and I am a high anxiety type of person.  Last year I thought I was going to have a panic attack before the first day of school because I was worried it would fail and I would be frantically planning late in the nights and not being prepared for my kids.

The fact that I am doing this again - and sharing - should convince you that it worked.

First day of school -- I do a quick scavenger hunt around the school just as a fun, welcome back kind of activity.  I also sneak in a little digital citizenship :)  Once they return from the scavenger hunt, they have a link on the board to a Google Moderator (please someone find me something that looks prettier for this...) and the question "What do you want to learn in anatomy this year?"  Each student can submit as many ideas, questions, or topics as they would like and they can vote and comment on others ideas.

After school, I will read through the questions and try to organize into some themes or big picture ideas. Last year I was able to come up with six major themes and one "other" category.  I loosely tied their ideas to topics I had previously taught, for example - instead of the digestive system, I changed it to diet and nutrition; instead of skeleton and muscles, I changed it to exercise physiology or sports science.

Day 2 - They will read the questions from all the classes combined.  They will get sticky notes to write down their favorites or new ideas and then sort them around the room on giant posters with my themes written on them.  I will take the poster with the most stickies and probably make that our first unit, so I am starting the year with the topic they are most interested in.  The rest of the posters will be put away and used throughout the year, hopefully one per six weeks.

Day 3 - We will read all the questions on the one topic and sort into Google-able and non Google-able questions.  Do they really need me to answer basic questions? Nope....they have Google for that. They do however need me to help them learn how to Google and how to judge a source for credibility.

Once we have reorganized and possibly reworked some questions, we then will decide what we do with that information.  What is our purpose? How can we solve problems? How can we ask more questions? How can we impact society with our knowledge?  We start each six weeks the same way - with a new poster.

It really wasn't that difficult for me to do this for an entire year.  They, of course, will not ask to learn all of our TEKS...such as kidney filtration or how a neuron works.  This is now my job - to connect their interests into the state mandated curriculum.  This is way more fun than creating a presentation for power-point karaoke.  It didn't give me more work, it just changed the type of work I do.  

Examples of what they wanted to learn and how I incorporated what they didn't want to learn...

They requested to learn about mental disorders -- we learned about it from the perspective of medication and how medication for mental disorders alters what happens to the synapse.  Final product: a 60 second PSA using science to remove the stigma of mental health conditions published to our class portfolio which is linked to our iTunes U course.

They requested to learn about pregnancy and babies -- I found/developed a case study that walked them through pregnancy as if they were new parents and their baby ended up with a kidney condition. Final product:  a class iBook that focused on various aspects of maintaining a healthy pregnancy that is published to the iBook store.

Options - choices - freedom.  That was the theme of the class.  This year I need to focus in on how to manage all groups at different levels and working towards different products.  The small group team meetings worked well, but it takes a lot of organization, which is not my strong area. :)

I hope you accept this challenge to let your kids design your syllabus!! Good luck! Any feedback or suggestions appreciated! 


  1. Jodie,

    Thank you for this glimpse into your course planning. I want to do something similar in Physics to make it more interesting and engaging for my freshmen. I will probably do it with select units this year and possibly expand it for next year.

    I wish I could make your session at CAST. However, I will only be at CAST Saturday.


    1. BILL!!! I think you will like it! They have fun ideas!
      Let me know if I can help at all and hope things are going well in East Texas!! :)
      ps I will publish my CAST session soon

  2. Wow!!! Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas.. I would love to do something like this with my Grade 2 class but wonder if my head will allow me to take a chance??

    1. It was really fun to see how it all worked out. This year with my younger students, I was a bit more structured but they still got to suggest ideas and projects and lots of choose your own adventure stuff :)