This is more or less a love letter to all of the incredible resources on the internet, as well as a reflection on how I’ve been planning lessons this year.
I am at a new school, going from 8th grade to Algebra-II and Pre-Calc. I have three different preps for the first time (two pretty different flavors of Pre-Calc). In addition to figuring out new curriculum, I teach at a semester school, so kids come for a semester and we do our best to match our curriculum to students’ home schools. This has meant a lot of new demands on my prep time, and while my school has a solid curriculum from past years, it isn’t really my style, and I’m working to include more high cognitive demand tasks and opportunities for problem-based learning, which means mostly writing everything from scratch.
In the past I used what might be called the “brute force” method of MathTwitterBlogoSphere lesson planning. I read tons of blogs (I still have over 200 in my feedly account), mined all kinds of resources endlessly, and stitched together engaging tasks, three-acts, and more from every source I could find into a curriculum. Now, with more to prep and plenty of unfamiliar material, the brute force method isn’t working particularly well. My Algebra-II students are juniors who have struggled in math and came in needing some work on linear functions and equation solving, on top of our curricular goals for the year. Then I have a more advanced Pre-Calc class that is starting the year with conic sections and sequences and series, and has been rocking most of what I throw them out of the park. The Pre-Calc class in the middle is focusing on functions, mostly Algebra-II content to start. That’s a huge range of topics I need great tasks and great instruction for.
What I’ve Been Doing
I have a few go-tos. These are dense, high-quality resources for tasks.
Mathalicious has click-and-print lessons, both for introducing concepts and deepening understanding.
Illustrative Mathematics has a huge range of tasks and growing course blueprints.
Desmos lessons and activity builder are amazing, and the new search feature is adding great content faster and faster.
Geoff Krall’s problem-based curriculum maps collate much of the best from blogs, as well as resources that are a bit less user-friendly, like the Shell Centre.
Dan’s three-acts are always a go-to. Great stuff, and I’ve spent so much time exploring them it’s not hard to match tasks to situations.
Enter the MTBoS Search Engine
All of that is great. It’s the backbone of my curriculum — there’s plenty of instruction that goes on, but the real learning happens when students apply that instruction to a variety of rigorous, engaging tasks. What the resources above are missing is both the depth and breadth of additional tasks produced by the MathTwitterBlogoSphere, as well as the instructional approaches — here’s an awesome way to explain something, here’s a useful example, here’s a cool demo. This is where the MTBoS search engine has made an enormous difference for me. It’s here, designed by the unbelievable John Stevens. What I like best is that it searches across both a huge range of blogs and a huge period of time. More times than I can count I have searched for a topic and found an amazing post from five years ago I never would have stumbled across otherwise. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it has universally been fruitful for me to collect new resources and add new tools to my teaching.
This is my current plan, and I’m sure it will evolve as I get used to my new preps. I’m curious for other ideas — what resources are similarly helpful and relatively easy to use? What am I missing?
Curious how you see Shell’s materials as user-unfriendly. Seems they have really exhaustive lesson plans. (Maybe that’s what you mean though?)
It’s interesting to think about what makes a lesson user-friendly. Here are some criteria that apply to many of the resources I love:
They pose a single, engaging question that motivates worthwhile mathematics
They are simple and straightforward, and let me make the decisions about how to sequence and structure them — they provide a new resource or a new perspective, rather than trying to do what I might have wanted to do anyway.
They are easy to click-and-print, or cut-and-paste-and-print.
Much of the Shell Centre’s materials are great, but that great stuff is buried in dense lesson plans that try to plan too much of the lesson for me. Student materials are often pretty thick and difficult to modify for my needs. It’s difficult to decide quickly which lessons are worth using, or are going to be engaging for my students. While many of the lessons are structured well, they don’t add as much value as other resources that take more novel approaches and add more to what I would have done without them.
I think great curriculum resources are designed to make it easy for teachers to find a lesson when they need it, make it clear what the value of that lesson is over another, easy to prep for class, and allow for modification or editing to fit the needs of the teacher.
I’m probably being a bit tough on the Shell Centre here, but I have had consistently great experiences with other resources, and often left trying to use a Shell Centre lesson feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with the student experience.
Thanks for the follow-up. Nothing left for me to add here except to notice that the flexibility you like is disliked by a lot of teachers and seen as user-unfriendly. Takes all types!
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