Overall, this was the strongest start to the year I have had. While I created new curriculum in each of my first three years of teaching, this was the first time I felt I was involved in planning something new at the top of my game. Having two wonderful planning partners made things exponentially better than I could have done on my own.
Through the unit, the vast majority of my students demonstrated that they had deeply thought about our unit’s essential question, “Is geography destiny?” On the unit test, nearly all students were able to articulate both sides of the answer. They also demonstrated a satisfactory understanding of the historical content we dealt with.
Things We Got Right
- Starting the year with an immersive simulation that gave all students an entry point to engage with each other got the year off to a great start and got students on board from day one. The Mission to Mars entry point, ending with the swerve of students going through a wormhole and having to start a civilization on a new planet, was a great hook. The simulation was the right amount of time and kept all students engaged in a thought-experiment requiring high level critical analysis.
- Starting the year focusing on how to work together in groups to solve problems has already paid dividends and will continue to do so throughout the year.
- We successfully integrated a very good essential question that required all students to think critically throughout the unit. Students had the opportunity to return to and regularly reevaluate their answer to the question.
- Both the project and the unit test assessed exactly what we taught. Creating these first ensured that this happened.
- Prezi rules!
Things We Got Wrong That Are Easy to Fix
- For the students’ first project, we had models for the written part, but not the visual part. I should know better by now – models are essential. Many students did not complete the visual part of the project, and most of those who did, did so poorly. I don’t think we were clear on our expectations for the visual part. We were motivated buy a vague desire to give students multiple outlets to show what they learned, but even our more usual students wrote better in the end. Next year, i would replace the visual component with an emphasis on presentation skills and would formally assess the presentations.
- A rookie mistake I have made over and over again: the first Socratic Seminar of the year has to be on an easily accessible topic like the Pledge of Allegiance. I am always hesitant to take the extra day to teach students how to have a seminar this way, but it is worth it. Luckily, after making this mistake in my first two sections, I corrected it in my third section. For that reason, the discussion on the challenging Guns, Germs, & Steel excerpt was much better in that section, despite it being my CTT section (team-taught to serve the 40% of students with IEP’s).
Things We Got Wrong That Need to Be Redone
- The visual component of the project needs to be reconceived completely.
- Students should not be graded on how well they did their group roles: it is impossible to monitor, and students did a poor job of evaluating each other.