## Using Essential Understanding to drive lesson planning

Okay, I have to admit, I haven’t really designed my own curriculum for algebra 2 before. I just looked at the district blueprint, saw what chapters they expected me to cover, and did that. Sometimes I figured out homework assignments the morning of. Sometimes I had homework planned out weeks in advance. But I had never really ** thought **about how to teach the curriculum from the top down before.

And then I met Holly Young and the Washoe County School Districts RPDP and began the Student Learning Facilitator program (SLF) and began to read the book Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe (UbD).

Darn her! She threw my whole process upside down and made me realize how much I sucked. And then my school changed their schedule to a odd block arrangement which takes our class minutes from 90 to 71 (but increases minutes over the semester and increases class meetings! Yea!) And then the Common Core State Standards is coming out, and we will have to rewrite everything anyway.

So this summer, another teacher and I sat down immediately after school was out to start planning next year’s Algebra 2 class. It is the first time she has taught it, and it I have not taught it for 2 years, so it is new to me, given the changes to our school this year.

Read on to see some of the details of our planning.

We began by identifying what the district expected of an Alg2 course. The district provides a blueprint that is aligned with the state standards, and all schools in the district are to teach the same material. Okay, that was easy. Our new blueprint won’t be out until July (which is a waste of time, but hey, not every teacher started this the day after school got out.). That is okay, our blueprint from this year isn’t supposed to change radically, and if we do our job correctly, it should not matter that much.

Here is our Algebra 2 Blueprint from last year.

As you can see, it breaks it down my chapter and section, and lets us know how many questions are on the exam and from which section. It is supposed to be doing the important work for us.

Notice it is also incredibly teacher focused and book focused.

In our planning based on the principles of SLF and UbD, we first started with the blueprint. We went through it and decided what is the Essential Understandings from each section. Our first draft looked like this.

Chap 3.2

Can you solve a system of equations with substitution?

Can you solve a system of equations with elimination?

Chap 3.3

Can you graph two or more inequalities on the same graph?

Can you shade correctly the two or more regions indicated by the inequality?

Chap 3.5

Can you add and subtract matrices?

Can you do scalar multiplication with matrices?

We did that process through Chapter 5 of our book, because that is what our blueprint said.

Very teacher focused and very, very book focused. It is also disjointed and hard to read. Definitely not learner friendly, and definitely does not give the learner a map to follow for the semester.

After some discussion, and a shower (the best ideas always take place in the shower) we revamped the Essential Understandings to these: (this is draft 2, NOT our final draft. That has not been written yet.)

Can you graph?

- Can you graph more than one linear function on a graph? (3.1)
- Can you graph more than one linear inequality on a graph? (3.3)
- Can you graph a quadratic function on a graph? (4.1)
- Can you graph a polynomial function on a graph? (5.2)
- Can you translate any of the above equations up, down, left, right, and flip them?
- Can you describe end states of any function? (5.2)

Can you do algebraic arithmetic?

- Can you add, subtract and multiply matrices? (3.5)
- Can you add, subtract, multiply and divide complex numbers? (4.6)
- Can you add, subtract, multiply and divide polynomial functions? (5.3), (5.5)

Can you solve?

- Can you solve linear functions through: graphing, substitution, elimination or matrices? (3.1), (3.2), (3.4), (3.5), (3.6), (3.7), (3.8)
- Can you solve quadratic functions through graphing, factoring, completing the square or quadratic equation? (4.1), (4.2), (4.3), (4.4), (4.5), (4.7), (4.8)
- Can you solve polynomial functions through factoring, long division, or synthetic division? (5.2), (5.4), (5.5)

We are in the process of adding section numbers to the EU’s so we can now go through and decide what evidence of learning we are going to require for each Understanding. Notice that these are the same learning requirements, but now the Understandings do not need to be attached to any particular book. They also are grouped so a common Understanding goes through the three big understandings.

Are we done. Not by a long shot. Does Algebra 2 make more sense! Definitely. Will it make more sense to the learners? I certainly hope so.

More on this to come.