Lessons on Lesson Planning

Today I’d like to reflect on lesson structure and lesson preparation. In the past I’ve prepared for a lecture by writing lecture notes on 8 ½ x 11 notepaper. The notes would be structured to include, in order, all the topics I wanted to cover that lecture period. The notes would also include examples for me to develop at the board and a short exercise for students to work on after I completed my examples. When students finished the exercise I would poll them for answers—usually there were 2-3 different answers called out. Once all the answers were taken I would walk (figuratively) through the exercises with the students, as a class, noting the places where wrong answers were creeping in. Then, if there were no questions, on to the next topic.

As I’ve written in an earlier blog, I’ve being trying to change my lesson structure to make my lessons more active. I have been including worksheets in my lesson structure, with more complicated questions on the worksheets, in place of the simple in-class exercises I was previously using. The worksheets have about 15-20 minutes of material in them and they normally require a student to interpret English-language descriptions of problems, rather than just mathematical formulas. As the students work on the material, alone or in groups, their choice, I circulate and answer questions. So far, the change is helping me to work more directly with students who are having trouble with the questions—either the math or the interpretation of the English description. These students did not self-identify as having problems when I was using the older structure of embedded, single-exercise check-ups on understanding. I’m positive on the changes so far. Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing this long enough to say much more about it right now.

Another change I’ve started is to enter my notes in outline form in computer files. The advantage is that I can hope to create an improving body of lesson plans as I teach and reteach the same courses. The disadvantage is the time it takes to format the lesson plans online—I’m accustomed to thinking with paper and pen. It’s also time consuming to generate graphs and tables that are simple to do by hand, but not always so simple in a word processor. Some instructors scan in hand-draw diagrams to get the best of both worlds, but I haven’t tried to do that yet.

I have, from the beginning, created my worksheets online. It’s also a time consuming process, especially since I create an answer sheet to share with the students. (Unless I just run out of time. Then the students have to be satisfied with in-class answers.)  I do like having the growing body of worksheets, but I now need to give more thought to how I name the files, since I’ve already experienced retrieval problems and I’ve only just started with this method.

For now, I have to return to lesson planning. More next week.


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