Building Out Your Backbone: Curriculum Design Part 4 [Episode 85]


Click below to hear how to build out your backbone:


We have made it to part 4 of the Curriculum Design mini-series! The first three parts weren’t exactly “fun,” I get it! But this is the point in the design process where we get to start being creative, and the process becomes a bit more interesting! BUT, if you have not done steps 1 through 3, it is crucial that you complete them before moving on to part 4 – building out the backbone of your curriculum!

Ready to dive into the fun part of curriculum design, teacher friend? Building the backbone of your curriculum means planning out all of your instructional resources – think labs, activities, projects, and all the memorable learning experiences for your students! This is where you get to be creative and think of all the ways you can engage your students in their learning! 

Now, don’t be intimidated and think you need to add tons of activities and labs and projects into your curriculum right away. And, of course, you do not need to figure this all out on your own! In this episode, I am sharing how to approach building out your backbone if you have taught the course before and if you have not taught it before, what I try to include in my units, and my action step for you to work on part 4 of the curriculum design process. 

If you are loving the Podcast PD or, specifically, the Curriculum Design mini-series, I would so appreciate it if you left a rating and review to help us reach more teacher friends! 

Topics Discussed:

  • What it means to build out your backbone
  • Why it is crucial you complete the first 3 parts of the curriculum design process before completing this part
  • How to approach building out your backbone if you have taught the course before
  • How to build out your backbone if this is a new course to you
  • Why you should start small
  • What I try to include in each of my units

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

You’re listening to episode number 85 of the secondary science simplified podcast. Welcome to part four of five. In our curriculum design mini series, y’all the end is in sight. I know this has been so much work, but you’re doing really, really good work. And just one more week of this content before we transition into classroom management, a little mini series on that in August, and then September is going to be all about grading, grading practices, assessments, dealing with cheating, all those practical things. So if you’ve been like, wow, this series has been a lot, I hear you it is a lot. This is my full time job. It’s a lot I’m telling you. But I hope it’s been worth it. I hope you learned from this. And you’re excited to wrap up and finish this strong and then head into some new stuff in the upcoming months. But so far, let’s just review what we’ve talked about. You have strategized your sequence for one of your preps. Hopefully by this time, you’ve analyzed your aims and got really, really clear on what you need to teach and maybe even how you need to teach it. And also last week, you formed your foundation. Hopefully, at this point you outlined and maybe flushed out a lot of your lecture notes or whatever direct instruction tools you plan on using. If you’re a textbook user, maybe you’ve kind of wrapped up your thoughts there and what that will be. And now today, you are ready, you are ready for part four, which is building out your backbone and the backbone of your curriculum. The most important part of it all is your labs, your activities, your projects, the fun, the hands on fun things, y’all this is the good stuff. This is where you really get to just start having fun and dreaming and getting really creative. If this is something you really enjoy doing. I mean, you’re just gonna love this. This is what really gets me jazzed about what I get to do for a living. So I hope you are just as excited as I am. Let’s dive right in. This is secondary science from provide a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend, let’s get to today’s episode.

We made it to the most fun, in my opinion, part of the curriculum design process, which is coming up with all of your instructional resources, apart from your lecture, or direct instruction resources, which of course, we covered back in episode 83, which was part three. So if you miss that episode, make sure you go back and give it a listen. But here’s a little word of caution I want to share with you before we go any further. Many people do this step first, when they decide they’re going to design a curriculum or you know, map out their course for the year. This is where they begin because it’s the most fun. You see a good idea in a Facebook group or you go to a professional development training and you get a bunch of free resources from the presenter. And oftentimes, we’re constantly taking in so many ideas from social media, from other teachers, you know, from these trainings, and we just start to become resource hoarders. In idea hoarders, we have so many ideas, that it’s almost overwhelming. But this is why it is so critical to me that you save this for part four. This is not part one of the process for a reason. I outlined parts one and three first, on purpose with intentionality. Okay, so if you miss those, Episode 80, that was all about strategizing your sequence, really looking at your course, as a whole big picture outlining the entire unit, it will excuse me outlining the entire curriculum and every unit within it with individual concepts all falling underneath these overarching themes for your course. And then an episode 81 really analyzing your aims, really reading, studying and understanding your standards, your criteria that you’re supposed to cover for your class and really knowing it well. And most of all, translating it into a language that makes sense for both you and your students. That’s really usable in your classroom. You know it backwards and forwards. That’s what that’s part is all about. And then part three, which we covered in Episode 83. Again, forming your foundation, knowing what you’re going to lecture on and making it as minimal as possible and putting everything else into this part which is our backbone. Only once you’ve done those three other steps can you really build out the back One of your course, really well, which is, again, all of these memorable learning experiences we want for our students, the labs, the inquiry activities, the research projects, the creative writing opportunities, model building experiences, etc, all of these other things. I think oftentimes, again, what we do is we hoard all this stuff. And then we’re just kind of throwing all of this stuff at our students, but none of it is really aligned and intentional. And that’s why when I think it’s really important to go in the right order, that’s one of Kendra hdaci, the lazy genius is principles, doing things in the right order. And this to me is the right order. Now, how do you do this? How do you come up with these ideas? How do you decide if you’ve been hoarding all these resources for years, which ones to use, which ones not to use that kind of thing. That’s where I’m here to help you today. Now, how you approach this, though, is going to depend on if you’re writing a curriculum right now for a course that you have taught before, or not. Okay, so, if you have taught this course before, if this is one you’ve done before, I think you need to go back and give episode 74. A Listen, okay. It’s specifically an episode about labs. But you can apply the principles in it to all of your instructional resources. In that episode, I walk you through how to reflect on your labs, and really decide what’s worth keeping, and what’s worth replacing, and what just needs to be entirely tossed. And I also have a free lab audit that comes with it. I’ll also link it in the show notes here, if you want to grab it, it’ll help you really walk through what you already have, and go through it and decide what you need to do with it. And if it’s worth keeping. Now, for those of you who are listening, who are writing or curating a curriculum right now, for a course, you do not have experience teaching, these are my guidelines for you, those of you who are kind of working from scratch here with no background experience, nothing to kind of reflect on because you haven’t taught it before. Okay, for every concept, when I’m writing a curriculum, so every unit has three to six concepts for each concept, I aim to have at least one engaging instructional resource, and at least one resource that’s more practicing and reinforcing the content. Now, every concept ends up looking different, and units as a whole end up looking really different. But this just gives me some sort of guideline, I think, oftentimes, we put way too much in our units. And then we feel rushed for time, we feel like we never get through everything through the end of the year. And it’s just a lot, I truly believe less is more. So start with less in your planning. And you can add on more later. And again, ever unit is going to look so so different. I’m thinking about right now, currently writing chemistry curriculum, so that 1000 times, but it’s literally, I’m eating, breathing and sleeping chemistry right now. And I’m thinking about my second unit in the curriculum, which is the atom unit. And then I’m thinking about unit five, which is my chemical reactions unit and how different those units are, yes, these were the guidelines I use, but how they got flushed out was so different. There’s not a lot of like great hands on labs for students to do revolving around the atom. But there are some really great real world connections that I could bring in, there’s some research opportunities in that unit, whereas the chemicals reactions unit does have some more hands on lab experiences, it also has a lot more practice problems in it, then the atom unit, because the chemical reactions unit is a lot more skills based. And it’s also a lot more quantitative than my atom unit. So naturally, it has probably double if not triple the amount of practice handouts in it. So again, every unit is different. But starting with that guideline, and just like okay, I need one engaging instructional resource, one reinforcing instructional resource for each concept, I think is really helpful and helps it to not feel overwhelming as you’re getting started. Another thing I’ll say too, is if you’re teaching a subject for the first time, things often take longer the first few times than you anticipate. And so I think kind of starting with this. And if you need to add in things, or you see that like, Oh, they’re not getting this, I need to reinforce this more, you can do that. Okay, just start small for now. And I also really recommend, like I’ve said, since the beginning of this series, look at your unit as a whole as well. Because remember, that is like one of the core principles of what I feel like has made isn’t rocket science really different is the comprehensive nature of it, and how I really approach curriculum writing with a holistic approach. I’m never just writing one concept at a time, I’m always considering the entire unit as a whole in that unit, within the context of the entire course as a whole and those overarching themes. And so when I’m looking at a unit as a whole, my hope is that by the end of the unit, I will have included you know, one lab or at least a very hands on experience is it isn’t like a really traditional lab. I like to have one inquiry based activity if I can, even if it’s a simple one, even if it’s just something I’m doing to introduce a concept. Okay, at least one opportunity For research or extension as well. And then personally, I do include a test for every unit, I do like to write a test for every unit. Now, I’m a big fan of alternatives summative assessments, I can link, a podcast episode and blog and stuff in the show notes where I’ve talked about this. I like that. But at the same time, I do think that having unit tests is a helpful benchmark for students. It’s a really consistent way to track how they’re doing, it’s a consistent way to track data over years to look at, okay, how have I, as I’ve tweaked my curriculum on this unit over the years, how have the students test scores changed over the years, I just find it a really helpful quantitative metric. Whereas when I do use alternative summative assessments, like research projects, or formal lab reports, instead of a test, it’s harder to look back year after year and kind of compare how I’m doing, how my students are doing that kind of thing. I also think unit tests are helpful, especially if you’re teaching an EOC course, because they just need lots of test practice if they have, you know, whether it’s the star exam, and AP exam and EOC. Like if they’re going to have an end of unit course assessment. I think making those tests every unit is really helpful. Now, personally, I also try to include some sort of alternative summative assessment within the unit as well. So that let’s say, I do a unit, and it absolutely bombed and students bombed the test. Overall, I feel like if everyone bombs, that’s more on me than it is on the students. And I can go back and be like, okay, clearly, like the test wasn’t a great assessment, or it wasn’t aligned with the resources or I needed more resources to reinforce to get them where I wanted to get them, that kind of thing. So I like having an option for an alternative summative assessment. So that then, you know, if I need to average those two grades together for their end of unit assessment grade, I can or even replace it if you have to. So I try to include one of those options as well within the unit. But again, this is not a hard and fast rule, I want you to take all this with a grain of salt, you may have way more resources than this, and that’s fine. On the other hand, you might be like, for instance, I’m thinking of a teacher, I used to work alongside who taught marine science and she taught marine science for like 30 years, she did way more labs, way more hands on things than I ever did. But she was so experienced in her content. She really, really knew it. Well, she really knew how to get students where they needed to go. And also she will say this too, it was an elective course, she didn’t have to worry as much about them, you know, hitting certain aims or hitting certain standards or passing a certain exam, she could have just like way more fun with them on that. And that was great. So I just want to encourage you like you need to do what is best for you can also consider your season like, if you only have one or two preps next year, you are going to have way more energy to do more labs, then someone like me, or a listener who has five or more preps, or even just even more than three preps, like their capacity is going to be a lot lower, and that’s totally, totally fine. I’ll link another episode in the show notes where I talk all about living and working in your current season. That is your season of life outside of your work in your season of life in your actual job. And I just want you to consider that as well. Like, if you are in a non science or non lab space and you don’t have a science budget, please set realistic goals for yourself. You don’t need to be writing labs with Bunsen burners for every single chemistry unit you have that’s just not realistic, you can do this differently. And that is okay. Okay, so here’s your action step. For this episode. I want you to take some time, take a few days and gather plan and maybe flush out those instructional resources that will be the backbone for your course, with the goal being of you doing this for the first half of the school year. Okay, so if you teach all year long, this would be your first semester if you teach a semester block classes would be your first quarter. Okay? I think if you can get halfway through the year, you’re gonna feel so so good about where you are at in. Remember, if you’re starting from scratch, I’m not expecting you to write out labs and projects from scratch for half a year. That’s an insane expectation. If you’re starting a course from scratch, you should be curating. Okay, the writing is going to be for people that are like me that this is like really your number one favorite thing about this job. And then the writing would also be more for teachers listening who again, maybe you’re rewriting a curriculum for a course you’ve taught for a couple of years. You just don’t like the curriculum you’ve been using. And so you’re trying to you know, revamp it, you might be leaning more towards the writing some resources out from scratch. If that’s not you, that’s fine. This is your time to curate. This is the time you know, to look through what resources you have available from your school from these Facebook groups. You might be in, you know, ideas you’ve saved on Instagram, that kind of thing. You can look at Teachers Pay Teachers. This is where we’re just pulling these together. I think if you can do this for half of the school year, you’re going to feel like you’re in a really good place. And then when Have that mid year break, you can spend another couple of days doing this for the second half of the school year. And y’all this is the hardest the first time you do it. But once you kind of have something, you have some sort of rough draft out there, then all you’re doing year after year is tweaking, which is what we talked about in that episode 74 that I mentioned at the top of the episode that’s really more about reflecting and making decisions about what you’re using and what you need to change out and all of that. So this is going to be hard as the first time it only gets easier from here, I promise. Okay. Now I know I mentioned a lot of supplementary blogs, podcasts, etc. All of those will be linked in today’s episode in the show notes at isn’t rocket science classroom.com/episode 85

All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you Teacher friend.


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