Forming Your Foundation: Curriculum Design Part 3 [Episode 83]


Click below to hear about forming your foundation:


We are at the tipping point in our Curriculum Design mini-series! I am so excited that you have worked through this process with me up to this point. So far, we have covered strategizing your sequence and analyzing your aims. If you haven’t done that, be sure to complete those steps before moving on to step 3, forming your foundation. 

So what is a foundation? When I am talking about the foundation for your curriculum, I am talking about the core direct instruction delivery strategy (AKA lecture notes). Now I know that lecture notes and direct instruction have a bad rap, BUT I think I approach them a little differently than what we’re all used to. And as I share my process for designing a curriculum for personal use, take what serves you and leave what doesn’t! 

In this episode, I am breaking down my process for forming the foundation of my curriculum. I am sharing why I like using lecture notes, how I build out my .PPTX files, and why I love using Cornell note outlines with my students. 

I am so grateful you have been joining me in this Summer Podcast PD! If you are enjoying the Curriculum Design mini-series or the Podcast PD as a whole, I would love for you to leave a rating and review so I can hear how this podcast is serving you!

Topics Discussed:

  • Why I like using lecture notes in my curriculums and how they benefit me and my students
  • How I build out my .PPTX files for me and how they are different than textbook lecture notes
  • Why I use Cornell note outlines for my students, how they are beneficial, and how my students use them
  • What actionable step you can take to get your lecture notes prepared for step 4

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 83 of the secondary science simplified podcast, y’all, we’re at the tipping point in our mini series on curriculum design. Today is part three of five. And listen, I know it’s a lot. This is what I do for a living. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot of work, but I promise it is worth it and it will serve you so much going into next school year. So so far, you have strategized your sequence, and you’ve analyzed your aims. And today, we will be talking about forming your foundation and your foundation. In your curriculum design process. If you’re doing it the way that I do it. With my It’s not rocket science resources, your foundation is going to be your core direct instruction delivery strategy, which for me, would be my lecture notes. Now hold on. I know some of you are like, but I hate lecturing, direct instruction doesn’t work. PowerPoint is so boring. I don’t even have PowerPoint. I use Google. Yada, yada, yada. I hear you. I know that some of you are ready to tune me out. But I might have something different to say, then you think so? Will you just stick with me? Okay, let’s get to it. This is secondary science simplified 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.

So at the start of this podcast, you may have gotten the IQ, you know, you’ve heard your high school students say before the IQ. And I just want you to do me a favor, though, just stick with me and hear me out on this. I think hearing some context for this will be helpful for you and for why I refer to my lecture notes as the foundation of my curriculum. So a little background is I’m sharing my personal process for designing curriculum, it has worked very well for me personally with my students over the last decade, and it has worked really well for me as I’ve written curriculum for y’all through it’s not rocket science. Now, I know there are so many different ways that you can write curriculum. And you don’t have to do it my way. But I’m simply sharing my process because you all have asked for it. So this doesn’t, you know, work for you. You don’t have to do it. Like, I know that you are different from me. And that’s okay. I want you to take what serves you always and leave what doesn’t, I’m here to help you. And just to share my experiences and ideas if they are helpful, not to force all of you to be little Rebecca Joiner. It’s not rocket science robots. Okay. Now, another little disclaimer, I need to say. So in my curriculum design process, I actually do parts three and four at the same time, in real life. So like, right now, while I’m writing this chemistry curriculum, I’m doing this part of forming the foundation, alongside part four, which is coming next week. But for the sake of this audio, and this being manageable for you to attempt to do on your own. We’re going to save Part Four for next week. That’s the building the backbone of your course, which is your hands on instructional resources. So note, today, we’re forming the foundation. Next week, we’re building the backbone, foundations and backbones have different purposes, there’s going to be a whole housing analogy coming for you in the next episode. So just hang on for that. So we’re just going to start today with forming the foundation, which is, whatever you’re going to be using for your direct instruction resources. For me, that’s going to be my lecture notes, which I use in a PowerPoint form, which is completely compatible with Google Slides. And then my students are doing Cornell note outline. So I’m going to talk about both of those today, why I’ve chosen this, why this is part of my process, how I do this practically. And then we’re going to kind of get into a little bit, how to really make this as succinct as possible. Because here’s the thing, I don’t want you making textbook style slides. If you’ve ever gotten a textbook from a distributor, oftentimes, they’ll give you a lot of digital resources to go along with it. And they’ll give you these PowerPoint slides. And I’m not joking. One chapter can have 50 to 100 slides in the textbook. It’s absurd. And so we’re not making that kind of notes. We want to make these as short and sweet as possible. So we’re gonna get into more of that too, later this week in our extra episode, okay, so, stick with me, I think it’s gonna be worth it. Now, here’s the deal. Let’s start with why I like lecture notes in the first place and why I like having them and why I call and kind of my foundation, I personally do not teach with a textbook, I have never found one that I really loved. I’ve never had access to a class set. Like when I have had a textbook I have like, I don’t have enough for my whole class. It’s just like, I’ve gotten a one off on eBay for my own personal study. So I’ve never really taught my students with a textbook. But I think it’s really important for students to have some sort of reference point for parents that are trying to, you know, help their students and study alongside them, for them to have some sort of reference point, I will never forget being in geometry class, and having tears and having my dad sit with my geometry textbook. While I was at dance class, he sat at the kitchen table, studied it. And when I got home, he helped me with it because he had studied it is like one of the most tender high school memories of my dad just helping me out. I was an algebra girly and geometry, which is not really my thing. But I digress. I just think having that reference point is helpful. And that could be a textbook for you. For me, it is the lecture notes. It’s something I can point students always back to, it’s kind of feels like a safe space for students. And it’s something I can point parents to as well. I feel like it doesn’t matter how many inquiry activities I do, or how many days we spend in lab. If I don’t lecture on a concept, even just a little bit, my students will say you never taught me this. If we don’t take notes on it of some sort, they will be like, we didn’t learn this. And so this helps kind of with that argument to have some sort of notes. And I will also say too, I do think it’s important for students to be able to experience direct instruction and learn how to stay engaged in it. College, and post secondary studies have changed a lot since I was in college. I know that, but lecture is still a big part of it, especially if you are at one of the large universities, like I went to like Clemson where you’re still in lecture halls with 300 other students. Okay, so having student I don’t want students to get to call the time that be their first experience, even though I know not every student will get there. So I think some pieces of lecture are good for them. Additionally, I think some students really need it. I think that writing notes, I do feel like there’s evidence that backs that writing things down helps with their memory. I also think it’s just good for the rhythm of your class. I think when I say some students need it, I mean, like their personalities, I think about some of those really introverted students I’ve had over the years. And the longer I taught, the more I did inquiry activities, and partner work and group lab investigations and projects. And it was really draining for a lot of my really introverted students that were having to put a lot of social energy out there, to engage in these discussions and things like that. And I know there’s independent study and stuff, too. That’s an important part of class. But I just think the direct instruction was a nice breather for some of them to have less intense parts of class. And it was a good breather for me in terms of the healthy rhythm of my class not having to be so high intensity, high energy all the time, like I am in the middle of a lab day. So I think there’s some balance to it. I also do not think direct instruction should be passive at all. And I have an entire episode about how to engage your students in lecture. And I will link that in the show notes, it was on the very first episodes of the podcast. So if you’re new to listening, you may have missed it, because I think it was like episode four, or five. So I’ll be sure to link that in the show notes. Alright, so that’s kind of why I like having some lecture notes. Now let’s talk about how I actually do it. I use PowerPoint just because that’s what I have. I like that the newest versions of PowerPoint, the dot PPT X Files, they convert to Google Slides seamlessly. So when I’m sharing these with other teachers, of course, that’s something I have to think of you don’t need to worry about. But it works with Google Slides, too. So what I do is, I’ve already at this point, with my sequencing, and with analyzing my aims, I’ve already divided every unit into concepts. And those concepts have those practical objectives and key vocabulary under them. And I told you all I shoot for three to six concepts per unit that feels like a reasonable size. If I feel like it’s getting bigger than that, I tend to have to split it into two units. I was just emailing with someone today. Because when I first wrote my physical science curriculum, I had energy, electricity and magnetism, all in one unit. It was like a mega unit, it was nuts. And it was just way too much. And so I ended up splitting it energy on its own electricity and magnetism on its own. But when you buy the bell ringers, they’re still kind of grouped how that was. And I’m hoping to do a little facelift to physical science, after I do chemistry, and after I recover from writing chemistry, but I’ll separate that out that then if I do, but just thinking I’ve really just from my own experience, three to six concepts is Max and that I don’t like to test on more than three or four concepts at a time. So if it’s a six concept unit, I split it into two tests. So for example, my chemical bonds unit and my chemistry curriculum that I’m currently writing, it has six concepts so there’s Do two tests in there, it’s for the first three concepts in the last three. So that’s just another little side note for you. So I like to have one PowerPoint, though, for each concept. And some of mine are, some are short, some are eight to 10 slides, some are longer. Some are like 30 slides, but one thing I want to really emphasize is just because a concept has 30 slides of lecture notes, does not mean that you should sit and lecture through 30 slides in sequence. My goal is never to be lecturing for more than 15 minutes at a time. Obviously, sometimes it’s less than that. Sometimes it ends up being a little bit more, but 15 minutes at a time is my goal. And so I still like to keep the lecture notes all for one concept in one file. But I put little slides in there that are transition slides that will say like, practice or lab, so I know like this is where we’re going to stop and do a practice. This is where we’re going to stop and do a lab. I think building in those pauses and transitions is really, really helpful. And I like this slide because it cues me to remember that. So I’m going to make a PowerPoint for each concept. And then I’m going to study, especially if it’s new content, or content I haven’t thought about in a really long time. Okay. So for example, when I started writing this chemistry curriculum, I’ve been writing it since being in the classroom full time. Okay, so I haven’t thought about chemistry content in a long time. So I’ve had to study to do refreshers. I’ve watched lecture videos on YouTube from other teachers. I’ve watched Crash Course videos, I’ve watched TED Ed talks, I have three chemistry textbooks in my possession right now from eBay that I’ve just been reading and studying. So if it’s a new content, I recommend studying so one content at a time just reading the content, watching videos on that specific content at a time, and then translate that into as minimal words and thoughts as possible. On your slides, I like to have kind of one thought really per slide that’s kind of flushed out as few words as possible, as many pictures and diagrams as you can get as possible. Now, when I was writing curriculum, just for my own personal use, I was able to put in a lot more diagrams and pictures and stuff. But now that I sell my resources, I have to purchase every single picture and diagram and graph for commercial use, or I have to make it myself. I’m not a graphic designer. So I’ve done the best that I can, but I would put even more pictures in it if I wasn’t selling my resources. So I want to encourage you lots of pictures. Another thing too, especially if there’s going to be end up being more text on the slide than you’d hoped. Color coding, underlining, bolding, italicizing, use all of those text features to really make things stand out and not be overwhelming. I love love, love color coding things. Will most of your students color code their notes? No. But will 10 to 15% of them color code their notes and absolutely be tickled by it. Yes. And so I think it’s worth it for them. And it’s worth it for me to to remember like, oh, I colored all these things orange on the side, that reminds me that they’re connected, I need to make this point here. Also, in terms of animations, I don’t do anything that’s like swooping in, or spinning or sound effects. But I do use a simple click in animation for every single bullet point. So that only one shows at a time, I find this is really a lot less overwhelming for students, if only one thing is showing at a time, and you kind of build on it from there. I also use the notes section of my slides, to write notes for myself, to remind myself of some real world examples. Questions, I could be asking students phenomena, if I found a great little video that has a great illustration, you know, during my studies, I’ll link that in the notes section of the slide so that I’ll remember what I’m teaching that slide. Oh yeah, I remember talking about this or making a connection here. Once unless you’ve taught something like five times in a row, you’re gonna forget all those little nuances. Another thing I love to do, too, is when a student asks a really good question. I like to like pause the class and go and jot it down in the notes section of the slide and save it for future years. So that I can bring that question back up. And if no one else asks that I can ask it of them and see what they think. So I use that note section a lot for myself, when I’m creating these slides now for my students. After I’ve kind of made my lecture notes. I make them a Cornell note outline for their student packet that I give them. And so I have a lot of thoughts about this. But I think Note taking is an important strategy. I have a lot of thoughts on this in a blog that I will link in the show notes that I have had students you know not it’s not even about going to college like I’ve had students go to cosmetology school tech school to learn voting mechanics, like so many different career paths where they’ve still been required to read manuals, read textbooks, listen to instructors lecture and record notes. And this has been incredibly helpful for them. I even saw my husband I love watching sports documentaries. It’s like one of our favorites. things. And there’s a couple of like that come out every fall going in the new school year, like all or nothing and hard knocks, which are all about different NFL teams all or nothing kind of tracks like a previous NFL team in a past season Hard Knocks tracks the preseason, going into like the upcoming season. It’s really fascinating. We’re watching it recently, we were watching some old ones, as the new ones are about to come out. In the football players, the linebackers were in a meeting and they were taking notes. They were watching film, listening to their coach and taking notes. So I don’t care what profession you’re gonna go in, I think it’s a useful skill. Now, I’m not saying that Cornell notes are the end all be all and are the absolute best way to do notes. I know some people prefer writing by hand some prefer typing, some prefer more graphic or doodle bass notes. Other prefer fill in the blank or filled in notes. Like there’s so many different ways you can do this. Now, I have personally chosen Cornell notes, because I found they work really well for me and my students, and they serve the most students. And I’ll explain why in just a minute. Why prefer them kind of to doodle notes. But if you don’t know, Cornell notes is just like a note taking method that was made popular by a professor at Cornell University in New York. So that’s where it kind of gets its name, there is a whole strategy behind it and a lot of detail. And I’m going to directly link the source to that in the show notes. So you can check that out and read that for yourself. But essentially, there’s three parts the notes, section A is where our students take the actual notes. Section B is for cues. But this can be anything kind of it’s kind of in the margin. Basically, it’s like where they would jot down questions, I use this to really highlight key things over there as well. And then Section C is the summary. This is supposed to be when they’re reviewing their notes, and actually using their noses study from, they’ll use the summary section later to kind of learn from their notes, apply their notes, really continue digesting their notes. So I really encourage my students to take notes in section A, as prescribed by this method. But for Section B in the margin, I have them highlight any key ideas, ideas or vocabulary, write down any questions they have. And then we kind of go from there. If a lot of times I’ll kind of times overarching themes, which we discussed in part one, and they’ll kind of bring those back into the margins there as well. And that’s the helpful section for them. For Section C, that summary, I encourage students to use it, but I don’t personally like grade them or follow up if they do. Again, I my teaching experience is mainly eighth through 12th graders, I’m here to equip them and to serve them, but I just don’t want to grade every single thing or have feel like I have to give them a grade for effort for for studying like, this is a tool, it will serve you if you do it, if you choose not to use it that’s on you. But I’m still going to provide the space for it. That’s my personal kind of philosophy on it. But you know, I’ve had other teachers who have used it and they’ve made sure they’ve done homework grades for like filling out the summary section. You know, that’s totally up to you, and if you want to do it or not. The other thing I want to say about this is, like I mentioned with like the doodle notes, a lot of my students will use Section A so the main note taking part, to doodle out their notes, and then use the Section B the margin just to emphasize and highlight certain things. So I what I found is, is I feel like the Cornell note outline serves the student that is artistic, because they have space for that. But it also serves a student that isn’t because it’s wide open basic space for them. They just want to write more words. Personally, I’m not an artistic person. I think doodle and graphic notes are beautiful. I love seeing what people come up with one of my favorite teachers on the internet, the weird science teacher is so artistic, I’m obsessed with what she creates. I’ve interviewed her on the podcast, which I’ll link that episode in the show notes. But I am not artistic like her, I could not create those notes. And I’ve had a lot of students that can’t either. And if I gave them doodle notes, they just like would not feel interested in sitting there and coloring them and using them. Again, I know there’s so much more to it than like just coloring things. And I totally get that. I’m just giving you the perspective from my conversations with a lot of my high school students that just aren’t ended them. So I’ve personally felt like the Cornell notes provides the most options for the most people, those artistic students that still want to doodle and draw, they have plenty of space to do that. Students that aren’t interested in that have plenty of space to do their thing. So I just think it serves the most people, again, totally do what’s best for you and your students. All right. So that’s kind of the overview of why I love lecture notes and kind of how I make them and how they how I practically utilize my PowerPoint. But the key here is to make them as short and succinct as possible. I want you to take the lecture PowerPoint notes you get from a textbook company and basically do the exact opposite of what you get. Okay. And I’m going to talk more about how I do this and episodes 84 and 85 but I know this is getting long and again I want these to feel by It ties in attainable. So here’s your action step. For today’s episode, I want you to draft out your lecture notes for at least one unit just to get you started. or best of all, if you have existing notes you can work off of just tweak those so that they aren’t too robust. It’s so much easier to edit and pare down notes, then start from scratch. Trust me, as someone who writes all their notes from scratch, it takes a very long time. So I want to encourage you to do that if you have something to work off of from someone else that you can just kind of edit down, really simplify, add some things in the notes section for you. And then make an outline of Cornell notes for your students, I think that would be really, really helpful for you and for them. And then, if you feel like they’re still way too robust, don’t worry. Tune back in Thursday for another episode. Remember, we’re doing double episodes, the month of July, so I can really support you in this very big endeavor. But I’m going to share more on Thursday about how I make the notes as short as possible, and how they serve as the foundation for my curriculum design process and which I’m later going to build on with my instructional resources. Okay, so stay tuned. And hopefully, I’ll see you back Thursday. And as always, all those links that I mentioned are in the show notes at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 83. And if you’re enjoying this series, I would love it if you leave a rating and a review. I know that this series is a little bit heavier and more homework based than what we typically do on the podcast, but I hope it’s serving you. And I would love love, love to hear how it is. If you leave a review on Spotify, I can’t see it, which is kind of a bummer. But it does kind of boost the ratings on Spotify. But if you leave a review or rating on Apple podcasts, I can see those and so I would just be super encouraged to hear from you. So if you have the time, take a minute and leave a rating and review.

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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