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Lecture is the foundation when designing a curriculum. Now I know that may make some of you not very happy, but it’s true. However, when I say lecture is the foundation, I do not mean that it’s my top priority or what I spend most of my time doing in the classroom. When we talk about foundation, I mean the baseline of which I build my curriculum on. To give you a better understanding of how I build my curriculum off my foundation, I am sharing how I use my foundation of lecture notes so that my whole class isn’t lecture. 

When I think back to when I took anatomy & physiology, I remember reading textbooks, memorizing information, and labeling diagrams. That is NOT what I wanted my curricula to be. I didn’t want every lesson to be a lecture and my students memorizing things from their textbook. 

Because of this, I began thinking of ideas for instructional resources I could use to make my lectures shorter, the activities more engaging, and keep my classroom student-centered. Today, I am sharing all about how I use 4 different activities to decrease the content in lecture and how I break up content if it is still too much after incorporating these activities. Plus, I am sharing what actionable step you can do TODAY to help you reduce the amount of time spent lecturing. 

This is A LOT to do on your own. I get it! But now is the perfect time to get the other science teachers at your school to join in on our Podcast PD! Two (or three!) minds are better than one and can make this process a little easier.

Topics Discussed:

  • How lecture notes are used as the foundation for your curriculum, but not as the main priority for instruction
  • What discovery stations are and why I love using them in my curriculum
  • Three ideas for activities to use in your curriculum to reduce the amount of time you spend in lecture
  • How I break up the content when there is still too much to cover in lecture
  • The practical action step you can take to simplify your lecture notes to keep your classroom student-centered

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 84 of the secondary science simplified podcast. Earlier this week in Episode 83, I dove into forming the foundation of the curriculum you are designing, by creating the lecture notes that will serve as the foundation for the rest of your instructional resources, which we will talk more about next week in part four. And I know some of you were not super happy. I think when I said lecture was the foundation, you thought I meant that that made lecture the priority and my number one most important thing. But here’s the deal. We are currently building a house. And let me tell you, the foundation is critical. Okay, the whole house rests on it. But it isn’t what I see when I look at my house right now, I don’t see the foundation at all. I see the walls, I see the floor, I see the roof. Okay, so the foundation of your class, which to me is the lecture is just the critical baseline support. But everything else is built on top of it. When I look into your classroom, when I look through the windows of your classroom, just like I look through the windows in my house, I shouldn’t constantly see lecture, just like you shouldn’t see the foundation of my house, I should see everything else that you are doing, which again, we will get into in the next episode. But I know some of you just don’t know how to keep your foundation, which to me, again, is your lecture, the simplest and most succinct base to serve as a support for everything else. And so today I’m going to teach you how I do this. How do I use lecture as my foundation without it just becoming this whole thing where my whole class is direct instruction? Are you ready for it? Let’s jump right in. 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.

If you’re thinking Wait, didn’t we just have a podcast? Yes, you are right, July is all double episodes. I’ve never done this before. But I’m trying this month. So the second episode of the week is going to be every Thursday. And it’s just going to be there for you to provide further support to backup the previous episode. So if you haven’t listened to Episode 83, which is part three of our curriculum design series, you need to that’s what we covered on Monday, it was all about forming your foundation, and creating your lecture notes for your course. Today, I’m going to share how to simplify your lecture notes to maximize efficiency and engagement. And to create space to still have a classroom that is student centered and not teacher centered, because that’s not what I want for you. Okay, you’re going to exhaust yourself. If your class is mainly direct instruction, I’m going to be using my anatomy curriculum as an example, because I wrote this in 2019. And a huge part of my process was simplifying over and over again. So I didn’t just become this anatomy course that’s so traditional with like lecture label a diagram, do a lab or activity move on to the next system, you know, I wanted it to be different. And so I’m going to kind of explain to you how I walked through that since anatomy of all my curricula, that’s the one that could have been the most lecture heavy, and I fought really hard to make it not be so. So again, I’m going to be referencing anatomy a lot, not to try to sell it to you. But just to serve in this example, if you think it is something you would like to use, I’m going to link it in the show notes. I’ll link a YouTube lecture video tour, so you can see what all is on the inside, and then a blog post for why I think it’s awesome and why it might be a good resource for you. But again, this is a curriculum design series, you can do this on your own. It’s a lot of work, but you can do it. So I’m here to support you in that. So again, I chose anatomy kind of as my example for this second episode on this topic, just because when I think back to high school anatomy, I just felt like we were reading a lot of textbooks, labeling diagrams, listening to a lot of lecture, maybe watching a cool and interesting movie, and then memorizing the structures and kind of moving on. And I just really didn’t want that for my anatomy class. And so what I found was, as I was creating my lecture notes and forming that foundation, I was like, golly, these are getting so long. I don’t want to sit up here and lecture on all of this. And so I was like, I need instructional resources that I can use to make this shorter. And that is now a process I use every time I write a curriculum. Okay, so it’s really part four of this process is building the backbone which we’ll talk about money De. And I really do parts three and four at the same time. So as I’m writing lecture notes, I’m coming up and creating all these instructional resources that I can use alongside them. But we’re trying to do this one piece at a time. So it’s not overwhelming. So right now, though, as you’re creating your lecture notes, I want you to be thinking of ideas for how you can make them smaller. And just jotting down those ideas, you don’t need to execute anything yet, okay, because we’re gonna do this one piece at a time. And so a really practical example of this for my anatomy curriculum, or the discovery stations that I created. So essentially, I had two desires with them. I wanted to cover all the key structures and their functions in the body systems, but I wanted to do it in a fun way. And I really wanted to create a space where students could learn themselves, they can be autonomous, decreased direct instruction, and not have me or a textbook word vomit a bunch of information on them. And so that’s where my discovery stations were born, I created them as guided inquiry reading activities, essentially, where students can move around the classroom. And each station gives them an opportunity to read about a part of a body system, label those parts on their big body diagram, which is just a really large fold out of a body system that I made, that they fold out of their binder, and they can color code and do all sorts of labeling with. And then I give them these reading comprehension questions that go along with it that they’ll answer in their student packet. And this is kind of a way of them taking their own notes. From what they’re reading. I feel like to my students that a lot of my students that were upperclassmen that use discovery station said this helped them to with the AC t, because there’s so much reading comprehension on the science section of the AC t. And this really helped them get that practice from doing this. And I loved it because these discovery stations made students more centered and the instruction and it also really decreased my lecture time, I literally was able to cut my notes in half from what I was doing up front by having them do these on their own. And I will link in my show notes, I have a whole blog post about them. So you can kind of see a visual for what I did with these. But I found them really, really effective. And actually, another thing I love about them is I can still treat them like lecture notes in terms of how I mentioned in the last episode, how I love to bring in real world examples and phenomena when I’m lecturing and I link those in my notes section. So like, I’ll remind myself of an example or I’ll have a great video. And I’ll put it in my notes section so that when I’m doing direct instruction, I can remember those things. But you can do those with your discovery stations too. Like I love when I create discovery stations, putting in little extra tidbits, extra little fun facts, putting in a QR code that they can scan and then just watch a lecture video about a disease for what happens when homeostasis has failed to be regulated in the endocrine system. And they can kind of watch it for themselves and see what happens. So you can make them super engaging, too. And I just I feel like they’ve been so effective for my students. And I’ve actually carried them into my chemistry curriculum that I’m currently writing as well. I’ve done some discovery stations there too, or have been like, these Lecture notes are getting too long. What can I pull out the students can really learn independently on their own. They don’t need me really explaining, but they do need to hear the information. And I’ve created some discovery stations there as well. But that’s not the only instructional resource you can use to decrease the amount of content that you have to put in your lecture. Okay, so I do love discovery stations. But another thing I love are Pogo style activities. So if you’ve never heard of a pogo pokel, you can look it up. It’s like a trademark thing. It’s a whole entire process. It’s basically a guided inquiry learning process. There’s a whole methodology for using them. I was first introduced to Google’s when I taught AP biology. I felt like I was lecturing way too much. And my absi instructor said you got to get the pogo book. And so I did. And I love puzzles because they’re really model based. Students are looking at models and they’re working in groups, and they’re having to interpret the models and answer questions from them. I like to think of POGIL silo activities, like Hansel and Gretel like you’re leaving little breadcrumbs. You’re leading them to where you want them to go. And there are Puggles for most subjects. I believe Flynn scientific is the current distributor of all POGIL workbooks. Don’t quote me on that. I’ll link it in the show notes. If that’s still the case. I love the AP Biology one. I’ve seen some of the ones for other subjects. I don’t love them as much as the AP Bio. I did have a coworker who taught chemistry before who did say he really liked some of the chemistry ones. I think the thing is, you can’t do all of them in the book, you really have to pick and choose but it might be worth seeing them and getting an idea and then writing your own, which is something that I’ve really started doing. I have two in my anatomy curriculum. But I have several so far in my chemistry curriculum because I’ve really loved writing them. But basically the essential idea is you’re giving them some sort of model diagrams data to analyze graphs that are already made, etc. they’re analyzing them. And then you’re writing questions to draw and to create the breadcrumbs and for them to draw the conclusions that you want them to draw. It’s a very cool inquiry based learning strategy. And students really learn well from it. I love them, they are time consuming to make. So if you don’t want to make your own, this is something you can think about though, as you’re creating your lecture notes be like, Oh, this is getting too long. I wonder if there is a POGIL, about doing chi square analysis. And if you go to the AP Biology POGIL book, you’ll see that there is and you can maybe try that out instead of lecture on how to do a chi square. So there’s different things you can look up, I highly recommend POGIL style activities, my kind of version of that I’ve kind of tweaked off of Pogo, I don’t call them puzzles, because I’m not like a pool distributor. I just call them inquiry learning activities. But I’ve had a really fun time creating them, they take a lot of time. But I really think if you can really use your brain to think of what are the questions, I need to lead them to this certain conclusion, you can create these and really decreased lecture with some incredible instructional resources there. And again, you don’t have to be a curriculum writer, you can be a curriculum curator, you can pull out puzzles that are already created and use them in place of lecture. Right here, pretty much every poll is available on the internet with the answers, which is why they have to be done in class, they cannot be sent home with students as homework, or also just look up the answers and it defeats the entire purpose. But for your sake, that means you can basically find them but I think it’s worth the investment in the book personally saved my life in AP Bio. Okay, another thing you can do to decrease lecture is do some inquiry labs. And the key with inquiry labs replacing lecture is you have to write really good reflective questions. Okay. For me, an inquiry lab isn’t as much about them writing like a really great lab report with an analysis and conclusion. It’s more about creating an experience where they can collect data, analyze that data in grass, and then have to answer questions, or I’m going to kind of try to pull it out of them and get them to see what I want them to see in it. That’s how I prefer to write inquiry labs. Because again, I haven’t taught on any of the content. So I can’t expect them to write an analysis, and be able to draw conclusions when they don’t even know the backstory on it. But I can, I can personally hand them some reflection questions, and kind of point the way to where I want them to see what I want them to see. And I found I can really decrease lecture that way as well. A third strategy I want to mention to you is research and reports. This is something I came up with in my anatomy curriculum, again, to decrease lecture. And it’s so simple, you guys, I went back. And when I did a big revamp of the biology curriculum in 2020, I put them in there as well, because I just love these research and reports. But essentially, the idea is, you ask students questions, you get them to ask them questions as well, then you send them off to research individual questions or individual topics related to the bigger question, then they come back and report back to the class. And students can jot notes about what they’re you their classmates fine. It’s so simple. You don’t need a fancy worksheet. I’ve like the most basic worksheet that I use for these. But it’s so effective. Like, for instance, an example from the anatomy curriculum is infertility and reproductive technologies. Fascinating the research out there, there’s still so much work to be done in the medical field, on studying infertility. And this is something that’s constantly changing, and students often will have a lot of questions about it because they know someone in their realm has experienced it. And so what you can do is you can ask them, like, hey, what have you heard about the causes of infertility? Most think that the biological female is typically always the cause they don’t even think about there being issues with sperm. And so this gives you a chance to kind of bring that up, you can ask them what they’ve heard of before, maybe they’ve heard of IVF, maybe they’ve heard of IUI. Maybe they’ve heard of a prescription like Clomid, and they don’t know what that word means, you know, you can bring in some of these ideas, let them ask their questions, create a list of questions and or topics, then assign students a couple of them and send them off for 10 minutes, you’re, you’re in charge of researching what IUI is, come back to the class be like, Okay, who researched IUI tell us about it. And that’s where students get their notes. It’s such a great way to turn lecture back towards the students, and decrease what you’re actually putting in your lecture notes that are creating the foundation for your course. Now, let’s say you do all this, let’s say you’re jotting down all these ideas for your instructional resources that are going to decrease your lecture, you’re going to use discovery stations, you’re gonna use polls and inquiry labs and research opportunities, but you still feel like your notes are too long. Here are a few four more things you can do. Okay? Ask questions, build in questions into your lecture. So it’s not just you talking at them. Okay. Think of questions in advance as students ask you questions in real time write them down so you haven’t for next year okay. Ask ask ask questions. Second thing you can do is incorporate real world examples and phenomena and videos. Like I said, I link those in my notes section as I’m creating my notes, so I remember to share them and break up the direct instruction Third thing I’ll say is embed practice problems. It doesn’t have to be quantitative, although quantitative sciences kind of lend themselves to practice problems. But just put in a couple, think pair share questions in there, break it up that way with getting them to have to stop and think and apply what they’re learning and hearing mid notes. And then lastly, just break it up in general, not even just with questions, but like with active learning opportunities. I try to only lecture like I said, 15 minutes max at a time, I put in slides in my notes that will say, like, stop and do practice, stop and do this activity, stop and do this lab to try to make myself break it up. And that really holds me accountable for keeping them nice and short and sweet. Okay, so here’s your action step, go back through the lecture notes you’ve hopefully created after listening to Monday’s episode, and see how you can cut them down and pare them down even more. You don’t need to make all these instructional resources to replace them just yet, but keep track of lists. For instance, for your anatomy curriculum, you can may say, okay, these notes on the central nervous system are ridiculously long, I need some sort of instructional resource where they’re going to learn about these parts on their own. Just jot that down off to the side, so that you remember that you need to kind of fill in that gap down the road. Okay, and we’ll talk more about how to do that in part four. So stay tuned for Monday. And as always, head you It’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 84 for the shownotes and all the links that I’ve mentioned, and y’all I know this is a lot to do on your own, but you don’t have to if you have another teacher at your school who teaches this subject. So if you are not the only teacher teaching this prep that you’re working on, send your co teacher to Isaak science classroom.com/podcast PD and tell them to join you in this endeavor this summer. Two minds are always better than one and you can knock this out way faster. You guys can divide and conquer together. So don’t be afraid to send them that link and see if they’re willing to jump in with you.

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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