The process of going from standard to lesson plan is a complicated one that we have just begun to unravel. Unpacking a standard can be extremely difficult considering standards are often dense with additional implications that may not be directly addressed in the wording. For example, the standard I chose to focus on for nuclear chemistry mentioned mass and energy conservation, protons and neutrons, and even alpha, beta and gamma decay processes, but it never mentioned isotopes. Since isotopes are the foundation of understanding that different atomic elements can be heavier or lighter but still have the same charge and chemical characteristics, addressing isotopes in the learning objectives is essential. Thus, to fully unpack the standard, I needed to dig deeper and use my own knowledge of nuclear chemistry to fully understand what knowledge the standard required.
I find that backward mapping is not a particularly new concept to me despite the fact that I haven’t been formally taught it before. Every day when I go to the ice rink and coach my private and group lesson students, I’m practicing backward mapping. I know the element they need to perform, say an Axel jump, and I go backward from there to look at the skills required to get to that point. It makes perfect sense that this process works just as well in classroom teaching. After all, looking at the end product required, determining the assessments needed and the activities to be accomplished does a very good job of setting up how lessons will be shaped. The nuclear chemistry standard I chose had several very clear proficiencies it required, which led to productive backward mapping from these proficiencies. For example, students need to be able to explain the conservation of neutrons and protons in nuclear reactions. This means they need to understand isotopic formalism and to identify decay products of nuclear reactions. Each of these becomes a proficiency required for the standard from which assessments and learning objectives can be created.
Once the backward mapping and unpacking of the standard has been completed, writing learning objectives is fairly straightforward. All that is left is identifying the specific skills required by the proficiencies and turning them into learning objectives with specific verbs. For example, in my nuclear chemistry objectives I use “explain,” “identify” and “give examples” in my wording. These verbs can be assessed in traditional written test formats, during oral presentations and in written assignments such as research reports. I believe it is very important to put these objectives in the voice of the student. An objective must be something the student can say, such as “I can identify alpha, beta and gamma decay products.”
The processes of unpacking, backward mapping and writing learning objectives do a great deal to simplify the translation of a standard into a lesson plan. These tools make it clear what students are expected to do and how these tasks meet the expectations of the standard. The backward mapping is essential for creating useful and pertinent lesson planning. Remembering what standards we want students to meet and creating lesson plans tailored to the skills explicitly or implicitly included in those standards will make a big difference in the classroom. Each lesson I teach my skating students is directed toward them gaining a skill; teaching in the classroom should be no different.
I find that unpacking science standards can be difficult, especially if a teacher doesn’t have a super strong science background. I’ve been around the science block, taking classes in physics, astronomy, geology, and geochemistry, so I’m able to dig deeper into the meaning of certain science standards. I worry, however, that I might be missing something if the standard is not in my area of expertise. Making the unpacking, backward mapping and learning objective process a collective one can solve this problem. At the school where I am student teaching, the chemistry department does an exceptional job of working together to unpack standards, define the “big ideas,” backwards map each of the units, and work together to create achievable learning objectives. I feel this process would be best done in a collective environment like that and that in doing these activities in isolation we only touched the tip of the iceberg.