After teaching for 13 years, this year, I finally need to write a unit plan (it’s been a while!). Of course, it is possible not to write a unit plan at all. Some may ask, “why don’t you just follow the textbook?” Or, “why don’t you just buy something off teachers-pay-teachers dot com instead of writing a unit plan?” Still others may ask, “why don’t you just bribe your colleagues with high-fructose corn syrup snacks into giving you what they have?”
Those are all great questions that lead me back to the same answer every time. That is, I need to teach to the needs of my students in my classroom in a way that reflects who I am and what I value. A textbook written by a publisher or a TPT worksheet won’t address those needs because they are tailored for a different teacher or student. Unfortunately, to write a unit plan can take a long time. That time often goes into researching and collating relevant information. So, how do I do write a unit plan quickly and thoroughly and still reflects my teaching philosophy? One way is to write your own textbook to the unit.
Best. Unit. Planning. Session. Ever.
The main benefit of writing your own textbook is that it helps to organize your thoughts. In my case, as I am writing my textbook on mendelian genetics, I am looking at the curriculum and thinking, “what do I need to teach before I can teach a certain concept, and what can I teach after?” Therefore, in my textbook, I start by reviewing what DNA is, the differences between mitosis and meiosis, and then tackle Mendel’s pea pod experiments. After, we talk about Punnett squares, dominance and codominance, and sex-linked inheritance.
Sure, I can find all this in a textbook, but I can also see – as I am writing the textbook, doing my research, and thinking about my students – where I can insert some fun videos, activities, and projects. I am also reviewing the material myself, actively thinking about what I’ll be teaching and assessing. And, as a side benefit, I will end up with a textbook I can give my students. It’s a surprisingly efficient and effective activity. It requires no more than a computer, internet connection, and a quiet morning to hash out your thoughts.
Of course, writing a textbook can be a time consuming and arduous task. And, if you’re doing this from scratch, it would be. That’s why I like to use ck12.org (note: I have no affiliation with them – I just like their platform). The website allows teachers to build their own textbooks (otherwise known as flexbooks) by providing reference, practice, simulation and assessment materials. Teachers can mix, match, and insert those materials into their flexbooks. Also, members of the community can also include materials that may come up during searches and may be added to flexbooks.
The Nuts & Bolts of Writing Your Own Textbook
The whole process of creating a flexbook is quite straightforward: sign up for an account, start a flex book, search for read, practice, simulation and assessment materials, and add materials to flexbook. This first step is great to help organize ideas. Also, it’s a great chance to review what is out there.
Once you create a flexbook and populate it with reference material, you can also edit the material. Essentially, you can cull what you don’t like and insert other materials – whether it be reference materials, videos or simulations – into the text. This next step is great to make the textbook (and unit plan) yours. At this stage, you can think about all that you want to put into the flexbook. In the end, you can hand out flexbooks to students or give access to them digitally.
Besides printing off flexbooks to give to students, share your flexbook with colleagues and have them share theirs with you. By comparing your flexbooks, you can start a conversation as to the content, activities, and assessment important to the unit. This makes for a good professional development opportunity – and a good way to discuss the strategies that work.
At its core, ck12.org is just a website, a platform, a tool. It is how we use the tool that informs our practice. By writing our own textbooks (aka flexbooks), not only do we gain something we can hand out to students, we also organize our ideas to write a unit plan. And, we also open up a conversation with our colleagues that can help further our own practice. To continue our conversation, please sign up for our weekly newsletter and join our Facebook Group (Super Science Teachers’ Co-Lab).
Until next time, keep it REAL.