New planning guides

Elsewhere on this site, and particularly here, we offer a number of lesson and unit plans that mostly incorporate the “cognitive tools” for imaginative engagement described here. Following the Chinese adage about providing a fish or a method of fishing, we will include here examples of how one might go about planning a science lesson or unit that will take advantage of the ways we have described for engaging students’ imaginations and emotions in learning.

You will find two kinds of planning guides on the linked pages. The first is suitable for younger children, up to around age 7 or 8, and then another that is suitable for students up to mid-teen years. In addition, there are two kinds of guides for each age group, just to confuse you. One is a more formal kind that will lead you step by step through the process of designing your own lesson or unit. The second is a more informal sketching-in kind of guide. A lot of teachers have told us that the more formal guides are useful to give them support as they take on this somewhat unfamiliar approach, but that they soon prefer to use with the informal “circular” guides. After some time, of course, you will be able to leave both sets behind and plan more informally. The guides are useful initially, though, to allow you to become familiar with what may be a somewhat different way of thinking about both planning and teaching.

Click here for the lesson planning guides (coming soon).

Concluding words about planning in education

A routine part of the pre-service education of nearly all teachers today is learning how to plan lessons and units of study—for teaching science no less than for any subject area. Most commonly, the teachers are instructed to begin this planning by stating their objectives for the lesson or unit, given what they know about their students’ abilities. They are also taught to select the content they will teach, then the methods for organizing the content in order to effectively present it to their students, and then choose appropriate evaluation procedures to make sure their students have learned the content, all directed by their objectives. This general scheme of planning was devised in detail by Ralph Tyler in the late 1940s (Tyler, 1949), developed by Hilda Taba (1962) and others, and was derived from the earlier work of John Dewey (Tanner & Tanner, 1980).

It obviously makes sense to have clear objectives for one’s teaching. But these strategies for planning teaching were derived initially from the procedures used in industrial processes for producing washing machines and automobiles in the 1920s (Callaghan, 1962). (Design the final product—one’s objective; organize the assembly line to construct the product bit by bit—one’s methods; arrange supplies of the materials along the line—one’s content; and do testing to ensure that the product functions as planned—one’s evaluation.) These strategies represent one of the earlier and subtler influences of the corporate and industrial world into education. While there is obviously nothing wrong with planning procedures that help teachers organize and teach curriculum material more efficiently, there is a problem if those procedures fail to take into account something vital about education.

One of the differences between producing knowledge in students and producing washing machines and automobiles in factories is that the knowledge becomes a part of the living mind of the student. It becomes tied into the meanings the student then brings to make sense of the world and of their experience. Crucially, it becomes tied into their emotional and imaginative lives. If we want to design and plan teaching in such a way that the emotions and imagination of the student are engaged, then we might be wise to consider an alternative approach that puts these features in their proper, prominent, place. Let’s also look at some of the cognitive tools students use so that we can find additional and sometimes alternative categories for planning teaching, and out of which we can construct planning guides to help with the job. That’s what the guides we offer here (coming soon) are designed to do.