In my Accelerated Algebra 2 / Trig course, I redesigned the student learning process for two units while maintaining the department's common assessments as a metric to gauge improvement. The second iteration of the experiment led to the highest student scores on record for the four semesters of documented history during that unit.
I used an extreme application of "backward-design" to create the materials for the unit. Backward design starts with the purpose and objectives first and works down to the actual curriculum last. I started with the department's essential learning outcomes and unit assessment as the basis for what students needed to learn in each unit. From there, I broke down each specific skill that students would need to master for the entire unit, ending up with a list of a couple dozen problem types. After identifying everything that needed to be learned, I moved the other direction: grouping the problem types in logical categories and sequencing the categories in a logical order. I made sure that the two unit quizzes aligned to the timeline set by my notes.
After the breakdown and ordering of topics was set, I adapted my mentor teacher's guided notes packet (a set of partially filled-in notes for students to follow the lecture with) into my new structure, adding in additional problems where they were needed. Finally, I created a short video to go along with the notes for every subtopic and grouped homework problems so that students could immediately practice the new skill. This extremely broken-down model allowed students to focus their attention on areas of difficulty and made it easy to re-watch videos on problems they struggled with. In addition to breaking down every topic individually, I added explicit focus on something students struggle most with -- mixed review. One of the hardest parts of a test for students is not knowing how to solve a particular problem, but knowing what type of problem they are looking at. Mixed review helps students practice distinguishing between different problem types. An example video and a set of helpful files are below.
Files (at bottom of the page):
Students progress through the notes, videos, and homework at their own pace within the set assessment schedule. All homework solutions are posted online and in the classroom so students can frequently check their work. I am able to tutor students as needs arise and can take a small group to the board when they have similar questions. In between traditional assignments, the self-pacing of the unit opened time for an applications project. Each student, with a partner, was asked to record a short video on an application of exponential or logarithmic functions. Below are two examples of student-created videos.
Finally, I asked students to frequently reflect on their learning. They needed to check their quiz scores and see which section each incorrect problem came from. They also needed to mention specific actions they did well during the unit and specific actions they would take to improve their learning in the next unit. Survey results, test results, and reflection content indicate that students did learn better in this model than the previous model of using book-aligned sections without reflection or application.