About Our Lesson Plans and Pacing Guides

Lesson Plans Home Page || About this Section || About Task Tracker || Other Tools


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Why Lesson Plans? || Our Underlying Philosophy || A Starting Point

Teacher Personalization Required || Best Practices || Pacing Comments

Why Task Tracker? || The Lab Emphasis || Think Sheets || NGSS 


Why Lesson Plans?

We are a very big website with thousands of pages. By "thousands" of pages, we don't mean close to 2000 pages. While we haven't counted, we mean possibly ten thousand pages give or take a thousand or two. A single section like Concept Builders or Minds On Physics by itself has approximately two thousand pages. The point here is teachers who use our website can quickly get lost or overwhelmed and are in need of some concrete guidance. We're hoping our Lesson Plans section adds a little concrete to the vast maze fo pages.

Teachers navigating the site often ask a collection of very practical questions. Those questions are prone to arrive in our e-mail box in the following form:
  • Do you have any examples of how I can use your website to create unit plans and lesson plans?
  • Do you have examples of how people are using your website as a replacement of their textbook?
  • How would you recommend that I get started incorporating your resources into my courses?
This section - Lesson Plans and Pacing Guides - is our answer to many of these questions. We have attempted to package the many resources from the four corners of the website into a useable format that helps teachers to formulate a vision for how they can be integrated into the classroom.

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Our Underlying Philosophy

We are a website made by teachers. We understand the profession. We trust teachers. We also know that teachers are very busy professionals, often overloaded with more work than any professional should ever be given. Three different lesson preps every day is the norm and four, five, and six lesson preps is (unfortunately) not all that uncommon. When we create a resource, this reality prompts us to incorporate two properties into the resource's design:
  1. The resource needs to be turn-key. It needs to be ready-to-use. It needs to be plug-in-and-play.
  2. The resource needs to be customizable. Teachers need to be able to look at the resource and pick and choose from it what they wish to use. It needs to be designed in such a way that teachers can blend it with what they are already doing and have found to be successful. It can't be designed such that one part doesn't work if the other five parts aren't also used. 

It is the first property that makes the resource appealing to a busy teacher, a cross-over teacher, and an early-career teacher. It is the second property that makes the resource appealing to the veteran teacher. We know that a resource that exhibits these two properties will be a resource that gets the most use. We've designed our Lesson Plans and Pacing Guides to be both ready-to-use and customizable.

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A Starting Point

We hear the statement made quite often in Physics Teaching Facebook groups. It goes something like this:
The Physics Classroom was my go-to resource my first year of teaching Physics.
I would not have survived if it was not for The Physics Classroom. 

If you are new to Physics teaching, we think you will find our Lesson Plans and Pacing Guides to be a life saver ... your go-to resource. We have tried to put as much as possible into our unit plans - readings, videos, labs, think sheets, simulations (and accompanying Concept Checkers), concept-development activities like Concept Builders and Minds On Physics missions, short problem sets that rely on our Calculator Pad engine, and Science Reasoning activities. With all the resources organized into one location, we have (we hope) provided a very comfortable place for a cross-over Physics teacher or an early-career Physics teacher to get started. 

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Teacher Personalization Required

Whether you are new to Physics teaching or have several good years of experience, we believe that you are going to need to customize this. We are not attempting to be restrictive in providing these Lesson Plans. We recognize that very few experienced Physics teachers will be using the plans; they will likely use the resources but we have a strong feeling that they will be combining them with resources, tools, and approaches that they have already found to have merit and produce positive results. For each unit, we have provided a page in which we organize our activities by topic and learning outcome. We believe veteran teachers will appreciate these pages more than the Lesson Plan pages.

A teacher who is new to teaching Physics will likely be more reliant upon the Lesson Plans and the pacing that they provide. But we encourage them to find their own pace, their own style, and their own additions. Personalizing the approach and the provided learning resources will be necessary. We have only provided the Starting Point. We hope it is a good starting point; but it is still only a Starting Point. As you gain more confidence in your Physics teaching, we encourage you to remove what you don't like, add activities which are more in line with your teaching personality, and make the curriculum your own. It is after all designed to be customizable.

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Best Practices

While there are a variety of conditions in which learners will thrive with the use of our Physics Classroom tools, we believe learning will be optimized when the following conditions exist:
  1. Students are in a 1:1 environment where every student arrives in class with a charged-up, ready-to-use device.
  2. The teacher relinquishes the felt need to be talking and explaining for the majority of the class period. The teacher will need to use direct instruction, either in class or at home with a flipped-learning approach. But overuse of whole class instruction and explanations and failure to allow students to use our tools as processing agents will be the top reason for less-than-optimal results. Teachers will need to transition from the Sage on the Stage to the Guide on the Side. The program is built on the belief that "teaching isn't learning" and learning begins once the learner starts to process the meaning of what was taught.
  3. The teacher is committed to and skilled at encouraging student buy-in to the approach. Students will need to be confident that use of our tools is not just teacher relaxation time but a natural and integrated part of the learning cycle. Teachers who use the program appropriately may find that it is the most exhausting time of the class period as they skirt from desk to desk helping students process ideas and make meaning of concepts. At the same time, it will be the most fulfilling time of the class period as they watch students yearn to learn, experience aha moments, rejoice in the Dataways and trophies, and give high fives to a friend upon completion of a difficult activity.
  4. The teacher cultures a class environment in which there are short introductions to content, some practice and modeling, and then lots of application and processing time. Part of this environment will be the understanding on students' part that struggle is natural, failure is only temporary, and learning occurs by means of a collection of incremental steps taken towards mastery. We like to describe the process as a Zero to Hero process. Students come in with very little understanding (Zero) and steadily climb the steps of the ladder towards the top step (Hero). 
  5. The teacher has previewed and is familiar with every tool that is used in class. With a Task Tracker subscription, previewing is easy to do with our Preview versions (found in the Teacher Resources section of a teacher's Task Tracker account). By previewing, you can prepare students for what they need to know, warn them of any unfamiliar language uses, be prepared for the rare nuance that might arise, and even discard question groups that you prefer to not be part of your students' experience.
  6. The teacher customizes and adapts the program to match the students' ability level and school culture. This may mean that the teacher runs the course at a much slower pace than what is described in our unit plans. This may mean that the teacher reduces or even eliminates all homework and does most the work in class. This may mean that the teacher reduces the number of problems on a Calculator Pad problem set (easy to do with a Task Tracker subscription) or only assigns one or two of the activities of a Concept Builder or removes the dreaded Select all that apply questions from a Minds On Physics mission (again, easy to do with a Task Tracker subscription).

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Pacing Comments

Time spent per topic and the number of topics covered is always a hot topic among teachers. We are not of the persuasion that we need to convince you to cover all or less than all the topics. As of this writing, we have never held a teacher at gun point with the demand that they cover all the topics or do all the prescribed activities. The decision as to how fast or how slow to progress through the curriculum is left up to the teacher. No teacher should ever feel like "I'm way behind where I should be." If you are using your class time efficiently and wisely and addressing students' needs, then you are likely right where you should be.

But we would add that if you are over-talking and over-explaining (emphasis on "over"), then you might not be using your class time efficiently. The assumption of the program is that learning begins when students do something with what you have explained. Your "teaching" isn't equal to their learning. Our advice is to shorten the "lecture", get students started on the tool, and start helping them process the information and make meaning of the ideas.  Getting used to being the guide on the side as opposed to the sage on the stage may be uncomfortable at first. But after a few instances of "teaching your heart out" for 25 minutes on a topic only to find out the students couldn't answer the simplest Minds On Physics questions after you "just recently told them the answer", you may quickly become convinced of the wisdom and efficiency of spending more time as the guide on the side.

For each of our courses, we have indicated a number of days spent per topic The total number is close to 180 days This presumes a 50-60 minute class period. And it does NOT include test days or short mid-unit quizzes. And it assumes 15-45 minutes of out-of-class work each day. If you are not a fan of out-of-class work, or if you don't have 50 minutes of class time each day, or if you plan on testing at the end of each unit or using a short quiz each Friday (recommended), then it is unlikely that you will finish all of the units. That means that you will have to make some decisions about what topics or sub-topics you discard. And in our opinion, we find it better to provide more-than-enough content than to provide less-then-enough content. For a new Physics teacher, it is easier to discard than to add.

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Task Tracker

Perhaps the most valuable teacher tool on our website is Task Tracker. Task Tracker is a back-end database that collects and stores data regarding student progress on website tasks. As of this writing (May, 2024), Task Tracker works with the following sections of our website: Concept Builders, Minds On Physics, The Calculator Pad, Physics Interactives and their accompanying Concept Checkers, and the Science Reasoning Center. While activities from all these sections can be used by any website visitor, student progress is only saved for registered users.

With a Task Tracker subscription, teachers can decide which activities they wish to assign, set scoring rules and due date information for those activities, customize the activities by removing undesired questions and question groups, and view student progress and scores on all activities. Students of such teachers can view their assignments on an assignment board with their current progress and score listed next to the activity. The due date is visible. The scoring rules are accessible. And a link is provided to the assignment. If students start the assignment at school, they can pick up where they left off at home and finish the assignment. 

We have created Pre-Built Task Tracker courses that align with each of the courses for which we have created Lesson Plans. These Pre-Built Courses include a collection of near-ready-to-use assignments. They are the same assignments that are referenced in the Lesson Plans. All a Task Tracker teacher needs to do is to set up scoring rules and due date information. Once done, the assignment displays on students' assignment boards. You do not need to use all the assignments that we have packaged into the Pre-Built Course. And you can elect to use other Task Tracker assignments that have not been included in the Pre-Built Course. It is all easy to manage and we provide plenty of guidance on how to do it. 

Teachers will find the cost of a Task Tracker subscription to be surprisingly low. Vist our Seat and Cost Calculator for current pricing information.

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Lesson Plans and the Lab Emphasis

We have referenced a variety of labs in our Lesson Plans. Details about the labs can be found in the Laboratory section of our website. There is a Teacher's Guide for each lab. You will probably want to begin from this page. The Teacher's Guide provides some discussion, links to related resources, listing of alternative materials, etc. Each lab in the Laboratory was designed to be used without a step-by-step procedure. Our hope was to provide sufficient information in the form of a Question or a Purpose statement that would inform students' procedural activity. By providing a clear purpose (and a discussion of the provided equipment and what it can do), students can take greater ownership ove the design of the experiment. Additional details about the approach can be found at the Laboratory. Additional labs that were not used in our Lesson Plans but may be of interest to a teacher can also be found in the Laboratory.

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Think Sheets

So what's a Think Sheet? To be perfectly honest, it is a more appealing name for a work sheet. And when used properly, the in-class use of a Think Sheet is a more appealing activity than what gets conjured up by the term "work sheet". Elsewhere, we've seen these referred to as Concept Development pages (another well-chosen euphemism). This latter name captures the intent of the Think Sheet ... to further the development of a concept ... and to leave students with a reliable record regarding the concept. When a Think Sheet is completed, it should be archived in a location that students can reference at a later time; the garbage can is not a great archival location.

We have referenced about 200 of these so-called Think Sheets in our Lesson Plans. Each covers a discrete concept. Each provides students with an opportunity to practice a skill or to probe an idea or to see a concept in action or to organize some information that forms the foundation of a concept. Think Sheets can be completed individually, in small groups, in pairs, and under the guidance of the instructor. Some will include algebraic problem-solving practices; some will include diagramming exercises; most will encourage conceptual reasoning. And all will prepare students for many of our Concept Builders and Minds On Physics missions.

We have seen our Think Sheets used in a variety of ways. We think they are best used in class. Providing time for students to work through the questions and having a plan for them to check their work is essential. We do not personally view these as exercises that students complete and turn in for credit. We view these as exercises that students complete and store in a location that they can later access for guidance. An effective method involves using them as a ticket to open their Chromebook (or other device) to begin an online activity. Have some answer keys available for pairs or small groups to check their answers when they are done. They only get the answer key when they have shown they have completed the Think Sheet. And they can only open their device to do the online activity once they have checked and corrected their answers. The Think Sheet then stays at their side as they work through the online Concept Builder or Minds On Physics mission.

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A common question that we have been hearing with increasing frequency in the past decade is ...
Is The Physics Classroom aligned with the NGSS?

This is a difficult one to answer as the answer is both Yes and No. Let's do the No part first.

The Physics Classroom (est., 1996) website pre-dates the Next Generation Science  Standards. As such, the Tutorial, the Curriculum Corner, the Physics Interactives and accompanying Student Activity Sheets were not created with the intent of aligning them with a set of national science standards that would emerge a decade and a half later. You won't find our Tutorial section organized by Storylines. You won't find every question on a Minds on Physics mission to involve the merging of the three dimensions of the NGSS. And you won't find a heavy concentration of engineering design activities. So if these are the attributes of an NGSS curriculum, then No would probably be the most honest answer.

BUT (the YES part now begins) ... The Physis Classroom is a website and not a curriculum. And as a website loaded with simulations, tutorials, conceptual reasoning activities, and mathematical manipulatives, it serves as a very effective curriculum support for any existing curriculum, NGSS or otherwise. If we were to be honest, a student wishing to ...
... use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects ...

... is going to need to understand Newton's Law of Gravitation and Coulomb's Law (a disciplinary core idea). And both are clearly convered in our written Tutorials and Video Tutorials. And the student is going to need to use mathematical representations of those laws (a science and engineering practice) to make some predictions (a reference to a cross-cutting concept). And it wouldn't be difficult to find about 10 activities in which the student will implement all three dimensions simultaneously to complete the activity. 

The same claim could be made about several other performance expectations of the NGSS - from momentum conservation to energy concepts to electric and magnetic fields to electromagnetic waves. Most of our interactive activities are strongly flavored with science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, and the expected disciplinary core ideas. While the three dimensions emphasized by a given activity at The Physics Classroom may not be the same blend emphasized in the NGSS's performance expectations, we are relatively certain that 80% - 100% of all those dimensions are covered multiple times by numerous activities at The Physics Classroom. A teacher trained in the NGSS is highly likely to find a rich set of NGSS aligned activities at our website. Furthermore, in more recent years, we have intentionally produced activities that provide richer NGSS alignment. An entire section - the Science Reasoning Center - is one example of such an emphasis. So as a website that supports curriculum of all types without defining curriculum or favoring specific curriculum, it is easy to see the value of our activities for a teacher who is building an NGSS-aligned curriculum.

All this being said, our Lesson Plans were not put together with the intent of providing an NGSS-aligned curriculum. Those who use the Lesson Plans may wish to pull more heavily from Science Reasoning Center activities. Each of the Teacher Guides that accompany our units include a section where we provide suggestions regarding increased NGSS alignments for that particular unit.

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