I recently surveyed my blog readers and one of the topics that several people wanted to know more about was my pacing for the school year. Figuring out a way to fit all of the material within the 38 or so weeks I have each year is a constant struggle, but I've almost mastered it. I've learned to "stay in my lane", which requires extensive knowledge of the content that is being taught prior to your class and the content that will be coming up in the next few years. If you know what knowledge your students are coming to you with, you don't have to spend time teaching it, but rather, reviewing and reinforcing it. If you know where they are headed, you just need to do your part (not more, not less), so that they will hypothetically continue on with the proper foundations that the upper grades are expecting them to have.
If your school or district doesn't have vertical or horizontal alignment, I would recommend that you do everything in your power to make that a priority. I am very fortunate in that my principal gives my department 1 day each six weeks to get together and have an entire day to plan. She secures subs for us and we devote the entire day to collaboratively planning with each other. We typically get about 3-4 weeks planned out in DETAIL, along with getting a lot of our copies made and laminating done. We still meet with our grade level teaching partner during our conference period at least twice a week, just to touch base or take care of the day-to-day stuff, but having the gift of time to get aligned is crucial.
I have to be honest... about 4-5 years ago, I dreaded having to plan with the other same grade level science teacher. The balance was always off for a variety of reasons - either I felt like I was doing all of the work, we were planning, but then I'd find out that the other teacher wasn't "sticking to the plan", I felt like I could work more efficiently if I was left alone to do the work, there were personality conflicts, etc... (I could really go on for awhile). But now, my opinions on collaboratively planning have drastically changed. My teaching partner and I touch base every single day. We adjust and modify as needed, share ideas on what worked and what didn't, share our frustrations and celebrations. The balance is restored and the workload is shared! It is no longer my students and his students, but rather, our students.
Now for the nitty gritty planning:
Before the school year begins, I get out my monthly 2-page calendar and lay out the grading cycles and important dates, such as holidays, etc... while looking at my school district calendar.
In my opinion, to be great at the content you teach, you need to, at the very minimum, know the content 2 years prior and 2 years beyond the level you currently teach. If you don't, get your nose in a book and start reading up. Talk to the more experienced teachers that are willing to share what they know. DO SOMETHING! It drives me bonkers when new teachers get into the field and are forced to teach something they don't know and they don't do anything to better themselves. We are lifelong learners, so we are never too old to learn new things.
I used to spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of each year going over safety and basic science skills, but I realized that every other science teacher was doing the same, so I thought of a more efficient way to use my time. I now spend very little time on safety and basic skills (no more than 4-5 days) and I embed it into what I'm doing throughout the entire year, constantly reinforcing, modeling and reminding them of those skills. It's still being taught, just in a different way. And it's probably more memorable for my students, not only because it keeps popping up, but because they are USING the skills in real situations, rather than just learning them and/or just talking about them.
Dang! That was a major veer off of the intended road! Whew! My little typing fingers are worn out....
So, I guess I'll get straight to my yearly plan. Again, this is for my 8th grade science class in Texas. There is some "cushion" built into each grading cycle to allow for tests, quizzes and other things that frequently pop-up, such as school assemblies, needing to re-teach or spend more time on difficult concepts.
1st 6 weeks
Unit 1: Safety and Procedures (with some measurement and density thrown in) - about 1 1/2 weeks
(density is a concept that frequently comes up throughout the 8th grade year as it relates to convection in the mantle of the Earth supporting tectonic plate movement, weather, etc..)
Unit 2: Atoms - 8 days
Unit 3: Periodic Table - 9 days
2nd 6 weeks
Unit 4: Chemical Formulas, Equations and Reactions - 15 days
Unit 5: Force and Motion (speed, velocity, acceleration) - 8 days
3rd 6 Weeks
Unit 6: Newton's Laws - 10 days
Unit 7: Forces that Change the Earth (layers of the earth, plate tectonics) - 15 days
4th 6 Weeks
Unit 8: Climatic Interactions (weather) - 10-15 days
Unit 9: Earth Cycles (day/night, seasons, lunar phases) - 10 days
Unit 10: Light Years and Theories - 3-5 days
5th 6 Weeks
Unit 11: Characteristics of the Universe (stars, star life cycle, H-R diagram, galaxies, the relative size of things) - 13 days
Unit 12: Interdependence Among Living Systems (food webs/chains, feeding relationships, symbiotic relationships) - 10 days (which typically ends up bleeding into the next 6 weeks)
Somewhere in here, I shut-down shop and start reviewing for the STAAR Test (this breaks my Unit 12 into 2 parts, but my students typically are strong enough in food webs and feeding levels to be successful on the test, that I am ok sacrificing the time to start prepping for the BIG TEST.)
6th 6 Weeks
Finish Unit 12
Unit 13: BrainPop Project** and just some fun end-of-the-year stuff (like science movies that relate to the content we learned, but I didn't want to sacrifice instruction time to watch the movies).
** My students get into groups of 4-5 and create their own BrainPop video to teach the incoming 8th graders about some of the topics they learned during the school year. Their scripts must be approved prior to filming and must follow a format similar to the "typical" BrainPop video. They have costumes, sound effects, the whole 9 yards!
If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section below. I would be glad to elaborate on anything or help out on anything.