Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lesson Planning by What's Happening or Trending in the World

One of the things I often hear from the educators with whom I work is about the curriculum they are using or the lack of curriculum they have to address the cognitive rigor of college and career ready standards.  They often express their concern about the resources provided to them and how they do not seem to be aligned to the standards even though the textbook publishers proclaim they are.  They also discuss how they do not have the curriculum that truly reflects the kind of questions their students will encounter and experience on the PARCC or SBAC assessments.
However, what if I told you that lessons can be derived and planned just by checking what's trending on Yahoo! or watching the news this morning?
It's 5:15 am as I write this, and I am in my hotel room in Lake Havasu, AZ, (not on vacation) watching the news and surfing the net before I get ready to work with one of my schools for the day.  I go on Yahoo! and I see this is article the lead article on the page:
Immediately, I'm thinking about how this would be a great lesson to teach today in school and how I wish I had a classroom where I could have the students read not only this article but also other articles and editorials that are currently appearing on the internet discussing this topic.  Though I don't have a classroom to teach, I do immediately take out my cognitive rigor questions and decide to make some Daily Good Questions as if I would be teaching this today.
The first thing I think about is what is the topical good question that the article addresses.  I also want students to expand their knowledge and extend their thinking about the content, ideas, and messages presented in the article.
Then I check the Next Generation Science Standards and the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards to determine what overarching concepts and standards could be addressed in this lesson.
I also consider the universal ideas and themes the article and its subject matter broach.
Then I think about what exactly would I want my students to do with the information they have read.
This is what I came up with  - and it only took me approximately 15 minutes not including the time it took to read the article.
Now I not only have a standards-driven lesson for the day but also a student-centered experience that has students thinking deeply about the ideas and information stated in the article as well as expressing and sharing their own knowledge, thinking, and disposition about what they have read.
This is the benefit of teaching and learning for cognitive rigor.  It allows us educators to provide our students deeper educational experiences that stimulate their thinking and deepen their knowledge, understanding, and awareness not only about concepts and content but also the academic standards they must meet and exceed.  It also provides us educators to expand our students' knowledge and extend their thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom to recognize and realize the relevance of the academic skills and subjects they are learning.
We don't need to be beholden to the curriculum packages and textbooks provided to us.  All we need to do is consider the connection between academic concepts and real world circumstances.  This can be done not only in the literary based courses such as English language arts and history / social studies but also the mathematical and scientific courses that are more conceptual and procedural.  Consider the following example that involves using the Pythagorean Theorem.
This is a topical good question that was derived directly from the Mathematics Common Core State Standards - specifically CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.G.B.7.  The images were found from an image search I conducted looking for mathematical and real world problems involving the Pythagorean Theorem.  If I was to teach this lesson, I would ask my students to address and respond to the topical good question and choose to solve either 2 mathematical and 1 real world problem or 1 mathematical and 2 real world problems to use as their evidentiary support in their response.  They are still "doing the math" by solving these problems.  However, they are also thinking mathematically about how can the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse be used to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles and express and share their response using some form of oral, written, creative, or technical communication.
Again, this was all planned using the internet as well my own curiosity, interest. imagination, and wonder about the concepts and content I would be teaching.
So before we go to bed or as we wake up in the morning, take a moment to read the paper, watch the news, or search the internet - or even have the news playing in the background.  Look and listen what's going on in the world.  Think about how it relates to what you are teaching or how it could address the standards.  Then make those good questions that will not only stimulate students' thinking and deepen their knowledge, understanding, and awareness but also expand their knowledge, extend their thinking, and pique their curiosity, imagination, interest, and wonder.
That's what good questions do, and it can be easy and simple to provide students deeper educational experience if you ask good questions.
Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is the lead professional education specialist and owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development and consultation on teaching and learning for cognitive rigor. His book Now THAT'S a Good Question! Questions for Cognitive Rigor will be published by ASCD in November 2015. For more information on this topic or how to receive professional development at your site, please visit


  1. Great article.
    Look forward to the book coming out
    Will it be available as an e book?
    I live in Australia so e books are a fantastic resource for me.

    1. Hi. Thanks for reaching out from Austrailia. Yes, it will be an e-book. I also do this as a professional development. Contact me at or visit for more information.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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