Course Packs for the #ThinkingClassroom

I had the pleasure of welcoming Peter Liljedahl to visit my classroom this past week. Peter is the brains behind the Thinking Classroom framework that I’ve been implementing in my classroom over the last few years. While he was in town this week for the OAME Leadership conference he took the time to visit some Thinking Classrooms in the area and I was lucky enough to have him come visit ours. He spent a period with my grade 10 applied students where I was running a problem-based learning task (or 3 Act Math task) to do with solving for the missing angle in a right triangle.


Peter Liljedahl & Judy Larsen visit

The two most popular elements that most people know about Peter’s Thinking Classroom framework are vertical non-permanent surfaces and visibly random groups. Another of the elements is to have students take meaningful notes after the problem-solving task; giving them time to select, organize & synthesize the ideas they want to keep in their notes. My way of doing this has been to create course packs for each of the courses I teach. Peter shared out this idea during his keynote on Friday and a number of teachers were interested in hearing more about them and seeing examples, so I figure a blog post was in order!

What are my course packs?
They are approximately 10 pages long (1 page per overall expectation for the course) or 5 sheets back to back. There is a box for each of the key terms or skills they need to know (I pull these from the specific expectations listed in the curriculum docs). For my applied classes I usually fill it in with worked examples of the skills, but leave the key terms blank for them to complete (see below right). For my academic classes I usually leave every box blank for students to complete (see below left). I copy & staple one for each student and hand it out at the beginning of the course.

How do we use them?
A place for meaningful notes: After each activity we do, I get my students to take out their course pack & open to whichever page matches the content we covered that day. I give them time to write their own notes based on the student work on the boards, the short notes I may have written on a board or on their boards, and I’ve also suggested as a good site for definitions at their level. I also encourage them to put both images & words in every box.
A reference document: When groups go up to their boards to solve the day’s problem, one of the 3 members is given the role of bringing the course pack (the other 2 are responsible for scribing and calculating, respectively). Groups will often look through the worked examples if they need some help solving the day’s problem or remembering how to do something. On individual practice days, students often have their course pack out to help them with their practice problems. When students are stuck on a problem, I’ll often ask them to show me where a similar problem is in their course pack & we’ll use that as our starting point as we work together.

Can I see some examples?
Sure can!
Grade 10 applied course pack
Destreamed grade 9 (applied & academic together) course pack:
Grade 10 academic course notes

Still have some questions? Hit me up in the comments below or on Twitter! Have you made some of your own? Share links to your course packs below too!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

9 thoughts on “Course Packs for the #ThinkingClassroom

  1. One of the struggles I’ve had with teaching using whiteboards/VNPSs is that once the work gets erased, the students don’t have a record of their learning. I posted incomplete and complete copies of the “notes” from the lesson – whatever 3-act math tasks we completed, patterns we found, etc – but I really like that this course pack you made gives students a way to have a record of their learning at the end of every lesson. Love this idea! I’m going to try it next time I teach math! 🙂

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  5. What do you do when students lose their packet? I teach 8th grade and know it’s bound to happen. I thought about keeping a “blank” version on Google Classroom that students could print out and refill in the notes they already had? Thoughts?

    • Hey Brittny, yes exactly. On the about page of Google Classroom there was a PDF of the blank version. They print it up themselves if they lose the copy I gave them & fill it back in.

  6. Hey Laura – I love this idea. Do students use their course packs on assessments? It seems very helpful for recording and reviewing specific skills – do you find them less useful or just as good for concepts and connections between concepts?

    • They don’t get their course pack on assessments, but they are allowed to create a 1 page memory aid (based on their notes from the course pack or anything else) to use instead. It’s good for individual concepts – not sure it does the best job of connections between them though.

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