Why I Chose My Scope and Sequence - Biology

As teachers, it can be challenging to determine the best order in which to teach our curriculum.  This back to school season, I decided to share my scope and sequence for biology and why I think it is the best for using in the biology classroom!

Back in the day when I taught at public school, I didn’t even think twice about my scope and sequence.  This was all provided for me and standardized across the district.  This was great as a first year teacher - one less thing for me to have to worry about!  But as time went on, I realized I really didn’t like the sequence in which I was told to teach the content and wished I had an opportunity to change it.

Then my husband’s job moved us to a different part of the state and I found myself in a private school.  I went from being one of 5 teachers who taught my subject matter, which was dictated entirely by my school district, to being the only teacher who taught my subjects, given complete autonomy over my curriculum.   My only guidelines were that my unit plans be guided by the Next Generation Science Standards.  (If you are unfamiliar with these, I’ve written a blog post about them here.)

I was overwhelmed and overjoyed at the idea of being able to completely rearrange my curriculum.   Over the past few years I’ve tried a few different strategies for my biology classes, and I’ve landed on this being my absolute favorite scope and sequence of all. 
As teachers, it can be challenging to determine the best order in which to teach our curriculum.  This back to school season, I decided to share my scope and sequence for biology and why I think it is the best for using in the biology classroom!
Each unit is broken down into smaller concepts, as you can see above.  Many people see this and are surprised, especially because I end the year with ecology rather than starting with it, like many teachers do.  But here is what I’ve realized -  I think it is most important to start the year with the hardest content and save the less challenging material for the end. Why start hard?  Because students are the most fresh and working the hardest at the beginning of the school year.  As time goes on, they get more and more jaded.  By 3rd quarter high school students are just praying for spring break to get there. 

I like to start with the basics – scientific method, macromolecules, and cells – since they are the foundation that everything else the entire year will build upon.  Then I like to go smaller as we study biochemical reactions and DNA.  This content tends to be the most challenging for students. I then end the year with evolution and ecology.  These units are both heavily activity-based, which keeps students engaged and active until the very last day.  It gets them spending less time taking notes, and more time on their feet, using their hands.  I also like to end the year with the two units that I think tie everything together and really give students the big picture vision of everything they’ve learned previously throughout the year.

You will see this throughout my scope and sequence that I continuously try to pair the content with real world, big picture applications.  With cells I teach about cancer.  With biochemical reactions, like photosynthesis and cellular respiration, I also teach trophic pyramids and food webs.  With genetics and heredity, I teach about genetic disorders and genetic engineering.  I think it is so important to constantly teach students what the point of all of the details we make them learn really is, and what this content really has to do with them in their every day lives. 

If you are just starting to teach biology for the first time, need to lighten your prep load, or looking to change up how you do things, you can find my entire biology curriculum here!  If you also teach physical science, I have a full curriculum available for it now too!  Check it out here!

How do you determine your scope and sequence?  Is it determined by the district or school you are in or did you pick it out yourself?  If you could teach in your ideal order, how would you do it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!!


8 comments

  1. I was wondering when or if you go into anatomy, like body systems, etc. Thanks

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    1. Hi Christina! Thanks for reading! I do not with my biology classes. We unfortunately just never have the time to do so. I do mention levels of organization in my Unit 2 on Cells, and if I had time I would add it then! We have an awesome anatomy and physiology class at my school that covers all of the NGSS Life Science standards on Anatomy that students take between my class and moving on to AP Biology, so that's why I don't teach it!

      I would LOVE to though and if time did allow, I think it would make the most sense to teach after mitosis in a Cells Unit after teaching how cells differentiate.

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  2. Rebecca, do you give your students a test on each topic within each of your units? And how long your units usually last? I also teach in a private school where I designed my own scope and sequence, but my school works on a rotating block schedule which basically means I don't have as much time with my kids as I would in a public school. I struggle with pacing and have trouble getting to everything that I should! Any advice? Thanks!

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    1. Hi! I only give them a test on the entire unit, so it usually covers 3-4 concepts. If it is a larger unit (like my ecology) I give two tests - 1 over my first concepts and 1 over my second three. Unit lengths depend (also depending on if you have 50-min vs. 80 min class, which is why I include unit plans/pacing for both in my products) I totally understand losing time - we aren't on a rotating schedule, but we have 15 more days off for events and such so I've lose three weeks of teaching time!! Here is my breakdown of length, based on 50-minute days:

      Biology Basics: 16-17 days
      Cells: 16 days
      Energy Flow: 22 days
      Genetics: 20 days
      Heredity: 25 days
      Evolution: 20 days
      Ecology: 32 days

      This isn't a perfect science since there are always interruptions (like we were out for 2 weeks last year due to Hurricane Matthew evacuation.) Also I build in a week of time at end of each semester for exam review! But I hope this helps!!

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  3. I go in almost the same exact order for the same exact reason 😄 We're always in for the long haul by fourth quarter, with almost no breaks and everyone about to burn out, ecology is important but pretty much common sense and easy for the kids to finish with .

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  4. I love this! This is exactly the sequence I teach and it works so well. In the public school we taught ecology first after biology basics and then evolution. And then we went back to the cell. NEVER made sense to me...or probably the kids either.

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    1. Wow, that is so interesting! I think it is so hard to get evolution without a solid foundation in genetics.

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