Back to School Tips for Teachers and Professors

Whether you are getting prepped for your fall semester Psychology 101 class, or your high school physics course, as summer winds down it’s normal for anxiety to start to creep in. So grab a seat, take a deep breath, and relax, because Packback’s crew of former educators put their heads together & shared their back to school tips!

Develop and Evaluate a Curriculum

The curriculum is the backbone of any classroom, it helps guide you throughout the semester or course, and helps level set expectations with students. With that in mind, its important for instructors at any level of education to approach their curriculum development and evaluation with an open mind. Try to take a step back and view the curriculum from the eyes of a third party, you might be surprised what you see.

How to Develop a Curriculum

The first step to developing a course curriculum is to determine the purpose of the course in conjunction with students’ needs. What do you want students to get out of this course and what are the objectives they need to achieve to get there?

Maybe it’s adopting weekly reflections, or using Packback Questions, an inquiry based discussion platform, to foster discussion and engagement between you and the students. The discussion that occurs on Packback Questions can be used as a barometer for you to better understand where your students are at. Maybe they aren’t fully understanding the course material and need deeper instruction on certain topics, OR maybe they are way ahead of where you expected and you can start introducing more complex course materials. 

You’ll never know if you don’t have a way to check-in with your students. Phil Mixter, Associate Professor at Washington State University, shares how he keeps up with his students by using Homework Polls.
Additionally, you’ll want to create a rough outline of the assessments you’re going to use, and determine the materials and resources you and the students will need to complete those assessments. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from fellow instructors or even the internet. The Department of Education has several helpful resources to help students and instructors get on a path towards success.

How to Evaluate a Curriculum

Evaluating your curriculum is just as important as developing it. As a teacher it’s so important to take a step back and evaluate yourself. We spend so much time focusing on the student that sometimes we forget to make sure our curriculum is actually setting up the students for success. We understand that self-evaluation is not the easiest thing to do, nobody likes to look into the mirror and point out areas of weakness or topics that need improvement, but it’s incredibly important to do so. Here are a couple models and tips to help you better evaluate your curriculum.

  1. Bloom’s Taxonomy: A model to measure and arrange the knowledge a student has acquired through continuous learning to promote higher thinking and inspire curiosity. In fact, Packback Questions was built using this pedagogy as a framework to help students challenge themselves to think critically by encouraging inquiry and the use of real-life examples to apply their knowledge. Here are the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy:
    1. Remember: Are students able to recall basic facts and concepts?
    2. Understand: Can students explain the ideas and concepts they are learning?
    3. Apply: Can students apply the information to real-life situations?
    4. Analyze: Can students draw connections between various concepts discussed?
    5. Evaluate: Can students justify a claim of their own  using course material as evidence
    6. Create: Can students take what they have learned and use it to create original work?
  1. The CIPP Model: The CIPP model is a mode of evaluation that focuses on four core aspects of a program; context, input, process, and product.
    1. Context Evaluation: Assessing the needs, assets, and problems that may arise in a curriculum
    2. Input Evaluation: What is the best method to execute your curriculum in a meaningful and engaging way?
    3. Process Evaluation: How is your process for teaching the material being done?
    4. Product Evaluation: Did your teaching method succeed? This can be measured by a number of metrics including test scores and engagement levels. These metrics can be taken a step further for Packback teachers by using our platform to measure students’ curiosity levels, number of posts and post length

Audit Your Writing Assignments

In the wake of the skyrocketing usage of generative AI like ChatGPT, it’s absolutely paramount that instructors audit their writing assignments before the beginning of the semester. The goal for your writing assignments should be to focus on authenticity rather than regurgitation. Adjust your writing assignments to focus on real world applications of course material by giving students the autonomy to choose how they want to tackle a topic.

A students’ mind and the way they perceive course concepts in comparison to real-life is something that can never be mimicked by generative AI like ChatGPT, so making that the focus of your writing assignments should lead to better writing and a better understanding of course material.

Here are some suggestions on how to audit your writing assignments to make them more authentic:

  1. Replace “Summaries” – Have students write a reflection on what was most confusing about the piece, or share a real-life example of how they have personally lived the concept.
  2. Focus on the Process – Rather than submitting only a final “product”, consider requesting students to document their workflow and explain their choices they made throughout their essay.
  3. Reverse Research Paper – Provide students with the “conclusion”/argument, that lacks research/references/defense. Ask them to build the reference support and add in-text citations to the submission. 

To learn more about how to audit your writing assignments, take a look at our recent webinar “How to Create a Chat-GPT Proof Assignment”. During this session we go into detail about the importance of adjusting your assignments in the wake of ChatGPT and how little effort it actually takes to make a difference. We even provide you with a companion guide to get you started on your journey, that we highly recommend you review!

How to Prepare Your Classroom for the New School Year

Alright, we got the complicated self-evaluation part out of the way, now let’s get to the fun stuff, actually setting up and preparing your classroom. As I’m sure you all know, the physical environment of the classroom has a large impact on students’ learning and mood. Everything from classroom arrangement to temperature can impact learning. While these tips may be more applicable to K-12 classrooms, Higher Education instructors can incorporate some of these tips into their office set-up to promote productive officer hours. Here’s what to consider:

  • Classroom layout
  • Lighting
  • Acoustics
  • Temperature
  • Accessibility
  • Wall decor 

Furthermore, one of Packback’s resident former K-12 teachers, Ri Cantlin had some more wisdom to share when it comes to preparing your classroom. Here are some of Ri’s tips for preparing a K-12 classroom:

  • Create an Amazon Wishlist for classroom supplies
  • Find the “best seat in the house” for your desk (where you can see everything) and arrange other classroom furniture accordingly
  • Post daily schedule and emergency procedures
  • Create an emergency substitute binder
  • Communicate with parents/stakeholders as needed
  • Consider how you will introduce policies and procedures to students
  • Decide on a first day of class ice breaker activity
  • Prepare but don’t stress

Using Packback This Fall? Here’s How to Incorporate Packback Into Your Classroom

We understand that everybody who reads this blog may not be a Packback teacher (although we hope that you are!), but for those of you who have previously used or plan to use Packback in your classroom this section is for you! We understand that incorporating a new platform, especially one built around AI can make you feel excited, nervous, hopeful, joyful, suspicious, and so much more. Regardless of what emotions you’re feeling, we totally understand them and have probably felt them ourselves. So without further ado, here are some tips to quell those feelings and help you bring Packback to life!

  • Invest in your Packback Introduction – A strong introduction will save you from questions and issues popping up later in the semester! First, use the first day of class presentation provided by the Packback team during the first week of class, and also upload this to your LMS course page for permanent student reference. Furthermore, and arguably more importantly, explain to your students why you are using Packback. Take the time to explain the value of curiosity, building community, writing, and how you plan on being engaged in the Packback community. The goal is to build student buy-in, which dramatically helps increase engagement and authenticity throughout the term.
  • How to Use Packback Throughout the Term
    • Many of today’s learners may be reluctant to share their own ideas, bring a couple standout student questions that were asked on the platform to class and host a student led discussion around the topic
    • Quickly check-for understanding and encourage all students to participate by using an in-class poll to break up the lecture with a quick, engaging activity that can help you clear up misunderstanding or propel the conversation into the next topic.
    • Generate a more robust way to check on the understanding of course content by creating a homework poll that encourages students to elaborate or self-assess their personal progress.
    • Meet with your Curriculum Consultant or Experience Manager to brainstorm more ideas and set your class up for success.
  • What If My Students Need Help? – If and when students need help, encourage them to reach out to Our support team is here to help answer any questions they may have.
  • If I Can Only Do A Couple Things on Packback What Should They Be? 
    • Review the recommended feature email that Packback sends out every monday, this will help you ideas on some of the low-hanging fruit you can take advantage of. Additionally, try to make sure you are featuring at least 3 student posts per week
    • Use our Match and Message tool to engage with students and provide constructive feedback in a convenient and easy-to-use manner

What Else Can I Do?

Being a teacher is hard, and is stressful enough so don’t forget to take a step back and relax. Enjoy the rest of your summer and get ready for the road ahead. We’ll leave with some wisdom from another one of Packback’s former teachers, Michelle Barton.

Take some you time! Once the semester/quarter begins, it’s a wild and crazy ride. Make sure you have time to do (not work related!) things you love so that you can begin your semester with your batteries charged!  And don’t forget to find your sizzle! Back to school time can be extra stressful as you work to tie up loose ends, say goodbye to summer and ensure that everything is ready to go. Take a few minutes to write three things that you love about teaching and reflect on your goals for the semester. Remembering your why will reinvigorate you now and carry you through the (inevitable) hard moments.”

We hope that you found these back to school tips helpful! If you’d like to learn more about Packback or have any questions, please feel free to reach out to a team member and they will gladly assist you. And from everybody here at Packback, cheers to new beginnings and we hope you have an amazing school year!

Request a Demo of the Packback Questions Platform

Curious to learn more? One of our friendly strategy consultants will be excited to meet you and discuss your course learning objectives. We will provide a free consultation to see if Packback would be a good fit for your class!

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