Experience First, Formalize Later

“Experience First, Formalize Later” (EFFL) means that students are working collaboratively to think, to discuss, and to construct their own understanding of new content before the teacher helps students to arrive at formal definitions and formulas.


Learning Objectives and Success Criteria

For every new lesson, the teacher begins by making the goals of the lesson crystal clear. By the time students walk out of the classroom, here is what they are expected to know or be able to do. For Calc-Medic we use Learning Objectives and Success Criteria. The Success Criteria should be written in student friendly language and we like to underline new vocabulary terms. The teacher does more than simply read the Success Criteria to the class. They make connections to previous learning, share how this learning fits into a bigger picture, or explain why this learning is important for future learning.


For this part of the lesson, students work in pairs or groups of four to experience new content through an activity. Students might be discussing a proposed scenario, working with other groups, or doing a simulation. The student activity is designed for students to be able to do without the help of the teacher. Of course, the teacher is watching and listening in to conversations in order to formatively assess student understanding. The teacher provides questions, cues, and prompts (not answers!) to help push groups forward when they are stuck or have made a mistake. As students begin to finish the activity, the teacher identifies students to write their work on the board. Most often, the teacher selects student work that will easily allow them to connect the experience to the formal learning. Students write their work on the whiteboard in a single color marker.

Debrief Activity

Once student responses are up on the white board (see black writing below), the teacher calls the whole group back together for a debrief. It is in this discussion that the teacher will help students formalize the learning. The teacher connects the student activity experience to new vocabulary, definitions, formulas, and algorithms. The formal learning is attached specifically to the experiences of the activity so that students can enhance their constructed understanding of the new content. The teacher writes all of the formal learning in a different color in the margins of the activity (see blue writing below). The students add these ideas in the margins on their activity page and often think of this as the formal “notes” of the lesson. In all of the answer keys we provide on Calc Medic, the teacher formal learning points are provided in the margins in a different color.

Important Ideas

In this part of the lesson, the teacher uses the whole experience of the activity and the formalization in the debrief to summarize the learning from the lesson. These ideas should be directly linked to the Learning Objectives and Success Criteria. Notice that we use the box to constrain the amount of formal “notes” that the teacher can provide.

Check Your Understanding

Now that students have arrived at some new learning, they need to be able to apply it in new contexts. Most often we have students complete these questions in pairs and sometimes we use it as an exit ticket. If we have time, we have students write solutions on the whiteboard.


We typically give students around 5 homework problems for each lesson. We choose problems that are closely aligned with the Learning Objectives of the lesson. It is our belief that “less is more” here. We would rather students spend their homework time thinking deeply about just a few problems, rather than surface level thinking on many problems. We always give students odd problems (with answers in the back of the book), so they can immediately assess their understanding.


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