[RI]² Planning Heuristic

For teachers and curriculum designers interested in creating their own [RI]² units, we recommend use of the design heuristic presented below. The heuristic presents nine iterative process steps, and the steps have a suggested product. Teaching and curriculum design are complex processes dependent on multiple factors that are difficult to anticipate. With this in mind, we offer the design heuristic as a tool to help advance development processes. While this basic sequence has been helpful for out team in the design of issue-based units, the process steps should not be interpreted as being necessarily lock-step.




Example from the Vanishing Prairie Module CC 


Explore possible issues, big ideas in science, and target practice(s)

Large scale issue, science themes and focal practices

Issue: Climate Change

Science Theme: Ecology

Practice: Modeling


Search level-appropriate NGSS PEs that relate to the science themes.

Bundled NGSS PEs that highlight content appropriate DCI and CCC.

  • HS-LS2-1. Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.
  • HS-LS2-2. Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.
  • HS-LS2-3. Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions. 


Narrow the focus of the content to be covered and the issue

Specified science content and a focused issue

Science Content: Ecological interactions; Relationships between photosynthesis and cellular respiration

Focused issue: The effect of climate change on a local ecosystem


Develop unit-level performance expectations (PE)

Unit level PEs

  • Develop and use models to explore population size and growth. The models should account for biotic potential, environmental resistance, and population growth patterns (logistic and exponential). 
  • Use an ecosystem model to make predictions regarding the stability/change of populations within a particular ecosystem in response to climatic changes. Engage in argumentation about the relative stability/change of an ecosystem.
  • A complete list of the PEs can be viewed here


Develop unit assessments

Unit assessments

  • Summative model of climate change impacts on a species of student’s choice. A description of this modeling project is available here, and a sample product is available here.
  • Test of ecology concepts.


Design unit outline 

Unit outline

The unit outline for the Vanishing Prairie module is available here.


Develop lesson plans

Lesson plans

Individual lesson plans for the module are available here.


Implement the unit

Records of classroom implementation and student learning

During the implementation of the Vanishing Prairie module, we took notes during and/or following each class session. We also examined student work and compared early unit models with their final models and projects.


Review and evaluate the unit—Return to one of the earlier steps (1-7), make modifications and progress

Following the first implementation, we returned to step 5 to significantly revise the culminating project, which was a student generated model a species and the impacts of climate change on this species. 

Download the PDF