Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Current Planning Method

I am far from experienced at planning curricula, but I did have some experience teaching preschool at BYU, and I have drawn on the ways I plan for other areas of my life to decide on my current methods. I expect this will change over time as I find better ways to do things, but for now, I thought this might be helpful for someone (maybe just myself, later) as a detailed explanation of one way to approach planning.

1. Decide what units we want to do; block them in roughly on a calendar. Decide how many weeks each unit should take up. Plan in holidays/breaks, if applicable.
For the summer, I took inspiration from whatever we had going on at the time---the Primary elections, Pioneer Day, the Fourth of July, etc.---but I imagine that the inspiration for what we will do will vary as we go along, based on things like what grades everyone is in and if we're drawing from state standards or something similar. [Our state standards are found here. I am not particularly concerned with presenting all of these in order or by grade level, but having them for reference is useful.] We may spend some time doing whole term themes (American History, for example, or Mesopotamia, or Biomes) sometimes too, and basing our smaller units around those "spines." Anyway, for summer I tried to tie things in to what we would already want to be doing, so field trips etc. were easier. Sometimes an activity we wanted to do anyway helped inspire a unit (e.g. touring the Governor's Mansion or hiking in the canyon).

2. Get on the library website and do subject searches related to the upcoming units (I do a couple units at a time if I can.) I try a bunch of different searches (e.g., for the Water unit, I tried "waterfalls," "irrigation," "floods," "rain," "hydropower," and so forth. Browsing the catalog alphabetically by subject usually yields a bunch of search terms I hadn't considered yet.) in case they give me an idea for which direction to take the unit in.

3. Save books that look promising to a list, and request (i.e. put on hold) the ones for the unit immediately upcoming. I use Abe's and Seb's library cards too, since we can only request 10 books per card. We can check out 30 per card, so that gives us potentially 90 books at a time---we had almost that many (including our fun/free reading books) for the water unit!

4. Pick up the books from the library and look through them, deciding which ones to keep. Request more from the list if necessary.

5. Sort the "keep" books into groups that will form sub-units. There is usually a kind of order that emerges naturally as I read them; they fall into different areas of focus. For example, from the books I picked for the flower unit, there seemed to be mostly:

  • books on flower classification/names,
  • books on the structure and parts of flowers,
  • books on how seeds and fruits and reproduction work;
  • books on how we use flowers.

So I planned the different days of the unit around these topics.

6. Figure out specific topics to cover as part of each "sub-unit" (not sure if that's the most useful term, but it's all I can come up with right now). As I'm planning and reading through the library books, I usually get a better idea of which topics actually are most relevant and necessary. I may decide to add "prep days" where we lay the groundwork for what we want to learn the next day. For example, with our fireworks unit, it was clear that we needed to review chemical reactions and basic molecular structure (things like how combustion occurs, what CO2 and H2O mean, etc) before we could really get into how and why a firework explodes. So we spent some days doing that first. Or maybe these "groundwork" ideas might come later--like when we talked about dams. The simpler books just described how the turbines turned a generator, which "converted the energy into electricity." But that explanation didn't satisfy the older boys, who wanted to know HOW it worked. So we spent a day on just electricity, talking about ionization and electrons and currents, so they could have a clearer idea of why the magnets and the copper wire in a generator could produce an electric current. The little kids get some of this, but it's fine if they don't understand all of it, as we will come at it from other directions again and again as time goes on (well, and that's true for the older ones too, of course)! Anyway, if I need some more books at this point, I can look for them at the library, or search for further information online.

7. Discover/brainstorm which subjects this unit could include. Once I have different sub-units, I look in the books, or online, for activities or hands-on work that could go with each aspect of the unit. I have a spreadsheet where I brainstorm (often with Sam) different things we could do, and put those ideas into columns for science, literature, history, art, music, physical education, religion, psychology, and so forth. Like this:
(sorry for the horrible picture quality; this computer doesn't read Numbers files, so I have to scan them in instead)

I brainstorm and then narrow down later---and I don't worry about covering all those things in each unit, but it helps me see at a glance if we are covering a good range of subjects (and sometimes gives me ideas for ways to come at a subject from a different angle). We try to do a variety of activities, so we're keeping a good balance between drawing/writing (coloring maps, labeling worksheets, etc), making crafts, larger-scale movement and games, listening or singing to music, watching videos like The Happy Scientist, going on Field Trips, etc. There are so many angles to approach from, and the children seem to like them all. I like this integrated approach---for these family study units, anyway; when studying just Math or Spelling it is less applicable---much better than saying, "Today we will learn about chemical symbols" unrelated to any real-world application. That's not to say I won't ever use that approach, but I know for me, even memorization or "building-block"-type learning comes more easily when it's linked to, or jump-started by, more practical, real-life topics.

Side note: I have read a lot about "learning styles;" the idea that you should find out if your child is a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner or whatever, and then teach accordingly. I agree it can be helpful to notice which things tend to catch your child's interest best, but I also feel strongly that all learning styles can benefit everyone! Sam and I are both convinced that the "right brain/left brain" dichotomy (as expressed in people identifying as one or the other) is greatly exaggerated--or at least, that the "divide" can be overcome with practice. Though I like to gain information through reading (is that the verbal style?), I always find that if I can reinforce that knowledge visually or from some other direction, I will know it even more deeply. I think it's good for the children to do work in all sorts of styles so they will be comfortable with all of them. (Not that this is a controversial or new idea; I know most educators draw from different learning methods.)

8. Put activities and topics into the Unit Schedule and rearrange as needed. Once I have lots of good ideas (and I try not to spend forever combing the Internet for ideas--there is so much information available!--so at some point, I have to stop getting inspiration and just let the ideas come together in my own way!), I put them into my planning spreadsheet---the Unit Schedule/Lesson Plans I usually post here. I look at the calendar and make sure our busier days have fewer activities, etc., while still trying to arrange the lessons in a logical progression. Sam's lessons are usually on Thursdays (he works from home Thursdays) and are fairly short (he is supposed to be home working, after all!). I listen to those lessons too and I LOVE them! Maybe I will learn to be a better artist someday if we keep this up. :)  Friday is a good field trip day, but some field trips work better on other days, so we just move things around however we need to, and of course if we do field trips on Saturdays we can all go, including Sam, so that's a great benefit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...