Hi, Lisa here, from American Learning Library (ALL). Here at ALL we love science, and we love unit studies, so I thought I would use this opportunity to write about putting together some unit studies.
A unit study is simply a way to organize learning so that you are approaching a theme or topic from different angles. This can be an incredibly engaging approach to learning, especially when you and your child need a change, or when your need a flexible learning approach.
Children with attention deficit issues or neuro-atypical thinking, like my daughter, can particularly benefit from a unit study approach, because it allows them to learn in a less structured, more student-centered way than strict textbook-based learning. Unit studies are also very good for multi-level learning, which is great when you have more than one child to teach. Older children can also participate in researching resources and information for their study.
Organizing and planning unit studies can seem daunting at first, and while here are a lot of great pre-written unit studies available, with a bit of creativity and some great resources you can easily put together your own for little or no money.
Choose Your Unit Study Theme
Get ready …
The first step of creating your own unit study is to choose a theme or topic of study. This is an opportunity for you to let your or your child’s interests be a guide. Science and history are both great areas to find ideas, as well as seasons or holidays, for younger children.
You may also want to keep a list of topics your children find particularly interesting, or questions they ask. For example, questions about where a country is located might lead to a unit study on geography that could include the history, food, art, and culture of different places, along with map reading skills, foreign language skills, geometry, the science of ecosystems, and more.
Don’t be afraid to choose topics that may seem to focus on just one subject, as you will find that they can actually be expanded to include a range of subjects. For example, we all know that water is a science topic (the water cycle, the chemistry of water) – but it can also be expanded into a unit study by thinking about the different ways water is important: language arts (poems about water), economics (water bills or the production and cost of bottled water), geography (major seas, rivers and lakes), history (the role of water in exploration, for example Lewis and Clark’s travels by canoe), art (images of water), etc.
This approach also works especially well for unit studies that are based around works of literature. For example, if you are reading a book that mentions the sun and moon you could use this to explore astronomy or the seasons. Places that are mentioned in a book can be used in a study of geography; a book of mysteries can be used to explore the science of forensics, etc.
Unit studies are also useful for students who are interested in subjects that are often not considered “academic”. For example, a unit study on fashion could include researching historic clothing and the way that fashion reflected the times (history), the fashions of other cultures (geography), sketching different fashions (art), looking at the influence of advertising (language arts/psychology), creating an item of clothing (technology/design), exploring how the fashion industry works (economics/business), or the use and creation of different materials, such as plastics, in fashion (science/technology).
Gather Your Materials
Get set …
Once you have your theme, you need to gather your materials. You want a variety of materials – books, videos, experiments, art, field trips, museum visits, etc. You can also look for websites that include different types of materials. On ALL we have a huge variety of materials across a range of subjects, so that you can find, for example, videos, photos, books, eavesdrops (listening activities) and many more resources on any given topic.
One way to start your planning is by reading through a book or textbook on your chosen subject and looking for the ways in which other subjects jump out at you. For example, if you have chosen ancient Egypt as your unit study, you will notice that books on ancient Egypt will usually include material on mummification (science), the extent of ancient Egypt (geography), history, structures and buildings (technology/engineering), art, hieroglyphs (language), etc. Use your imagination to think about ways the information can be used to incorporate other subjects.
Once you have gathered your materials, you may want to organize your study around a project, such as having your child put together a report, create a video, or write a story or blog entry about the main topic of their unit study. Again, this is a great chance to be creative. For example, if your child is doing a unit study on fashion, they can create an item of clothing and “sales information” to go with it detailing the history, technology, design and other information behind it. This can help them to integrate everything they have learned and think about the ways in which the many different subjects are connected. This can also serve as a summative assessment for you to gauge how much they have learned.
Finally, don’t be afraid to alter the lessons of the unit study once you have begun. For example, if you are studying water, and your child shows a greater interest in the science of water, you may want to add more activities, such as testing water in local streams, or a trip to a water reclamation facility. With unit studies, the only bar to what you can do is imagination.
American Learning Library
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