Have you heard of Hewitt Homeschooling? This company produces a wide array of fascinating homeschool curricula on everything from literature and composition, to book reports, to useful products for the teaching mom. I was blessed to receive their wonderful manual and resource, The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies to utilize and review. I am SO impressed with this fantastic resource! The research is impeccable and the methods are easy to use; and moms will find it possible to create unit studies for their homeschools that not only engage and delight their children but also meet national and state scope and sequence standards. I must say, I found that reading The Joy of Discovery was almost like attending a teachers’ seminar, right in my own home! Not to mention that it will also be an incredible resource to use again and again throughout our family’s homeschool journey.
The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies is a two-part manual by Barbara Wagner and Hewitt Staff of Hewitt Homeschooling. It contains first a fabulous resource that is full of helpful instruction on creating your own unit studies; that is, The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies. The second part of the manual is Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight, a sort of scope and sequence publication that outlines the necessary proficiencies and mastery levels for students in each of those grades. These two publications are a perfect match for each other, so that the mom who’s developing unit studies can be aware of which skills and abilities (and knowledge) her child needs to acquire throughout the unit study periods. The publications are printed on 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages and packaged in a sturdy binder, which makes the pages very easy to use and access.
The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies tells you everything you need to know about creating your own unit studies. Barbara Wagner began developing her I^3 system while teaching in a Native American reservation school, and she perfected it over the course of her sons’ homeschool careers, which began when her elder son was in 3rd grade and continued throughout both sons’ graduations. It is designed to not only build skills and increase knowledge, but to increase students’ desire to learn. She carefully and clearly outlines a process you can successfully follow to create unit studies that will take your students on enjoyable learning journeys. And, she shows you how to correlate learning activities and achievements with learning standards for each grade from kindergarten through eighth grade. The three components of this process which is called I^3 (that would be I to the third power) are:
- I^1: Individual (Your Child)-Decides on a Topic of Interest. Here, you and your child seek out and discover questions that he wants to find answers for. Does he want to know how kites fly? how rockets achieve lift-off? why Davy Crockett left Tennessee to fight at the Alamo? how and where ocean currents flow? Obviously my questions here are weighted toward science, but you can see the starting point for where you begin.
- I^2: Inquiry (Ask Questions)-Defines the Question. What are the questions that start the subject off, and then flow from them? Each of the questions above will have more than a few subsets of questions leading out from it. All of these will make up the wealth of information that can be uncovered in the unit study you design.
- I^3: Instruction (Find Answers)-Develops the Study. In I^3, the parent uses a 5-step process to determine what skills will be developed by the student in each study; what sort of projects will be created; the assignments made; the plans followed; and the learning objectives achieved. This portion in particular can be aided by the Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight, which tells the parent the various skills and abilities that should generally be developing and accomplished in each of these grades.
I was particularly impressed with Barbara Wagner’s tool, the Dial-A-Unit. Because we (and our children) all have certain skills and aptitudes that we may gravitate towards, and others we avoid, Wagner developed the Dial-A-Unit. This fantastic wheel comes printed on card stock. You cut out each circle, then laminate it and connect it with a brad through the center of each circle. Then, the fun begins! The top, and smallest, circle is your topic sentence: what you want to learn. The middle circle contains six thinking skills from more basic ones to more advanced ones. The largest circle has six different types of learning objectives (written, tactile, oral, etc.). When you are creating each unit study, you can spin the Dial-A-Unit to select what types of skills and activities will comprise the study. This way, your student is exposed to many different types of learning activities and experiences…and you won’t simply tend towards the ones most comfortable for yourself, or your child!
The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies, in addition to its wonderful instruction, contains an appendix of reproducible forms to assist you in the creation of unit studies; everything from evaluation forms, to logs, to unit study forms and thinking skills/behaviors lists. She has a glossary of terms and explanations for the process. Wagner also shares tips from her family’s journeys with unit studies, what you can expect and the rewards of choosing this life of study.
Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight is a well-researched and complete scope and sequence for parents seeking to create unit studies for their homeschools. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always realized the value of being aware of my state’s scope and sequence recommendations for each school year. And yet, when I’ve looked at these lists, I have felt VERY overwhelmed. Not so with Hewitt’s Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight! These are clearly divided by each year, and by the following subjects:
- Language Arts
- Science and Health
- History and Geography
Under each subject, there are lists of skills and mastery levels commensurate with each age or grade, with check boxes and standards numbers (i.e., 1.54 for First Grade says, “Identify fiction and nonfiction text.”). As the parent plans unit studies, this list can be used to ensure that the student’s course work helps him to achieve proficiency in each of these subjects. The checklists are clear, concise and completely understandable. What a great tool!
Whether you are planning to use and create unit studies in your homeschool or not, The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies and its companion piece Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight are fantastic and helpful resources for ANY homeschool! I loved Barbara Wagner’s process for creating unit studies. It takes into consideration the following:
- What our students need to be learning each year
- The ways our students learn, and the activities that will increase all types of learning
- How to incorporate the students’ own interests into their studies
- The internal and external qualities and abilities they should be working on
- The character that can be developed from striving for the best
At the moment, I am not quite ready to jump in and do ALL unit studies for our coursework. However, I really love the idea of searching out concepts and subjects that my son is vitally interested in, and building a study around them. I plan to use The Joy of Discovery to do just that! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about and brainstorming ideas, and choosing one or two of them to create unit studies around. I am so excited to try out Barbara Wagner’s theories and frameworks, and I am especially excited to see what I believe it will do in my son. Encouraging a love of learning, excitement and joy in our schoolwork? Yes, please!
If you’re interested in developing your own unit studies; if you’re wanting to make homeschool a delight for your students; if you want to ensure that your student is progressing in his education, I wholeheartedly recommend this for you!
The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies is available from Hewitt Homeschooling for $21.00. (Again, Learning Objectives for Grades Kindergarten through Eight is included with The Joy of Discovery How to Teach with Unit Studies.)