Before you go jumping into unit studies, take a few moments and consider these things:
- What kind of learners are you teaching? - Unit studies don't work for everyone and that is okay. If you students prefer a textbook and sticking to a very set plan, then maybe unit studies are not the best route for you. Do you have kids that love hands-on learning? They learn a fact about something and want to learn more. Is your curriculum flexible? Are you okay with changing and adjusting as need be to make a unit study work? Unit studies aren't super complicated, but they typically are not just open and use either as there will be things you need to print, resources to find, etc.
- What subjects are you using a unit study for? - Do you want to study a single topic, a book series, or use it for a single school subject? Some people use unit studies for certain school subjects like history because unit studies can be easy to put together for those subjects. Other people use them for their entire day because one unit study can examine multiple subjects. For example you can use a book series to study history, science, and language arts by learning all about the time period, places, and events in the book for history, studying the animals, plants, and people in the book for science, while doing writing, studying the vocabulary, and diagramming sentences for language arts. Are you planning to use different unrelated unit studies at the same time? For example you do one study on the planets for science, one study on the U.S.A. for history, and a study on authors for language arts.
- Where will you find your unit study? - Unit studies can be created by you or they can be purchased. They don't have to be difficult to put together on your own once you decide what it is you want to study and how in-depth you want to go. (We will discuss putting together your own unit study tomorrow.) But I will also tell you that the Internet is full of great unit studies, some are free and some you have to purchase depending on what you are looking for. I will be the first to admit that I have used unit studies written by other people and they have been great for my students. Either way works and you can even buy a unit study and then add stuff to it to make it fit your students. The options are endless.
- What resources do you already own or can borrow? - Many times when I think about things I want my kids to learn, I check my bookshelf and find I already have at least one book on the subject. Other times I hit up my local library to see how many resources they offer on a topic. After I have requested materials from the library and am there picking them up, I ask the librarian if they know of any other materials that would be great for my student to read through or use for research. The librarians are always super happy to help and they are great at finding age appropriate materials. Finally don't forget friends and family. A couple of years ago my son studied the Civil War. I was chatting with good friends about what he was researching and they lent us some books on Civil War battles that they had that were wonderful learning tools for my son.
- What is your student interested in? - I find that our school year works better when I let my students study things that they are interested in a few times each year. This doesn't mean we only study fashion and go karts because that is what my students like. It means that I add studying fashion into our unit studies throughout the year to help keep her interested in it and learning more about it off and on. Of course fashion could be it own unit study too, but we haven't done that one yet. As for go karts, we haven't done specific unit studies for that, but we have done research on how engines work, voltage, and the electrical components. Basically if there is a topic that really interests your student, let them explore it. That is what unit studies are all about.