Educational Buzzwords: Course of Study Revisited

The course of study can be confusing. Many homeschoolers only consider it from year to year. I prefer to look at it in the big picture. In my course catalog you can see a list, by grade, of courses required for each year. Simply put, this is a course of study – a planned list of courses required to complete the program. Most college catalogs have this also.

I enjoyed this step, while I was thinking about the courses I offer, because it forced me to really look at what I wanted my students to cover. Now, you’ll notice, of course, that the document is not complete. I’m still working on it and I’ll post newer versions along the way, but it’s just one example of how to work through all this information.

You may also notice that I haven’t planned out any details yet of what each course entails. That will come later as I plan the syallbus, scope and sequence, and lesson plans.

Just a side note here: I have been thinking in these terms for quite some time, but my computer crashed last fall and I lost quite a few of the documents I had prepared, so my revisiting of these terms is helping me to rebuild my ideas.

So, once I have my courses decided and have written out my course of study for the program, it’s time to move on to the next step – the goals and objectives. As I’m doing this, my course descriptions may change, but this overview I’ve started with is a general outline.

Another side thought here: You may only have one or two students, and they may be several years apart, so you may want to only consider each individual student. You may also have taken your student out of public school, so you’re starting in the middle. Either way, you do need to consider what they’ve already studied/learned, but you don’t need to really break it down into detail like I’m doing. I have four students and they’re all very close together in age (total 5 year spread), so I tend to have large chunks planned out all at once. Generally, I’m only planning one new grade at a time. For the 2011-2012 school year, I will have a 6th grader, 5th grader, 3rd grader, and 1st grader. Since they have always been homeschooled, I don’t have a lot of work to do for my 5th, 3rd, and 1st graders, because I’ve done the planning in previous years.

Anyway, if you’re following along, start by thinking about the big picture of what you want your students to study. Your course of study will probably fill in as you think about this. I’d also suggest, especially as they get older, that you consider giving them some chances to choose what they study. As I’m planning a year, I ask each kid to tell me at least two new things they want to learn about. I also tend to do this at Christmas time, even if we haven’t covered everything I had planned yet, because things change. In my case, this gives me a selection of topics to cover (anywhere from 5-8 unit study ideas). I’m hoping this year to be able to teach them each to study at least one thing on their own, too.

Once you’ve looked at the big picture, start giving each course a title and a brief description, and think about what types of materials you might use to cover the topic. We’ll be moving on to goals and objectives next (personally, the toughest step in the process), so your ideas will start to take shape and you will be well on your way to having a well thought out curriculum for your homeschool.

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Education Buzzwords: Courses Revisited

As I had posted before, a course is simply “knowledge imparted in a series of lessons”. Anytime you use a series of meetings or practice sessions to teach something, it is a course.

If you take several sessions with your preschooler over a couple of weeks to teach him to tie his shoes, he has completed a course in shoe tying. It sounds silly, I know, but essentially this is a course.

In an educational setting, when students are attending public school (or at least, when I attended public school), a course would be “Language Arts 3”, or something like that. Each grade level has certain classes that cover certain topics. Each class, in this context, would be considered a course. Now, typically, they are not called courses until high school and/or college.

In a homeschool setting, courses tend to be led by the materials we choose, but they are essentially the same. Subjects like Phonics, Vocabulary, Spelling, Writing, and Math are year-long courses. If you follow textbooks for History and Science, those would also be year-long courses. If you use unit studies, lapbooks, or projects for your homeschool, then each unit study, lapbook study, or project would be a course.

In my previous posts about curriculum (here and here) I discussed how curriculum is simply a list of courses offered in an educational institution. My course catalog shows, not only a list of courses offered in my homeschool, but also a description of each course and a general overview of what it covers. We’ll revisit the course catalog in the coming posts, but take some time to think about your homeschool courses. Can you summarize them in a couple of sentences? Do you know what you want to teach your students in each course?

Education Buzzwords: Curriculum Revisited

I had previously written about Educational Buzzwords, where I had officially defined many of the words used in modern education. Today I hope to explore them further, starting with curriculum.

Homeschoolers are governed by state regulation. Each state has different requirements. In Illinois, homeschools are run as private schools and not monitored very strictly. In Georgia, only monthly attendance reports and standardized testing every three years is required. In South Carolina, We are only required to register with an accountability group, which then submits records to the state, however we can be audited at any time.

For me, I would rather have too much information ready than not enough. Hence, the over planning. Seriously, though, regardless of our chosen method of homeschooling, it is important for us to have a clear system of planning and recordkeeping.

When I first started homeschooling, I simply considered the various subject areas I had to teach. I never really thought about the details of what I was teaching and why. While I am not doubting the choices I made in our textbooks, I have had to re-evaluate them over the years to really understand their purpose. This is what led me to the buzzwords research. And I revisit the issue every year.

Regarding “curriculum”, we need to remember that this is simply a list of courses taught in a school. My curriculum this year might look like this: Reading K, Reading 2, Reading 4, Reading 5, Math K-2, Math 3-4, Writing K, Writing 2, Writing 4, Writing 5, Science: Color Wheel, Art: Art Appreciation, History: Ancient History, History: Genealogy, Science: Plant Biology, Music: Violin, Music: Piano, Drama. The list continues, of course.

If you like, you can formalize your curriculum by putting together a course catalog for your homeschool. If you add to it each year, you will eventually have a cummulative record of courses that have been available to your students. This is helpful especially if you allow your students to retake courses (ie. do unit studies again, even if they did them three years ago – it’s a great time saver to recycle unit studies!).

A great form for planning out your courses for your students is here at Highland Heritage Forms. You’ll want the one called “Curriculum Scope”. There are lots of other goodies here, too, so be sure to check it out. I also like the “Yearly Planning Form” for laying out my unit studies for the year.

Updates… Free Unit Studies

Just updated the Free Unit Studies page – added a few links and edited some text. Let me know what you think!

Creating Unit Studies

There are tons of resources out there for free unit studies, as well as how to write your own unit studies. When I write a unit study, I don’t like to just have a list of links, book titles, and activities, although some people do. For me, I like to have the activities sorted and grouped in a logical way, with step-by-step and day-by-day instructions.

Here’s how I do it:

  • First, I decide on the title of the unit. I do this because it helps me focus on the topic at hand. For example, a unit study on pioneers and westward expansion could include so many things: Lewis & Clark expedition, Laura Ingalls Wilder books (Little House on the Prairie series), Daniel Boone, Native American Indians, Oregon Trail, Trail of Tears, etc. By titling the unit, I’m deciding right off the bat what the unit will include. If we decide to do a study down one of the rabbit trails, there will be overlap. To me, that’s fine. I’d rather have a short (two-week) and well-planned unit than have an open ended study that goes on forever. Again, that’s just me. For this example, we’ll call it “Pioneer Life.”
  • Next, I decide the important things the kids should learn about the topic. Continuing with the example above, the students should know what part of the country we’re talking about, what the geography is like and how it’s different from where the pioneers came from, how they built homes and towns when no supplies were available, who traveled west, why they traveled west, and how they traveled west. Basically, this is my list of goals for the unit.
  • Now that I have my list of goals, I decide which order they should be in. My list of goals now becomes my list of lessons.
    • What is “the West”?
    • What does “the West” look like?
    • Who traveled West and why?
    • How did people go West?
    • How did they build homes and live in the West?
    • How did they get supplies and mail?
  • Here comes the fun part. You now get to decide how you’re going to teach the lessons! Look around on the Internet to find resources to teach your goals/lessons. Brain storm your own list of activities. You don’t have to stick with one lesson per day. You could, presumably, fill an entire week with one lesson, if you wanted to. The choice is yours.

I will be posting unit studies here as we go along, and each one will follow this format. Hope it helps someone out there! Feel free to post a comment and let me know what you think or how it goes!

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