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Vanessa Whittaker, Exploring Approaches to Home Education Seminar, Adelaide 2008
What is a thematic unit?
A thematic unit is when we cover a range of curriculum areas with one topic. See an example below of a unit of work, the for which the starting point was the book, 'Brighty of the Grand Canyon' by Marguerite Henry. (I will have other plans at the seminar)
Thematic learning has been called 'project learning' or 'passion learning'. This is a definition I like because it is the children's passion or interest which makes this type of learning work for our children. It enables us to have a starting topic which our children are interested in or passionate about and they then want to find out information, so they will research and find the answers to questions and record their response.
How do you plan a unit?
The following is is what we do at home.
At the end of the year I ask the children to make a list of five topics they want to learn about and I make a list of five things. I write them up on a big piece of paper and then the children prioritise the topics and we plan for the top 10-12 for the following year. This involves the children needing to negotiate and coming to some agreement about the topics and the order.
After the topic is chosen, I sit down to with their plan and see if it works because I may know that one topic would be a good precursor to another. It is then my role as the facilitator of their learning to find the resources for them to use. Sometimes I may start with a fiction book for a literature Unit. For example, last year we began with "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" . This led us onto a study of the animals, as well as comparing donkeys with horses. The children learned of the different animals of the Grand Canyon, about the Grand Canyon, the geology of the area, the environment and the elements which impact the area. We were introduced to Theodore Roosevelt, who later became President of the USA; the children researched his life and learned how to write a biography. We then went on to study the American Indian tribes of the region, which then led us onto study other tribes throughout the USA which in turn led us to study Explorers of the Americas.
Then we make a list of questions for the children. Often we will use graphic organizers , like the KWL or KWHL chart (examples of these provided at the end of these notes) to find out what is already known on a topic and what we would like to learn about a topic; how we will learn or find out information on a topic. We use the internet as well as books. We check to see if there non-fiction books available as well as fiction at the library, and think about what excursions we can could do, if there are DVDs or relevant music we can use. At the end we add the information we learned during the time of the project.
We then decide how the project will be presented. Is it to be in an exercise book, a portfolio, a Lap-book, file folder, a scrapbook or some other format? The portfolio is one of the most common ways we work but we often use lap-books as well. The Lap-book is bright, visually stimulating and it is fun and engaging to open the mini books to read the completed information. It breaks down the topic into small manageable tasks. Each question response is a small book. If a child has difficulties with learning it may be much less intimidating for them. After all they only need to complete a mini book. But the important thing is that information is learned and a response completed.
I record our themes and create the activities with objectives in mind. I have attached an example of the record keeping I complete for the themes we complete. This is the example from the 'Grand Canyon Unit' our children completed last year.
Unit Topic: The Grand Canyon
Purpose: To read the novel, 'Brighty, of the Grand Canyon', as the beginning of a unit to learn about the Grand Canyon .
Research - The Grand Canyon
(using 'A Quick Look' information newspaper, © 2001, Grand Canyon Association)
[format the following questions on a page with spaces for the child to write his or her answers.]
Record answers in the columns to help you plan your unit study.
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