Returning to my Ideal School. In an earlier post, I wrote about Grammar School, the later elementary years, but I mainly addressed how skills would be taught at that level. As I said in another even earlier post, I think skills and knowledge should be treated differently. Grammar School-age kids, in my school, will learn the "grammar" of the various knowledge areas -- that is, the bits and pieces of information -- through unit studies.
What's a unit study? If I taught Ancient Greece to my youngest this year as a unit study, we would employ all the traditional "school disciplines" in our study of Ancient Greece. We would read children's versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey--that's literature. We would learn about the scientific experiments and discoveries of Archimedes -- that's science. We would talk about Pythagorus and learn the Pythagorean theorum -- that's math. We would make masks and act out scenes from Oedipus Rex or Antigone -- that's art and theater. We would write reports and stories and plays and journal entries -- that's writing. Get the idea? Take a body of knowledge -- usually from science, history or "social studies" -- and attack it from all angles.
Some activities will be done with the whole advisory group. Some will be done individually or in small groups, geared toward the students' interests and ability levels. So, Johnny in my advisory writes a one paragraph description of what the Olympics were like (Olympics!! There's PE!). Janie writes a two-page essay comparing Greek gods to Egyptian gods -- cuz she has a different set of writing skills and is really into mythology. Tommy rewrites the story of the Trojan horse from the point of view of someone inside the horse. They're all writing . . . they're all developing their skills and applying them to the subject matter (which is the purpose of those skills after all) . . . and they're all absorbing information about Ancient Greece.
Not necessarily all the same information, either. Let's face it -- 90% of the little facts about the world which we learned when we were young were immediately forgotten, unless they were facts that we used on a regular basis or just found particularly fascinating. Janie may remember the names of the 14 primary gods and goddesses until her dying day, while Tommy never bothered to learn all the names to begin with. But all the students will learn that the Ancient Greeks worshipped gods and goddesses. Because this is one of the "framework"-type facts that everyone should know, and and upon which all of the other bits and pieces of information we learn in our lives are eventually hung.
What do I mean by "framework facts"? The animal kingdom can be divided into vertebrates and invertebrates, broadly. Vertebrates can be divided into mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, broadly. Fish all have gills and scales, lay eggs, and are cold-blooded, for the most part. These are framework facts. Students may forget details they learn about specific species of fish, but when they go to SeaWorld and hear that whales give birth to live young, they will know whales are not fish but mammals and can fit this new information into the broader framework of knowledge already in their minds.
Unit studies are FUN! -- if they are done well, as they would be done in my school. But since I'm creating the IDEAL school, I have another piece to fit into the puzzle. A critical tool for use in these unit studies.
To be described in a later post . . .