Creating Your Own Unconventional Yet Accountable Unit Study

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If you are interested in creating your own unit study, I’ve written a summary of how I came up with my High School Biology unit study here. Maybe it will give you some idea of how to get started.

1. Check existing standards.

When I was creating my biology unit study, I first checked the National Academy of Sciences for their recommended content standards. Looking at their web site just now, it appears they are in the process of revamping their science standards. Here’s another link to National Academies Press though with recommendations: You could also check your state science content standards.

2. Look at conventional textbooks to get an idea of scope and sequence.

Along with recommended standards I checked two of the more typical Biology textbooks to see what the course of study looks like. This also helped confirm my decision NOT to use conventional boring textbooks.

3. Look for living books!

I started searching Charlotte Mason websites, Biology enthusiast websites and Amazon to see what kind of living books were available on the key topics. Amazon is wonderful because reviewers for one book will often refer readers to another one they liked better, and some diehard reviewers will even make lists of their favorites for different topics. The key is to listen to people who LOVE their subject and have read everything they can get their hands on, because they will know about books you have never heard of. Some books clearly rose to the top of the pile.

4. Review your short list.

From the long list of books recommended by others, I made up a short list of books that seemed most appealing. Then I found all of the ones available through my library system and checked them out. This way I could preview the books and see what the reading level and style/content was like (to make sure my kids would enjoy it). I then chose books to address each of the standards (some books covered several standards). This would be a good time to get your kids’ opinion on which books seem the most interesting.

5. Find labs or other activities to accompany topics.

For labs, I used the typical textbooks as a guide to what public/private school high school kids were doing, then got on biology teacher websites to see what labs they had created/used. You wouldn’t believe how many web sites there are written by/for high school teachers!! For each topic, I had plenty of options for different lab activities. I just chose the ones that seemed right for us. Incidentally, I didn’t include writing assignments with this because we usually choose history or science topics for our writing program (IEW) anyway. If you don’t have a separate writing program, you might want to discuss possible writing projects with your kids to accompany the unit study.

6. Make up a rough but realistic schedule.

I estimated how long it would take us to read through the chosen books and perform the various labs then added more time because things always take longer than I think they should. From this I wrote up the lesson plan in “Homeschool Tracker” (good old-fashioned paper would also work). Older teens can definitely help create the schedule. Let them have as much creative control as possible!

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