Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Setting the Stage

Setting the stage for learning is something I was encouraged to do during my teacher training and years as a public school teacher. I have found it helpful as a homeschool mom, too. The "set", as it is called in education circles (at least back when I was in that circle), is similar to an opening paragraph for your writing. When writing, you do not want to just jump into the body of your work. You write a introductory paragraph that draws your reader in and directs their thinking toward the topic. Opening paragraphs can vary in style from exciting to thought provoking, but whatever the style, they serve a singular purpose. Likewise, it is helpful not to jump into teaching but to find a way to open your units and your lessons that draws your students in and makes them want to learn more.

I begin each unit or mini-unit I teach with a set activity. I usually try to make these the highest interest activities and I try to develop a set that will help my children warm up to the topic of study and engage them. Here is a list of a few unit sets I have used in the past:

  • Creating a banner
  • Dancing
  • Music
  • Decorating the house for the theme
  • Drama
  • Field trip
  • Playing a game
  • Role play
  • Feast

One of the most elaborate sets that I did with my children was as an opener to a unit on The American Revolution. Michael and I named our home Great Olive-tain. Each room of the house was a different part of the Kingdom, and the boys' bedroom was declared the Colonies of the Kingdom. Michael was crowned King of Olive-tain, and I played the role of Parliament.

The day before school began, I wrote and a read a proclamation which placed unfair laws and taxes on the boys. There was a Quartering Act in which they had to move out their bird collection to make room for some of Michael's and my belongings. There was a tax on play time. For every hour of play, they had to pay us $1 from their Piggy Bank (we did not keep this money, btw, but returned it after our role play). The boys were outraged. I told them that as citizens of Great Olive-tain they had the right to appeal to the King. He, of course, took no mercy on them. Instead, he declared them rebellious and blockaded their bedroom.

Like I said earlier, this was my most elaborate set ever. It gave their brains a jump-start, and they were fully engaged. As we read about the events that led to the Revolutionary War, the boys would say things like, "That is just like what you did to us, Mom," or "Dad did that to us, too." Though a role play like this must be handled carefully… our boys are thick-skinned and enjoy reenacting history, even if they have to suffer a little… it demonstrates how abstract or foreign concepts can be brought to a child's level and made applicable for them. This is what engages them in the learning process.

I make sets for individual lessons much simpler. Sometimes questions are the best way to begin.

  • What did you learn yesterday?
  • How do you do x?
  • Why do you do y?
  • How is x different from y?
  • What do you already know about x?
  • What do you hope to learn about y?

If the lesson involves reading, we thoroughly discuss the book cover and make predictions.

  • What do you see on the cover?
  • What do you think this character is doing?
  • Why do you think the book is titled ____?
  • What do you think will happen in this story?

Sometimes I do the unexpected.

  • Don a costume. (Like the one in the picture at the top of this article. I dressed as a mad scientist for the start of our Chemistry unit and performed a science demonstration with a surprising result.)
  • Perform a science demonstration.
  • Do something that is purposefully and obviously incorrect (like before a lesson on verb tenses, write on the board "The boys went to school tomorrow.")
  • Show a picture that relates to the topic and discuss.
  • Tell a joke (that relates to the lesson of course).
  • Read a poem that relates to the topic.
  • Dance, jump around, act, or rap. (Once again as it fits the lesson. Oh yes, I really do "rap"... Notice I put that in quotes. :) You'll have to ask me to do the continent rap or verb conjugation rap sometime.)

More times than not, I show a picture or object that illustrates the concept to be learned. For instance, when teaching a lesson from our Chemistry curriculum on lab equipment, I placed a pen, paper, and books on one table and a fireman's hat and play hatchet on another. We discussed who would use each piece of equipment and why. We also discussed how each could not use the other's equipment. A pen would be of little use to a fireman as he fights a fire. A teacher could be sent to jail for carrying a hatchet to school. This drew them into the lesson and began the process of thinking about why a chemist needs a particular set of tools.

Think for a moment about the parables in Matthew 13 that the Lord Jesus used to teach us. In these parables, he was teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. For us, that is an abstract concept. It is a place we have not seen, yet we know of it because of His teaching. Think about what He used to explain Heaven to us… treasure, a mustard seed, a pearl… all concrete, tangible items that held meaning for his students. He used the familiar to explain the unfamiliar. This is, in a way, is what we are to do with a lesson set.

What do you do to jump-start your children's thinking? Feel free to share.

Blessings and Happy Planning!

Return soon for Plan-It School: Preparing for Assessments

1 comment:

Louisiana Laura said...

We are using History of the World - vol 1 Ancient Studies. It is suggeted to recreate an Egyptian Tomb, which I plan to do in the cubby space under our stair well.
I have been squirrelling boxes away, to create 'supplies' for the after-life. I'm not sure what I'm going to 'mummify' however, I'm sure the numerous army men scattered about the house will suffice as idols & amulets to place in the 'sacred' pyramid of ours. Have about 2 weeks to put this together.