©2006 Amanda Bennett
“Unit study” is the name given to a type of curriculum tool where one topic is taken and looked at, or studied from many different aspects. They are called “cross-curricular” in approach, looking at the given topic across many areas of learning including science, history, geography, literature, and others. A unit study can be called a thorough look at a single topic, as if you could pick up the topic in your hand and spin it like a globe, looking at the various components in all three dimensions.
How does this compare with textbook curriculum? First, understand that textbook curriculum is broken down by segments or areas of specific knowledge. For example, a textbook curriculum for a third grader might include a science textbook, a social studies textbook, a language arts textbook, readers, a math textbook, and perhaps a health textbook, along with many assorted workbooks that accompany these textbooks. Each textbook contains summarized information regarding key topics that the publisher has chosen to be important for that particular age and grade of learning, summarized in the publisher’s scope and sequence.
With that said, I must say that I was educated using a textbook approach in both public and private schools. There was not much that I looked forward to during my years of schooling, with the exception of our weekly library visit, which was very brief. I loved to read real books, and I tolerated textbooks – the faster I could get through with them each night, the more time that I had for “real” reading. I was an excellent student, and made good grades – but I was never really challenged to think or wonder or reason.
It wasn’t until I arrived at engineering college that I realized just how short-changed my education had been. When I had my first exam, there were two questions and five blank pieces of paper – no “True/False” questions, no “Fill in the Blank” questions, no “Circle the Correct Answer” questions – time to panic! I had been educated all those years to memorize the bolded words, answer brief questions at the end of the chapters that were about the bolded words, and regurgitate information that had absolutely no real meaning in the big picture of life. I had to learn how to think, really think and reason, when I got to college, and I look back now and wonder what I might have done if I had been educated in a different way.
Which leads us to the next question that I am asked frequently – “If I use unit studies, won’t there be holes in my child’s education?”
“Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.”
To be continued next Tuesday, in “What is a Unit Study Part 3”