Friday, 6 March 2015

Using the Block Work Method - History

Welcome to part 2 of my discussion on subject blocking. In this blog post I wanted to look at the aspect of working in a block with other subjects and themes, as my previous post was more focused on how it works for us with Mathematics.

To fully understand this post, it's best to have read the first post already so click here to have a read if you haven't already.  

Like with any method, you make it work for you and put your own spin on it so anything I post is my way of doing things and by no means is the only way to do it! I just wanted to put it out there as so many people have preconceptions from mainstream schooling and follow that at the start, trying to do it all, all at once. It took us almost a year to get into this and seemed to be the only person I knew who was working this way.  It's worked so well for us, I wanted to spread the word.

So lets get down to part two! 

From my previous post you'd know that I do Math's in blocks (can be a whole day here and there between bigger blocks - or a week block) and I do everything else that way too. Science is usually a week at a time. Topics covered are what is in the workbook we are using but can also be based on documentaries we are watching etc. While we might be covering lots of topics in one science block, another could be all about electricity and rather than covering basics that they forget from one week to the next, we can work on it all week and they can learn much more about each topic.

Then we have Literature Units for English. This subject is a two week block usually. Completely dedicated to the book we are reading. The first one for this year was "Treasure Island". In that two weeks we watched three movies to go with the book, we did notebooking / lapbooking literature unit work to accompany the book, we did pirate based activities, covered some mapping skills, geography, spelling words etc.  So for two weeks conversations were even on Treasure Island and the characters.  My son can really get into the topic and is not distracted or stressed fitting in other subjects or topics (even though we have technically added in art, geography, spelling and cooking to the block). It's all on theme and he not only learns better with it, but remembers what he's learnt. Then after the two weeks, it's done and he is keen for the next theme/block.  In the past, both with a distance education curriculum, and at school, and even my own schooling days, reading books in class and for units of work, took up a whole term.  It was dragged out, became very boring despite how good the book might have been, and other than the actual book, not many children remember any of the work they did with it. I also find that the longer it's dragged out, the more you have to go back and re-read parts of the book to jog their memories. So that adds yet more time. In a block you don't have that issue at all.

Now for the big ones - my favourites!  History and Geography! While I wanted to make sure my son learnt what what covered in the Australian Curriculum (plus a WHOLE lot more!), I didn't like the way it was planned out and spaced out over way too many grade levels when it came to History and Geography. You see in Australia, our History and Geography curriculum is spread out doing a little each year. Themes are split up and fragmented. That doesn't teach a child how things connect together.  If they learn about First Australians one year, then the First Fleet the next year, they really don't connect the two as being consecutive on a timeline. They don't get the flow of how one thing can affect the next.

My son is also a right brain learner and when it comes to history and geography, needs to know the big picture before learning the nitty gritty. He's a timeline kid. Loves to look at a timeline, see the 'plan' and flow of events and when they occur in relation to each other, so that when he learns them fully, he can place them in his memory bank in order and knows how each event relates to each other. He wasn't getting that with the fragmented approach, and because of that, he wasn't interested, and didn't like History or Geography.  Worst of all, he'd get frustrated. He wants to cover it all at once. 

So using our block method we did. For Grade 3, we studied one country per week. 31 countries in total. Everything in that week was themed for that country.  Art, food, books we read, movies we watched, activities we did. It was fantastic. We used Expedition Earth from Confessions of a Homeschooler. We covered world Geography and communities. Something usually done in small amounts over 4 years.

Last year our theme for the entire year, was "Australia". Term 1 we covered Australian Geography including mapping, environments, hemispheres, climate, States & Territories, flags, emblems, Capitol Cities, facts, landmarks etc.  Term 2 was History: First Australians to First Fleet. Term 3 was Colonies and Explorers. Term 4 was Gold Rush and Bushrangers. It was 2.5 years worth of Australian Curriculum history & geography, done in 12 months. We'd do our Math's weeks and our Science weeks, our English etc, but the bulk of the term was these.  It meant my son got how it all connected and flowed. We even base a yearly educational trip around the block theme for History/Geography.  Last year we drove from Brisbane to Ballarat to spend three days at Sovereign Hill covering the Gold Rush, Bushrangers at towns like Glenrowan, Uralla and Tenterfield. Had we done a few days over a few weeks on Bushrangers and not connected it all into the big picture, my son wouldn't recall any of the things we learnt.  

This year we have two themes. History is Australian Federation and Government. We started early to take full advantage of the Queensland State Election to explain how Elections and Governments work! Our plan for our trip this year is to head to Canberra and visit Parliament House amongst many other things in the Nations Capitol!  Our second theme is for Geography and that is focusing on Mapping Skills. We started off with linking into the Treasure Island Literature unit and learning about treasure maps, how to use a compass etc. Even our Maths has been focusing on distance, measurement, degrees, map coordinates, time/distance travelled problem solving. While doing this theme work we will plan the route for our trip to Canberra, map it, navigate along the way at the time, put it into practice. 

At the end of primary school, we will have covered everything that's needed in these areas, but by not spreading them out and doing a little Australian History, Geography, Civics and Communities work each year, which equates to a term each topic each year, (which is still spread out so it's more like 3-4 weeks worth each area each year) we are doing a whole six-12 months for one area, then moving onto the next.  Makes more sense to me and works much better for my son. It's also meant we've been able to cover more, in less time. By the end of this year, we will have completed work that is a year ahead by National Curriculum standards. We have covered Grade 3 to 6 work by the end of Grade 5. So it means we can fit in themes that are not covered usually, but are of interest to us. While we are not American, my son has a fascination with the geography of the USA so we plan on studying American History as well as Geography and using 'Road Trip USA' by Confessions of a Homeschooler as our starting point. 

You can use the block work method for any subject from Art and Music to Health. A theme on organic gardening can be a year long project of building a garden, learning how to plant, look after, harvest, cook etc while studying science, maths, english, health along the way.  

But I guess the point is, you don't have to try to cover lots of subjects in a day or in a week, like is considered 'normal'.  Using this method of blocking out large chunks of time for one subject alone, is very beneficial, time saving, effective for those with learning difficulties, far easier to prepare for from a teaching perspective, and allows for deeper learning. Whether you set aside a whole day, a whole week, a whole fortnight or more is completely up to what works for you and your child. It works for us, and I don't see us straying from that at all. 

I've been asked if it will cause a problem in his older years or adult life as he is so used to working on one area at a time. To be very honest, I've never seen my child as being one who would want to work in a job where he is multitasking and juggling many different things at once, it's not his style. But I do see him working on projects and being able to focus just on that and get great results as he isn't distracted. None of us know what kind of job our children will ultimately end up doing, but no one with a boisterous, fidgety, outdoorsy child sees them as a Librarian, nor does a parent see a shy, quiet, indoor book loving child being a Landscape Gardener. Children's personalities and predispositions to things are not something you can change. You find a learning style that suits them and that in turn leads to what kind of work will suit them. I don't see this method as setting him up to fail, all it does is open another door of opportunity for him that otherwise wouldn't exist. Staying on the old method of everything all at once, wasn't working previously, won't work now, and won't work in his future so why stick with it?    

So from this second post on subject blocking, you can see there are different ways to go about it, and how I use it for different subjects. I would love to hear about your experiences so please leave a comment and feel free to ask any questions. 

If you'd like to know a little more about Right Brain learning, which I mentioned above, have a Google, but I plan to post about Right Brain Learning in an upcoming blog post. 

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