10 Ways to Customize Your Curriculum and Cut Costs–Part 2

I committed to writing a part 2, or sorts, to suggest ideas for older students.   There are realities of life and new expectations as children grow, whether they attend college or decide upon another route.   They must be able to articulate themselves in written and oral format.   I will boldly state that any curriculum that boasts its appropriateness for older students but does not emphasize writing or more extensive reading is not good preparation for adulthood (I say that with my college instructor hat on).

I will tackle first a basic question: if my child is not going to college, why do I need to worry about reading thicker books and writing papers?   Well, again with my college instructor hat on, I know that there are very few jobs that do not require some type of communication, and there are fewer jobs that do not reward good communication.   Simply put, knowledge is power.   The better command you have of the pen, the better chance you have of being in a position to manage resources rather than you being one of the resources that is managed.   Whether your child desires to be a medical doctor, a missionary, or a mechanic, education is an investment that always pays.   Do not short your child’s education because college is not a part of his/her plan.   I would even venture to say that high school education for a child who is not attending college is even more critical; it may be the last formal education your child will receive.

So, how might we add these components and prepare our students for more advanced studies?   Well for starters, don’t forget about great online sites like PBS (http://www.pbs.org/teachers/ ), Wall Street Journal’s The Learning Network (http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/) and Lesson Planet (http://www.lessonplanet.com/), where great lesson plans are housed and available by age and subject categorization.   The latter site will cost you, although there are a number of plans that you can download without cost.   As an example, I was able to develop a high school economics course using Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, and rounding out the reading materials with lesson plans from PBS, the WSJ Learning Network, and John Stossel’s free-to-classroom DVDs.   I should state for the Christian educator that these sites offer secular lesson plans, but since there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we can always use the lesson for its value and build in the opportunity to shine God’s light on the learning.

 Other ideas, especially if your child is a reluctant writer?

Venn Diagrams.   Venn diagrams are simple graphic displays of the similarities and differences between two concepts.   With two overlapping ellipses, your child can quickly demonstrate what he understands about each concepts.

One-Minute Paper.   This is, again, an ideal assignment for a child who does not like to write, but it is also a fantastic tool for any child who needs to develop proficiency with organizing his thoughts.   A timed paper forces a student to quickly determine the main ideas that he wants to articulate, and then capture them succinctly on paper.    For a child pursuing college, this skill is invaluable.   It will help with note taking, with memorization, and with discussion.   Also, be flexible; one minute can be expanded to two, five, or ten, dependent upon your child’s plan, needs, and comfort level with writing.

Another idea for a timed paper (or not) is the Double Entry Journal.   If your child folds a sheet of notebook paper lengthwise—what Dinah Zike calls a “hot dog” fold—you can provide a famous quote or single thought on the left-hand side of the paper.   Have your child explain the quote or answer a question on the right-hand side.  This is an excellent means of testing comprehension, or of helping your child realize the significance of certain passages within a book.   Equally importantly, it is a way to build those oh, so essential writing skills.

 Admirable Individuals Paper.   What characters are meaningful in your child’s life?   Who does he admire?   Who are his role models?   Writing about that person or group of people might be the spark that lights a fire underneath a child that otherwise does not care to write.   You might also build in the historical component by comparing qualities of a historical character to a present-day character in order to help a student make connections.   ‘Abraham Lincoln was famous for his honesty; what person do you know that impresses you because of his/her passion for the truth?’

 Everyday Ethical Dilemmas Paper.  All three of our children enjoy current events, and often dialogue about what is happening “out there in the world” (LOL).   I know that this is, in part, because we have been able to learn about the world in fun ways.   There are a number of free sites out there for kids of all ages to read and write about the world:

 Student News Daily(middle and high school)

World on the Web (middle and high school—World also has an inexpensively priced newsletter entitled “God’s World News” available for kids of all ages)

Time for Kids (elementary school level)

Scholastic  (elementary school level)

My one rule when writing about a current event?   If it will not be important five years from now, it is not important today.   This rule keeps the kids from summarizing frivolous stories and instead allows them to think about and write about real, “meaty,” problems that they may have to address as adults.   We are producing world changers, yes?

Commonplace Book.  A commonplace book is a fantastic extension of notebooking that allows students to own their learning.   Many of our country’s founding fathers used commonplace books to record thoughts, poems, illustrations, speeches, etc.  Commonplace books add depth to the reading, and most importantly, the child owns the learning.   Commonplace books can be completed on purchased paper just like notebooks (see part 1), but our kids are enjoying creating memories on plain notebook paper.










 Learning Matrix.   Rather than cover the learning matrix here, for the sake of post length, I will direct any interested readers here to a Heart of the Matter Online article I wrote a few months back.   I also covered a couple of other ideas there that are fleshed out in more detail in this post.

Well, I think I actually came in at around 12-13 ideas between two posts—that’s your bonus for hanging in there and reading the whole both posts!    Happy learning while saving!

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