Thursday, July 30, 2009

Unique Learning Systems

We used Unique's free summer curriculum this summer just to try it out. I had the opportunity to add the 2009 middle school curriculum to a grant so we'll be using it this coming school year too. Overall I think I like the curriculum but it took a lot of adaptation to meet my students' needs and interests. I don't think it will be a "stand alone" or "solo" curriculum in my room, but paired with News-2-You and some of the other things we do, it should help to flesh things out in the area of academics. My ESY hours were cut in half because of tight budgets so I didn't get to spend as much time working with the curriculum as I would have liked.

What I liked about it:
  • Two levels available, similar to the levels available for News-2-You. This came in handy this summer because I was working with kids age 5 to 16 and used the same curriculum for all of them. The younger kids couldn't sustain attention to the longer readings and needed more work with basic vocabulary. The older kids, who have been doing activities like these longer, did better on the longer readings and answering comprehension questions.
  • The question guide at the bottom of the chapter pages was handy. It meant I could make the assignment and my paras could formulate questions themselves using available vocabulary pictures and/or yes/no responses. They would record the questions they asked and the kids' responses in the kids' data notebooks. It reduced the amount of worksheet creating, printing, cutting, and pasting that needed to be done.
  • The length of the unit made it easier for me to pick and choose what to focus on. There were some areas we spent lots of time on (what is an ocean; ocean animals; beaches) and some we spent no time on (oceanography).
  • The combination of science and social studies was nice and leant itself well to extension activities.
  • PDF format was nice as well as being able to access the curriculum from an online account rather than needing to download it.

What I didn't like as much:

  • Some concepts were far too abstract for my students (Oceanography) and I couldn't make them concrete enough to gain their understanding.
  • More visuals would have been good such as actual photos of oceans, beaches, people engaging in related activities, ocean animals, etc. (I know I can go out and find my own, but having them included in the package would be very helpful)
  • More support for multisensory learning would have been good such as ideas for objects/ object symbols, tactile experiences, sound sources, etc. We needed ways to make the concepts real or concrete for the students. Being in Kansas we couldn't exactly take a field trip to the beach/ocean and few of my students have had those experiences.
  • Vocabulary access--I can't remember if the SymbolStix symbols for the unit were included or not; I tend to use Boardmaker but sometimes the SymbolStix symbol is better.
  • A source for extension activities and sharing (see Kate's post for more information on ideas for this).
  • Access to the illustrations separately would have been good for making discussion cards and flash cards without having to print out the entire page (I only have a pdf reader so can't edit).
  • A range of levels for the extension activities would be good. For instance, my kids couldn't do any of the math activities (all involved money) because they don't have a grasp on those concepts. Sorting, matching, simple counting, more than/less than, comparison, and classification activities would be helpful. I want more than simple participation like activating a switch to give a (prerecorded) correct answer. I want my kids to work on actual skills development. They can do so much more than cause effect responses.

Some of the extension activities we did with the ocean/beaches unit:

  • water and sand play including "clean the beach" where the kids dug through the sand to find "trash" and sorted "trash" and "good beach things" (shells, starfish, rocks, etc.)
  • numerous ocean animal art projects I've collected over the years
  • kids' literature like Rainbow Fish, Swimmy, Herman the Hermit Crab, etc. I also have several nonfiction books about ocean animals
  • Is It a Fish? activity (on Adapted Learning so log in first)
  • a number of computer based activities from Boardmaker/Adapted Learning and Intellitools
  • threw stuffed ocean animals into our ball pool so the kids could go "scuba diving"
  • discovery box filled with various ocean items and toys (shells, fish, plastic aquarium sea weed, aquarium "coral," scuba mask and snorkle, etc.)
  • various cause effect ocean themed toys (our speech path found several at Enabling Devices --this was a favorite-- and I have a mini bubble tube with fish in it among others)
  • listening to ocean sounds and "beach music" in our Somatron "music chair"
  • Moon Sand sand castles
  • Ocean in a Bottle (water bottle; choice of blue, green and/or purple food color; choice of glitter or sand; choice of small ocean themed items to put inside and stickers on the outside)

Overall I'm excited to have access to a true curriculum designed for my students. It's been a long time coming. With the addition of the creativity of others that is available out here in cyberspace, this promises to be an exciting adventure for us. I'm really looking forward to using it with state assessments this spring.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Blog Birthday

Wow! Has it really been two months since I've posted? Bad SMDTeacher! BAD SMDTeacher! I know I've been busy but not that busy and it's not like I have nothing to blog about. I have all the stuff to share about several of our end-of-year projects. Then I need to do a retrospective on our favorite projects/activities/accomplishments of the year. I should probably go back to my New Year's post and see how close I came to meeting my goals. And then there is everything that has been going on over the summer. And what about goals for the upcoming "regular" school year? Oh, and there are the promised posts about favorite children's literature, favorite music to use with teaching, etc. And what about those Wizard of Oz photos? What about those?

So, for those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for me to get off the stick and start posting again, I pinky swear that I will do my best to get a few things up soon. And, just to help that out a little, in honor of my blog birthday (which apparently is a big deal in blog land), ASK ME SOME QUESTIONS! What do you want to know? Your interest will probably nudge me into sharing more.