How We Homeschool – Part 1, Unit Studies

I am going to talk about our curriculum, what we do and how we design it, in at least 4 parts. Hopefully it will prove of interest to other people who maybe homeschooling, or even afterschooling.

Part 1 – Unit Studies
Unit studies happen by an amorphous process – they are completely driven by C’s interests, but we will then try to incorporate other aspects of KLA’s* into it.

Unit Study: Trains

This has been a long-running interest of C’s. He loves trains, train networks, train names, stations, train games. Anything train based.

Sets: He has his Thomas Wooden Railway. Where he gets to design and construct his own networks, or follow the instructions on building the set railways. He has in the past built train stations with old egg cartons, or lego. He uses the trains to construct network diagrams as well.

Games: There are 2 games that have been awesome for a train theme.
-“Cities in Motion” – is a sim-style game about building a public transport network for various cities around the world. It also has a map-editor that is great for building your own cities in 3D. We have been able to incorporate geography ( where are these cities – find them on the globe!), history ( each game is set in a certain era; the Berlin map certainly brought up a lot of questions as it started in the 20’s, went through the cold war, and then onto a reunited Germany. There is also a lot of reading – each train, bus, ferry, tram or helicopter comes with a blurb on it’s history and where it has been used. C would often read these out loud.

– “Ticket to Ride” – is a board game where you have to compete with each other to build train networks across the map of North America. It is a wonderful way to explore maths concepts – shortest / longest route, addition, multiplication etc. To see how it plays, check out Tabletop.
C has expanded on this game as he and his Dad have each designed there own maps, explored what is good / bad game design. Got to draw and colour in, pick the right balance of colours. As they decided to create maps based on the Easter sea board of Australia, they have poured over Road atlases to pick the right number of Australian towns and cities to make it work. And it plays well too.

 Maths: C has become fascinated with network maps – and has been busy drawing  and constructing them out of anything. We’ve been able to talk (and draw!) geometric shapes, talk about names ( equilateral triangles, parallelograms etc), and learn how to figure out areas of triangles though cutting and pasting.

Maps and Timetables:
We have the complete set of timetables and maps for the Victorian train and tram network, and a decent amount of the NSW train network. These are free to get from any premium station, and have been a wonderful resource for learning the geography of Australia. Google maps has also been extensively used to ‘follow’ train lines all over Australia. We also have paper versions of the NSW and Victorian trains and trams that were given out at Council information days. We also have a heavily used and drawn on UBD of Melbourne and Sydney.

Documentaries/ TV Shows:
–Naturally there is Thomas, though this is surprisingly a late interest in the show.
Other shows that are wonderful are:
Big Bigger, Biggest: London Underground. This is great, as it also talks about Canary Wharf’s construction – something C has become quite interested in.
London Underground Documentary:  A wonderful documentary on the history of the tube.
–Hours of trainspotting videos. Just search on Youtube.

Internet: We’ve also used the world wide web to find all sorts of information on trains – from the TGV, to Kings Cross Station.

Books: The Australian Railway Digest is a great resource for all things train-related in Australia. Also there are always great books in the library. They might not just be under ‘trains’, but also check out ‘extreme machines’ for books on the Shinkansen and TGV.

Excursions: Almost every city will have a train enthusiasts group. They will usually do annual train fairs – worth the visit to see all the model train set-ups. There are also usually steam-train tourist lines. In Melbourne, there is Puffing Billy, Moorabbin Miniature Trains, Box Hill trains, as well as a club that runs cheap fare steam trains on some of the real railway lines infrequently. These are all good ways to learn a little history.

* KLA – Key Learning Area

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