Homeschool Hack #2: End of the Year Project Based Learning

In the fall of last year, I attended my 20 year high school reunion. I would like to say this was made possible by the fact that I graduated at the  mere age of 14 years old but alas that simply is not true.

Rather the glaring truth is that I indeed finished high school 21 years ago at the typical age of 18.

Despite the two decades that have passed since that time, I vividly remember those months at school leading up to graduation. Class placement was not an issue for me since I had already been accepted to college and my GPA stopped counting in December. This story was true for the majority of my class and so we all entered that final semester of school with a “who cares” attitude.

It was a lot of fun and many nights were spent goofing off since homework no longer mattered (Did we even have homework?). Probably not the best recipe to set us all up for success as we all would soon be staring our freshman year of college dead in the eyes, but it worked in the moment.

About April 12th of this year, I hit a “who cares” attitude with our homeschool for the year. In the past, this has not really occurred. Typically I set out a path to wind down all the subjects and we are finished and ready for summer by memorial day.

Not this year.

This year I was ready to shut it down in mid-April and call in sick for the remaining weeks.

Not a great plan when you are the one in charge.

Part of this attitude steams from a school year that has felt very disjointed to the children and myself. We opted for a new type of schooling in the fall. It did not work for our family so we switched back to that which we were familiar with in the Spring. Although it felt good to “be home” per say we all still felt a bit lost this semester.

Deciding that shuttering school for the year so early was likely not the best idea, I opted to do something radically different.

I jumped in feet-first with the kids into a season of project-based learning.

(If you homeschool, head over to Amazon and grab this book really quick. You are welcome.)

First, we came to a clean stop on all of our basic subjects. I have never been one obsessed about finishing a textbook in a school year because years of public school teaching showed me that rarely is a text book finished. Rather, I always dig the last of the good meat out of a book and bid it farewell…even if we are only on page 241 of 307 pages. This was a bit tricky this year since we switched curriculum mid-year. However, I figured it out (I think. I guess those SAT scores in six years will tell me if I did or did not.). We finished up the basic subjects, put the books to the side, and began something new.

Also during this time our Classical Conversations year came to an end. CC always ends before we actually end at home. However, we tied up those loose ends as well and sent Cycle 1 packing.

I spent about half a morning after all these subjects were closed and shelved to form a plan. My original idea was that the kids would think up a topic, research it, create a project, and write a paper. I quickly decided that was not quite enough to fill our days and enrich their minds. Rather I expanded it to incorporate several subjects and for them to present all the assignments after a special family dinner.

The children were asked to do the following:

  • Research a topic of interests. Find books at the library about the topic. Read the books (such an important step! Those books do not magically read themselves while sitting unopened in our library basket.). Write a paper about what you learned. Design and make a project based on your topic. Present all the materials to an audience.
  • Choose three things that  were learned in math this year. Teach these three concepts to the audience.
  • Select a science experiment and demonstrate it for the audience. Walk them through the scientific method.
  • Choose a chapter from Story of the World (the children are actually on different volumes this year…a result of our fall semester of school. This has not been my favorite because I love doing history all together, but we have made it work). Reread that chapter (We do finish this book during the year) and write a report about this time in history. Develop a project to go along with the report.
  • Select a famous artist. Read up on the artist and write a report about his/her life. Create an original piece of art to display.
  • Choose one book from the literature basket that has yet to be read this year (Each child has a literature basket of books I select for the year for them to read through). Read the book. Write up a book report on the book. Create a project to go along with the report.

There it is: My solution for finishing out the school year strong.

This idea is based on the book “Project Based Homeschooling” which I encouraged you to purchase above (Have you done that yet??). I love what the author, Lori Pickert, says about having some project based learning in the homeschool. She says:

“It (PBL) is a way to learn that sets aside the importance of subject matter and focuses on what it means to be an accomplished thinker, learner, maker, and doer.”

If that does not sound like a successful way to end the school year, I am not sure what does.

I typed up everything I wanted my kids to know/understand about this project, printed it, and passed it off to them. We spent time brainstorming some ideas to ensure this project would not be plagued by “end of the year slackdom” and they were set free to begin however they saw fit.

pbl

Since the introduction to this project we have made several trips to the library, spent quite the few dollars at the local craft supply store, and managed to scorch a batch of crayons in the oven as one kid worked on his creative art project. Our mornings have been peaceful and the kids have readily embraced this style of learning. Their projects are creative (with the exception of that burned crayon fiasco that likely ruined a cookie sheet from William Sonoma) and quite different. They have big boards filled with notes and papers and researched thoughts. It is quite exciting to seem them embrace this idea that merely started as a way to salvage the year.

Could we do a whole year of this?

No. My Type A personality just could not jive with it.

But a season of it is working in the moment.

They are presenting everything to the family on Tuesday night.

We will not wrap up the year until the end of next week (I have a few field trips to toss in as well as our annual end-of-the-year quiz I make and give them) but I think we may just end this year on a positive note.

At the very least we have learned how to effectively burn crayons in one’s oven.

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