How do I get myself into these things?
I had never taught a co-op class before, at least not this kind of co-op class. Last year our family joined with two other homeschool families to enhance our study of history, and it was an eye-opening experience for me. We played games and gave presentations, worked on projects and did activities together, and the competition and excitement of interacting with others spurred our students to greater effort.
But this! This was a multi-family co-op (as in a lot more than three families) with hordes of children that I didn't know. (I did have one familiar face in my class, as it ended up, but the rest were all "new friends waiting to be made" as my grandmother used to say.)
I had a curriculum to use, but needed activities. Looking in a resource guide, I found Evan-Moor's History Pockets highly praised, and so off I went to the local "teacher store" to look into the possibilities. After paging through History Pockets: Explorers of North America, I bought the book and began planning my lessons.
I have to admit, I started out using the other curriculum as my framework and History Pockets for enrichment, but by the time we were halfway through the term I'd laid the other curriculum aside, using it as teacher reference material, and History Pockets became the mainstay of our co-op class, with a Jeopardy game thrown in at the end.
History Pockets gives you teacher instructions and reproducible students' pages. By adding construction paper, scissors, glue, paper punch, brads, tape, colored pencils, and such, you have the tools to build a student portfolio focusing on the brave individuals that explored North America.
Overview (includes a timeline with all covered explorers)
Sir Francis Drake
Lewis and Clark
John Wesley Powell
For each explorer, printouts include a "fast facts" bookmark, a biographical sketch ("background information"), and activities. Activities include mapwork and lots of cut, color and paste activities. You might put together a letter to Columbus, asking to join his crew, or brainstorm items to take with you on a long sea voyage. You might discuss how a compass works, and make a model of a compass or other navigation tools. You might bake hardtack! (Since we didn't have the facilities to do this in our classroom, I baked hardtack at home and brought it to class. One of the boys actually ate the stuff!) The activity my students most enjoyed was making up their own board games based on the voyages of Jacques Cartier, and then playing them! (I don't think they'll ever forget that white pine has vitamin C that can prevent scurvy, and that Jacques Cartier learned this from friendly Native Americans.)
Most of the instructions for the activities were very clear and easy to follow as well as interesting to do, nicely reinforcing learning. There was one activity where I could not figure out the directions, and another that didn't go down well with my literal-minded students, as it asked them to imagine a peaceful alternative ending to the story of Hernando Cortes. (Of course, that might have to do with the fact that my co-op class was mostly boys, who gloried in the stories of gold and conquest. I hadn't taught boys before, and I'm glad to report that these History Pockets kept them interested and busy.)
Teacher planning is minimal. There is a teacher reference page for each explorer that gives an overview of the student activity pages, and for each activity there are clear instructions on what to reproduce and what additional materials are needed. I prepared for the class mostly by reading about the featured explorer from other sources, and doing the activities so that I'd know how much class time they'd require. Unfortunately, the one week I was sick and didn't do the activities ahead of time, was the week that held the activity with the instructions I couldn't figure out!
When you reach the end, you have a nice portfolio, construction paper "pockets" full of biographies and information about different explorers' times and cultures, spanning the centuries from the 1400s to the 1800s. A final review project helps the students sum up their learning with two worksheets, one of which asks the students to decide which explorer's expedition they'd like to join - and filling out a job application! - and a student "Reflection Sheet" that reads like a course evaluation form. The final page contains a teacher "Reflection Sheet" that allows the teacher to evaluate students' work for a cumulative grade.
Copy permission is granted to reproduce student materials for noncommercial individual or single classroom use.
I will definitely be looking into more of Evan-Moor's "Pocket" products.