Monday, April 23, 2007

Review of CHC's Middle School Planner

Lesson Plan Guide: Middle School Years
5th-8th Grades
Catholic Heritage Curricula
308 pages
copyright 2005 CHC

Catholic Heritage Curricula's purpose is to provide thoroughly Catholic resources that are flexible and easy to use in the homeschool. Their aim is to steer the middle ground between chaos and burnout, and this objective is well achieved in this lesson planning manual.

This lesson plan manual, in a sturdy spiral binding, is a Catholic Heritage Curricula exclusive. The books recommended are either CHC exclusives or distributed by the company so that if you use the guide as written, you can do all your shopping at one place. The manual is meant to be used with the blank lesson planner also provided by CHC. One nice feature of the book is that copying privileges are allowed within a single family. The student resources are intended to be photocopied for the student to use independently, for example. This offsets the price of the book, and makes it possible to use the resources again and again through the years.

The appearance of the pages is clean and attractive. Charts make excellent use of shading and fonts to aid the eye, and the resource lists have nice pictorial elements; the quotes are set aside in sidebars.

The book is divided into four sections: one on how to use the manual, another containing an overview and brief course layouts for each grade, a third section containing student syllabi, and a final section devoted to teacher resources. All the sections are interspersed with quotes from saints or Popes on learning, and advice and counsel from other homeschool moms, to provide opportunities for reflection.

The first section contains an introduction, an "At a Glance" chart, a list of FAQ, and suggestions on how to begin using the manual. The At a Glance is a scope and sequence chart of all the curriculum recommended for all subjects during the four years of middle school. The FAQ addresses questions such as: Is the course of study too light? what if my child won't listen to me? what if my child is ahead or behind in some subjects?

The second section goes through the four grades one by one. For each grade there is a list of the curriculum used for the courses; a sample filled-out week from the Lesson Plan Book; and brief details about the weekly flow of the different lessons. In religion for sixth grade, for example, Monday and Tuesday are suggested for reading the Faith and Life book and doing the activity page; Wedesday through Friday are devoted to Bible History, and it is recommended that the students answer questions in a notebook. Optional enrichment for this subject: A Year with God.

The third section is the longest in the book. It contains six student courses: one each for fifth and sixth grade, and two each for seventh and eighth. The courses are "hands on" history or geography, with the exception of a seventh grade study on the Virtues. The spine texts used are thoroughly Catholic. For example, fifth and sixth grades use "All Ye Lands" and "From Sea to Shining Sea". Eighth grade history is based on ??Catholic Catechism History and 2000 Years of Church History.

The hands-on courses are planned in a fashion somewhat between a textbook course and a unit study. The student is usually asked to read a section from a spine text like "All Ye Lands", then given a variety of activities to choose from: reading historical fiction, doing a craft, a creative writing, looking at a video or online field trip, discussing something or doing extra research. The courses progress appropriately in difficulty from fifth to eighth grade, with more complex writing projects required at the older ages. A "Five Question" paper format is taught and developed and practiced during the upper level courses. The courses are put together so that they can be photocopied and given to the student so that he can work independently.

The final section of the book is titled "Teacher Resources" and contains three resources: A composition handbook for the homeschool mom; a "science in a nutshell" scope and sequence list of the different areas of science compiled by Holly Pierlot; and a World History Timeline with all the dates included that might be of interest to the homeschooler in putting together a family timeline.

Though day to day suggested layouts are provided in most of the courses, and the student syllabi come complete and ready to use,a complete overall "ready to go" daily layout is not provided. The manual is meant to be used with the CHC lesson planner, and this is where the daily and weekly details are entered. For example, the recommended weekly plan for 6th grade religion is given. But the teacher or student would have to actually put the specific page numbers and details into the right place in the Lesson Planner. This is different from the CHC lesson plans in the earlier grades where each week is laid out ahead of time. The intention is probably to help the parent and child to take over the planning reins a bit more in preparation for the high school years. Including four grades in the manual instead of just one is an advantage because it gives a general "flow" to the middle school years and lets the homeschooler pick and choose courses according to the child's ability level.

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