Assembling a New Unit Study

Tonight I started preliminary research for a new unit study on whales and dolphins.  Max informed me he is also interested in sting rays, manta rays and possibly creatures that are in the deeper parts of the ocean like the Lantern Fish.  This ought to be interesting!  I’m planning a three-week study with nice broad strokes, so maybe we can hit most of what he’s wanting to learn about.  A few days ago we went to the aquarium and saw the sting rays getting fed their crab rations – ick.  But they seemed to like it very much!  I was more tuned in to the two seagulls who have permanent wing damage – they were stationed on the fake rocks next to the sting ray pond.  They hang out there all day and don’t seem to realize they are hanging out on fake rocks near a fake ocean.  They even jump in and paddle around with the sting rays. 

So, am finding lots of neat stuff pertinent to the subject at hand.  We might even watch Free Willy!  Nova has a good film out about whales and dolphins and there is an IMAX movie available, too.  I usually use the week in between each six-week school block to catch my breath and put together the next six-week block, so that’s the process I’m starting now.  First I start off with an Internet search and try to find unusual, intriguing resources and ideas.  Next I’ll head to the library and see what’s available there.  Sometimes I forget to check what’s already on the bookshelves around here – this time I won’t forget.  If given enough time, we generally have more than enough items to pick from for the three to six week studies we’ve been doing. 

After looking at a bunch of resources and ideas, I try to take a step back and look at the big picture, trying to determine what aspects of the subject are the most important to offer.  In this particular study, I can think of a number of topics such as whaling and its history, what whaling has obviously done to the whale populations (interject my own agenda there, huh?), the properties of sound and echolocation (how whales and dolphins communicate), migratory patterns, cool facts, rescuing beached or stranded whales, which of these mammals are endangered, regions of the earth they inhabit (geography), marine biologists and what they do, mother/baby relationships, size comparisons, etc.  I’ll have to think about this some more.  It’s easy to see some science mixed in there, along with geography and history.  Pulling spelling and vocabulary words will be easier once I have some of the materials in-hand. 

Then I have to take a step even further back and remember that Max has a genuine interest in this subject, so I’d best not stomp on his interest and kill it.  Too much is too much.  Always searching for that balance in our learning so as not to overpower him or turn him off.  That’s not an easy thing to establish, believe me. 

So, making my way through the beginnings of another unit study, one which I’m looking forward to.  It’s a bit of a break from the history tangent we’ve been on thus far, but that’s okay.  Should you have any ideas about resources for this one, could you let me know?  Thanks!!!!!! 

I’m also searching for one or two good literature sources that incorporate whales or dolphins.  These are read-aloud books so we can both enjoy them.  An interesting coincidence this week – having spoken with two moms about reading aloud to their children, two moms who expressed their doubts.  I am a huge proponent of engaging in this activity for as long as you can, even if you have a fourteen-year old seated next to you!  Reading aloud to a child does magical things for vocabulary, for comprehension, for his/her imagination, not to mention it’s a wonderful way to nurture your child.  Who doesn’t love this kind of attention?  The best we have to offer our children is a gift of ourselves and reading aloud to them is where it is at.  Plus you often get caught up in the story, too!  And there are some awesome stories out there.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly your voice gets stronger.  At first I got hoarse.  Now I can read three or four chapters at a time without a problem.  Sometimes if we’re snacking and I’m eating, I’ll ask Max to take over and read for a while until I finish.  Somewhere that perfect book about a whale or a dolphin will pop up and we’ll stumble upon it.  One I can recommend that was read over the summer is Grayson by Lynn Cox:


It’s a heartwarmer about a girl who meets a lost baby Gray whale while out on her daily ocean swim; beautiful imagery!  You’ll get attached to all of the mammals……..

Back to the search! 


One Response

  1. Will probably be using The Great Illustrated Classic’s version of Moby Dick, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Dolphins at Day Break by Mary Pope Osborne and the Magic Treehouse series. The original version of Moby Dick seems too heavy for a ten year old…….and for me.

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