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Creating a Media Rich Unit Study

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By Beverly S. Krueger

Certain unit study topics lend themselves to multi-media presentation. These can be very easy unit studies to pull together when the right media resources are found. A video series, computer software, and online resources can be the means to an inexpensive but sophisticated unit study.

When I decided to create a study on mammals for my daughter, the first step I took was to look on our book shelves to see what books I already had available. I found Science Nature Guides: Mammals, a now out of print nature guide, and Our Living World: Mammals, also out of print. The nature guide had brief descriptions of mammals and great ideas for trying to find signs of mammals outside. Our Living World: Mammals is a good upper elementary introduction to mammals.

It has been my experience that reading a book just doesn't always get the hoped for information into my children's brains. Retention is not the best. I usually use books like Our Living World Mammals as introductions to the topic. I could combine the book with study questions, vocabulary words, and written assignments and have a quite serviceable unit study. That's not much fun, though.

My search for other types of resources took me first to Mentura.com where I had a DVD rental membership. (I now have a membership with Blockbuster). I searched for DVDs that had something to do with mammals and discovered The Life of Mammals series by the BBC. The description of this ten part series made me seriously consider renting the DVDs. Knowing that the BBC had an exceptional website, I decided to see what they might offer about the series and I decided to find out what the customer reviews at Amazon might say about the DVDs. The reviews let me know that this was a good choice. The BBC site finished up my unit study for me.

Visiting the BBC Life of Mammals site, I found all kinds of articles and online games that added to the content of the series. Children will be especially enamoured with the Challenges section. In the Chimp Challenge, you must survive living with a group of chimpanzees by properly interpreting their social reactions. In Memory Maze, you must use your memory to survive much as baby mammals do in the forest. In Mammal Maker, you must put together the correct skeletal pieces to build a mammal. In Beast Feast, you select items in a possible diet from a conveyer built and earn points for creating the most unusual diet that is actually eaten by a mammal. In Survival Zone, you must become a fox and try to survive in different habitats. Each of these challenges comes with thorough explanation so that the purpose of the game is not lost on the player.

Additional multi-media presentations allow children to explore and expand their knowledge of mammals. When they've read all the articles and completed all the challenges, the online quizzes will determine if they remember what they've learned.

Now I had all the pieces for my mammals unit study. We had a book to read to start us off, some great outdoor activities, ten 50-minute videos, and the equivalent of an educational software title in the BBC mammals site. How easy and yet how rich this study was going to be.

The Life of Mammals video series turned out to be as good as the reviewers lead me to believe. The whole family watched these videos because they were entertaining. David Attenborough, the series creator, often relied on night vision camera work to creep up on the animals he filmed. In one segment, he creeps up on African lions as they prepared for the nightly hunt all the while telling us that he can't see a thing because it's pitch black to him. Meanwhile we see the lions just a few yards away from him standing and growling. He takes us right into the midst of the animals' habitats following moles down a mole hole and climbing rocks to get close to seals. That he gets as close as he does to the animals he studies is amazing.

My daughter enjoyed the BBC mammals website enough to make short work of it. With spring approaching it will soon be time to go outside and look for mammal signs. We already expect to find the tracks of the little antelope ground squirrels we've been watching from the family room window all winter long. We'd seen their burrows, but we hadn't really known what was living in them until we set out bread scraps for bait. It will also be time to visit our favorite yellow-bellied marmot hangout. Terms like herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore are all now part of my daughter's vocabulary. They got there not because we had a vocabulary list to study but because they were part of our discussions as we watched the videos.

Not all topics are as readily turned into a media-rich study. Nevertheless, it's definitely worth exploring sites like the BBC's or National Geographic to see the goodies they have available free to all. This type of study can be put together for little if any money by using your local library and your Internet connection. If you're looking for websites that offer this type of multimedia experience, check out the listings we have with our unit studies. Most include website listings and there are some real gems in those listings. If you're interested in the books I discussed, they are available used in the mammals section of the Eclectic Homeschool Resource Center.

Mammals Unit Study Resources
A listing of websites, books, and other materials that you can use to create your own mammals unit study.

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