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See the USA Review by Dena Wood

PO Box 900
Fort Atkinson, WI 53538-0900

In See the USA, students work together on "assignment" for Global Travel magazine as they "travel" across the USA. Team members consist of a Project Editor (leader & money manager), Graphic Designer (project designer), Cartographer (mapping expert) and Associate Editor (research librarian). The program is designed so that job descriptions change regularly, allowing each person to perform each set of tasks.

Teams begin at the West Coast and follow one of the four major interstates to the East Coast. Teams may travel no more than 480 miles per day and must plan their itinerary accordingly. Each team will complete the following projects: 2 Sightseeing Postcards, 2 State Discovery Posters, 2 Welcome Billboards, 2 Team Travel Features, and 8 Point-of-Interest Research Assignments. Individuals will complete a final project consisting of a Tri-Fold Travel Brochure or a Travel Essay. The program is designed to consist of 25 lessons of 50-60 minutes. (This project is intended for school classrooms. Lessons will take significantly less time in homeschool situations.) Students are given 16 travel days to cross the US.

It is suggested that students take time to gather research information 4-6 weeks before starting the unit by contacting state travel and tourism offices for maps, brochures, and additional information. Ideally, they would be able to create a reference file with information on each state. Teams are then given a team folder containing a US road map, checks, a debit card, checkbook registers, and a Rent-A-Car form.

As team members work through the project, they make a wide variety of choices and utilize many skills. After reading the car rental agreement, they decide on the type of car to rent and fill out the form as employees of Global Travel. Students learn how to write checks and keep a check register, endorse a check, and balance an account. Students are required to keep within a specified budget and must draw Fate Cards on three days of their trip. Fate cards can be anything from a flat tire (costing you $87 to Tombstone Tires and adjusting your travel hours to 7) to a speeding ticket (causing you to write a check for $98.00 to State Traffic Court). Students keep a daily expenditure record detailing costs for gas, meals, and lodging.

The program provides masters for check registers, checks, debit cards, rental agreements, assignment logs, and more. Sample points of interest are offered for states on each of the routes, and a wonderful set of writing tips helps with preparation of a Travel Essay. A Student Guide offers a very brief overview of the program requirements and roles as well as specific requirements for each group and individual project. Also included is a large, heavy-duty US map with the various routes clearly marked.

Frankly, I love this project! I'm thrilled with the wide range of skills involved and the fact that the learning is presented in the context of real-life situations. While the program is designed for grades 4-6, I am adapting it to use with my 2nd and 4th graders with the intent of pulling it back out in a few years to complete in a more detailed manner. The ease with which the program can be adapted is one of its major assets. We are currently studying US Geography but started on the East Coast. It's no problem to simply start the project from that coast as opposed to the West Coast as written. Also, rather than sticking with the 16-day rule, we can take advantage of the various projects as we get to those states in our studies. That said, I do like the idea of requiring a set number of days and a strict budget, which forces students to plan well. That is one aspect I will incorporate when I do the project in a couple of years when my children are older.

Since the program is written for a school classroom setting, it will need to be adapted somewhat for use in a homeschool environment. If deciding what to keep and what to drop is difficult for you, you could find this frustrating. I would highly recommend See the USA for a co-op setting where it could easily be used as written.

While I do love the program and am pleased to have the opportunity to use it with my own children, I don't see an option for homeschoolers on the company website. The "complete package" sells for $59.95 and includes one teacher manual and 35 Student Guides. While there is the option to purchase additional Student Guides, there is no option for a "homeschool" version of the product with fewer guides. (Note: The text in the Teacher's Manual mentions using transparencies, but it is unclear if these are included in the "complete package." They were not included in the set I reviewed, nor did I miss them.) While this set might be a great resource for a homeschool group or co-op, it is fairly expensive for the average homeschooling family. I would love to see Highsmith offer a homeschool-friendly version of this same product.

Product review by Dena Wood, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2007