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Brandenburg Studies (Unit Studies) Review by Cindy West

By Debbie Brandenburg
Brandenburg Studies
4019 90th Avenue
Florissant, MO 63034

Wow! Thorough! Interesting! Innovative! These are just a few words that pop into my mind to explain the Brandenburg Unit Studies that I had the pleasure of reviewing. Visiting Mrs. Brandenburg's website will lead you to more than 40 in-depth unit studies that can either be purchased on CD or downloaded immediately to your computer. Besides a few worksheets that you will print at home and some general project supplies, each unit is complete.

The best way to describe the units and to give you an overall picture is this: thorough Internet-linked lessons and activities, including quizzes, tests, notebooking, projects, literature, and other media to encourage independent learning in an exciting and creative way. How's that for a picture? I'll try to explain each aspect more clearly below.

The units all begin with a section of hints for the teacher. This includes a daily lesson plan chart that you are encouraged to print for yourself and your child. The chart clearly lays out exactly how long the unit should last and what specific lessons and/or activities should be covered each day. Children who can read on their own are encouraged to do much of the learning themselves, with mom or dad being an overseer of the learning. Thus, you're encouraged to put a copy of the daily lesson chart in the front of a notebook so that your child can take responsibility for doing the daily lessons. The parent's main job is to be sure the assignments are complete, correct, and neat. The hints also tell you that it's wise to preprint all the worksheets so they are ready when your child reaches that particular assignment.

In the preview section, the author also gives suggestions for literature and videos that go with the theme. Her belief is children retain new knowledge better when several additional books and videos are added to the unit. Her book selections include "living literature" that should be available in most library systems. Independent reading and family read-alouds are suggested. With most units lasting anywhere from one to three months, there's great opportunity to delve into some good books.

Now, on to the units! All the units I reviewed focused on a science or history theme. Some of the history units centered on historical literature. Each unit takes a very thorough look at the topic covered, whether intended for K-3rd, 4th-6th, or 7th-12th grades. Some of the unit titles I reviewed include "Butterflies," "Cell Biology," "Reptiles," "Ancient Egypt," "Oregon Trail," "Robin Hood and the Crusades," and "With Lee in Virginia." The company's website provides all the unit titles and the age for which each is intended.

As I mentioned before, each day's lesson plan is clearly laid out in the chart at the beginning of the unit. Since the units are in Adobe files, the lessons are found as you scroll down in the file. The lessons are in somewhat of an outline form to help the child find their place each day. Much of the daily lesson time is spent reading information from the computer. Some of the lesson is located in the file, but your child will also leave the file sometimes as they click on safe Internet links. The Internet links lead your child to pages with more information about the lesson's subject, to quizzes and tests, to online games, and to other very safe pages that enhance the particular lesson.

The daily lessons, even though often taking place in front of the computer, are filled with colorful pictures to give your child great visuals for understanding. They are also varied. In other words, the student won't simply be reading information from the computer and taking a quiz everyday. One day they might read and take a quiz. The next day might be a video clip and an online game. The next might be reading and labeling a diagram for their notebook. And the next might be an art or craft project.

At the end of the file, there are worksheets, notebooking pages, and other various printables. Each unit also includes an idea list for a final unit project--a hands-on project that enables your children to "show what they know" as the unit comes to a close.

As needed, based on the topic, the units might include vocabulary, map work, Bible references, and/or a final test. Most tests and activities completed on the Internet can be printed out to include in the student's notebook. Since keeping a unit notebook is highly encouraged, each unit provides directions for creating one.

I think the best way to describe how the units work is to take you on a mini-tour of one of the units. So, into the Amphibians unit we go. Part III is the section about frogs. Today is the third day of learning about frogs, and the lesson briefly describes the journey we're about to take as we click the link to a virtual frog dissection! Clicking the link takes us to an Internet site that takes us shows a real dissection step by step. Of course, we get to stay clean and fresh-smelling because our dissection is on the computer! But that doesn't mean we won't learn a lot. And, hey, nobody had to buy a dead frog! We're taking notes for our notebook as we go.

The next two days include links to two other frog dissections, where we'll take new notes each day. By the end, we should be dissecting pros! On the fourth day, after having dissected three virtual frogs and taken three pages of notes, we'll be asked to click a link into an anatomy and physiology test about frogs. If we paid close attention and took good notes over the three previous days, we should have no problems answering the multiple choice questions. When we get our test score, we can either print it or simply record it in our notebooks.

See what I mean? Exciting! Innovative! I love that these units encourage independence in learning. So many people love unit studies but loathe all the work they take to prepare and the teaching time they often require. Here's the answer if you'd like to do unit studies and encourage independence. Of course, mom or dad can still be "hands-on" in the unit if they prefer. That's the beauty of these studies--they can be used in a way that suits your family's needs. If your child would rather do the unit faster or slower than recommended, fine. If you would like to add more to the unit or take some away, fine. If you want to work alongside your child, fine.

I would highly recommend trying at least one of the units to see if they are a fit for your family. Struggling readers may have some difficulty, as might those who prefer lots and lots of hands-on projects. But with the variety of daily lessons, I think most students would find the studies to be interesting and enjoyable. The prices are very reasonable. Oh, and the author updates the units twice a year to repair any dead Internet links and to add upgrades. This is a free service to you when you purchase her products. If you need one more reason to consider these units, most of them include a "Teacher's Edition" section that provides you with all the answers!

Also included on my CD to review were "The Timeline Project" and "How to Homeschool Successfully." Both are excellent products available on the website as well. "The Timeline Project" teaches you how to make a large wall timeline using butcher paper. It includes five pages of color thumbnail prints of historical figures and events, as well as links to good Internet sites for finding timeline clipart. "How to Homeschool Successfully" is a super resource for beginning and veteran homeschoolers. Not only is it very thorough, but it provides Internet links to several helpful websites. Many charts, schedules, and even blank report cards are included also.

I was very impressed with the thoroughness of Mrs. Brandenburg's products. I think you will be too.

Product review by Cindy West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2007