Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Thomas Jefferson Education {Schoolhouse Review Crew}

Whatever you want to learn, whatever there is to teach, it starts with history!


What is A Thomas Jefferson Education, anyway?  It's really a philosophy and methodology of education - the type of education that many notable people throughout history received. And TJEd is also a website and subscription service packed FULL of inspiration, tools, and resources to help parents provide just that kind of education.

The Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy can best be summed up by the Seven Keys of Great Teaching, as found on the website:
There are seven principles of successful education. When they are applied, learning occurs for any learning style or interests. When they are ignored or rejected, the quantity and quality of education decreases.
  1. Classics, Not Textbooks
  2. Mentors, Not Professors
  3. Inspire, Not Require
  4. Structure Time, Not Content
  5. Simplicity, Not Complexity
  6. Quality, Not Conformity
  7. You, Not Them

Students learn best when they make their own choice to study effectively and put in the time to do it because they love it.  When we enjoy learning, we can absorb great amounts of information, knowledge, connections and wisdom in a relatively short time.  Obviously, this is more effective than being forced or manipulated to study.  And I think that most homeschool families would agree with the principle, but our question is HOW do we inspire our students?  How do we teach this way when it's likely not the way we were taught?

TJEd offers all kinds of resources to help, and the subscription program called This Week in History was what we were able to review.


Having the word "History" in the title was pretty much all it took to get me interested!  This subscription program is a once-a-week email that links resources for studies in art, literature, math, sciences, language arts, geography, current events, etc, to events in history.  Each email provides at least one historical event for each day of the upcoming week and some information and background, followed by a list of related activity and study ideas, and web links (active links, so you can just click through from your email instead of having to hunt the website down!) to more educational and fun content that's related.

As a subscriber, you can also access the material on the dedicated TWIH blog feed.  Another feature that is really attractive - you can search the database by date, topic, or keyword!

When we started out, I was initially overwhelmed by all the information and wondered how I should be using it, and then I read this advice on possible ways to utilize TWIH in the introductory email:
1. A week or two in advance (since you have it all together and you like to see how everything is going to shape up before it happens) you review the coming week's resources and consider how they fit with your interests, your kids' projects, etc., and plan how to use it

2. On the day of (since your week has been nutty and you haven't had time to plan what you're going to do), you get up and review that day's resources, print out a few pdfs and preview a few topics, and then invite the children to discover with you

3. In the moment (since you're an adventurous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of girl/boy), you bring up the site and wander your way through it like a treasure hunt

4. Review the archives (available at the bottom of each week's article, or by searching by date or keyword) to explore for a date of interest, like a child's birthday, your wedding anniversary, or even some random date chosen by your child-of-the-day, and explore what is notable about that date
Oh, what a relief!!! I am CLEARLY #3 on that list (and sometimes #2) and was I ever glad that somebody like me could make good use of this resource!  And that's exactly how we've been using it.  On the first day of the week (the TWIH week starts on Thursday), the kids and I look at the upcoming week's notable dates in history in the email and start discussing what interests them.  Sometimes we say "let's make sure we look at that some more on Monday" and sometimes we just can't wait and we start checking out the links right away.  We read through the email several more times during the week, and something that didn't catch our eye the first time will look fascinating the next time we see it.  Even when we don't do writing or research or experiments, we have generated great discussions and sparked interest just by reading about an event that happened on this date in years past.  (Many of the entries include a list of "ideas for writing or discussion" and we make use of the discussion angle!)  Sometimes we'd come across a mention of something in one of our textbooks or in the news and I'd remember seeing something related in one of the emails, and it was so convenient to just look it up and find out more.  Love those searchable archives!!

Some highlights of our experience so far:

  • We learned about George Washington Carver, and his contributions to science and agriculture. 
  • We watched Milton Berle meet the Muppets.  (My kids love The Muppets)
  • Kennady learned about Nadia Comeneci and the first perfect score in Olympic gymnastics.  And she learned that Mom and Dad are sooooooooooooooooo old that they watched those games on TV and remember it.  LOL  About that time, Kennady had decided to learn how to do a cartwheel, and guess what - there was a link to a video teaching how to do one the right way. 
  • I was impressed with how much my kids already knew about the 1969 moon landing. 
  • We reviewed the words to the Erie Canal theme song, "Low Bridge Everybody Down"
  • We ooooh'ed and aaaaah'ed over gorgeous pictures from the coral reefs
  • We realized that my dad and Bugs Bunny share a birthday.  Kennady loved the links to sites that showed her how to draw Bugs and other cartoon characters.
  • The kids were introduced to the Chincoteague Ponies, which they were only vaguely aware of before.
  • We were fascinated by photos of the hilly streets of San Francisco!
  • We celebrated Louis Armstrong's birthday by enjoying some New Orleans jazz.
  • We were sobered by the story of Anne Frank.


We have been using this as a fun and laid-back add-on to our other studies, but it is easy to see how it could provide more than enough material for full unit studies.  This would be a fantastic resource for families that homeschool using the classical style, or for families that prefer child-directed learning.  For families that want to tie as much of their study as possible to history, or for families that don't have a real focus on history in their curriculum and want to add some more.  For families that like to plan ahead and pull together many varied resources that all tie in to their current studies, or for families that take each day as it comes and let the interests of the day set the course.  In other words, it's so flexible and so valuable that it could be used effectively by almost anyone.

What we liked best:
  • all the links are provided, just click through.  Easy!
  • gorgeous pictures and interesting graphics that catch the eye
  • such a variety of topics introduced - states entering the Union and the invention of the Rubik's Cube; the diary of Anne Frank and the birthday of Lucille Ball.  Truly something for everyone!
  • searchable archives
  • discussion starter questions that really did get us talking and wondering and learning.
What we weren't crazy about:
  • this is so silly, but the week starting on Thursday is weird to me!  I am still working at remembering to look at the TWIH email on Thursday morning.  And then I'd feel bad that we "missed" a birthday or something like that.  LOL  
  • there is so much included, so many ideas, that I really did need to give myself permission to not do everything.  
  • I'm not into printing everything (or planning ahead which of the events we would go further with), so we were crowded around the computer to view everything.  In future, I think I can use it better by viewing the email once with everyone, and then allowing each kid to have time on their own to explore more.  
For us, this was so much fun for generating discussion and sparking interest in topics that we might never have considered otherwise.  The wealth of resources and links makes it such a great deal too.

Would you like to find out more about This Week in History?  Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website, A Thomas Jefferson Education, for more information, including Sample Weeks of This Week in History.  A subscription to This Week in History is $9.99 per month.  Subscribers can access the whole year's archives on the website at any time.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information about TJED and to read other Crew member reviews.
Disclaimer: As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received a complimentary subscription to this service in exchange for our honest opinions.


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