Click here to read Part 1 of this article: The Benefits of Collaborative Learning.

Click here to read Part 2 of this article: Educational Co-ops: The Inside Scoop.

So many people have asked me how my co-ops work that I am writing this article, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Why reluctantly? Because this is only one example of the thousands of ways in which a history co-op might function. In fact, almost every co-op I’ve been involved in has operated differently. With that said, let’s take a look at my history co-op from last year.

Spring-Time Questions

I pray. Curriculum decisions must be made. Although in the past I’ve both written my own and adapted from textbooks, this year I’ve decided to try the Diana Waring Ancient Civilizations and the Bible materials. Now I need to look through it all carefully, deciding how to make it work best for me.

I pray. Participant decisions must be made. Although in the past I’ve opened my co-ops to anyone in our support group on a first-come, first-served basis, this year will be different. This co-op has arisen out of our 13-year-old son’s specific needs. Tyler has always been the youngest in our co-ops because I’ve geared them more around his brother, JB, who is five years older. JB has graduated and now I want to work closely with Tyler to give him the co-op experience he desires. He would like a small, less formal group involving students with which he is already comfortable. This beautifully suits my desires for a more laid back pace. We invite five other teens, two boys and three girls. Four accept.

I also had to decide on payment versus true co-oping (trading of talents). I decided that if a parent wished to teach Tyler a class that was of interest to him we would just swap. If a parent wished their child to participate with no parental job required, they would pay. Two trade and two pay.

The Nitty Gritty

Summer’s here and the real planning begins. I take Diana’s materials and decide how much we should do in class, how much should be required at home, how I will assess progress, and how fast our pace will be. I design a schedule that covers the book in eight months, allows students to pursue some of their own interests, includes two hands-on projects, a notebook approach, and strongly incorporates both Bible and geography in the plans. Regretfully, I drop many of the fun, hands-on activities in her book for lack of time. These can be done for extra credit or for one of their required projects. Tyler has had many hands-on experiences over the years and my goal for this year includes a greater emphasis on researching and writing of history papers.

I decide to also include the high school level geography course from The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. Although we will complete the geography in Diana’s book, it deals with ancient civilizations. I also want to cover current world geography this year.

I meet with the other parents and explain what I am doing and why. I listen closely to any concerns and if possible, take those into account.

I go through each unit in the book and look to see what additional reading materials would be beneficial. I scour my own history collection as well as the library’s. Then I order a few books that will be particularly helpful. (If these were younger students I’d also be on the look out for fun hands-on games, stickers, and motivational items, as well.) I begin reading the first unit and listening to Diana’s What in the World’s Going On Here, Volume I tape set to get a head start on the teens. Although I will not be able to do this all year, I want to at least begin the year understanding the material we are to cover. After that, I will do the work and learn along with them.

I determine they will each keep a timeline, updated monthly using the book’s timeline assignments. Each student will decide what kind of timeline they wish to make and what style they will use in completing it.

Wow! There is so much I want them to learn! How will we ever cover all this ground? I pray some more for wisdom. I realize that I need a full school morning to implement this course. I choose Monday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. with lunch included. I determine that they will each keep their own notebook of what they are learning and I will base my evaluations, in part, on these notebooks.

We begin in mid-August so that we can be through in early May. That works best with my speaking and traveling schedule.

A Co-Op is Born