Friday, April 29, 2011

Unfolding MRSA

Don't worry, I don't have it.  My kids don't have it.  John doesn't have it either.  I had the opportunity to review a unit study about MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).  I have heard a lot about MRSA in the news, and I even know someone who has had it.  So, I was glad to have the chance to learn more about it with my kids in a way they could understand.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine has put together a series called, "The Curiosity Files: Explorations with Professor Ana Lyze, Expert in Outlandish Oddities."  This particular unit study I worked through with my children was about MRSA.  Some others ones they have published deal with the blue diamond, dung beetles, red tide, and quicksand, just to name a few.  These can be purchased through the The Old Schoolhouse Store.  They come in the form of an e-book which you can download and then print out the pages you want.  They regularly sell for $6.95, but currently MRSA, Cicada-Killing Wasp, Dung Beetle, and Red Tide are only $1.00.

The MRSA e-book was designed for students ages 8 through 13 and includes a complete explanation of what MRSA is, what causes it, who can get it, how it is treated, and how to protect yourself from getting it.  There are  3 different vocabulary lists.  Right after the discussion of the above topics, there is a short "MRSA Glossary."  About one third of the way through the e-book, there are two more spelling/vocabulary lists: one for elementary students and one for junior high/high school students.  If the two grade-specific lists were placed directly after the MRSA discussion, the short "MRSA Glossary" would not have been necessary.  There is something I don't like about the lists.  The "MRSA Glossary" contains words that aren't on either of the other lists, words like strain, symptom, and virus, but superbug and antibiotic are on both lists.  I agree with not giving elementary students harder words like nosocomial, but a word like culture should be able to be understood by elementary students.  You may want to tweak your student's spelling list a little to better meet their needs.  There is a quiz after the discussion that can be given to determine what material was learned.  It seemed to me that some of the information was deeper than an 8- or 9-year-old would be able to grasp, so I was pleasantly surprised when my 9-year-old could answer virtually every question correctly.

Being a unit study, this e-book includes other school subjects besides the obvious - science.  There are activities for math, language arts, art, music, etc.  I appreciate the teaching on the metric system that is included and also the multiplication, or large-number addition, that is needed to see how many MRSA bacteria would be present after 12 hours.  As I was doing the math activities with my children, I realized that they were not labeled for elementary or middle/high school.  The discussion of the metric system seems to speak more to the younger range of ages, although it is completely and easily understandable by older students.  Right after talking about exponents, which is a topic for older students, the study teaches them how to read large numbers.  There should be a heads up that this section is for elementary students.  It seemed a bit silly to be "teaching" my 13-year-old how to read large numbers.  There is also a typo that I noted, which until I realized it was a typo, made it slightly confusing to read.  On page 26 in the paragraph before the challenge, all of the numbers should have an exponent of 0 (zero); they should not read 20; 30; 50; 2,345,6780.

There are great topics to research for writing assignments for all levels.  I appreciate that there are cluster webs, flow charts, etc., to serve as aids in the writing assignments.  There are also activities for learning about acronyms and acrostics.  There are word searches and crossword puzzles, which are labeled as elementary or middle/high school.  There are also a number of Bible verses shown in manuscript and cursive for the students to do copywork.  Speaking of verses, because this unit study was written from a Christian perspective, there are activities that include Bible study, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing with my children.  It also helps them to see how God is involved in everything they are learning.

There are some good ideas for art projects such as making a safety poster about MRSA.  This could be enjoyed by all ages.  The coloring page that is included seems a bit useless to me, especially because it has no caption to let the student know what it is they are coloring.  Instructions are given for a putting together a lap book.  As far as music goes, I didn't enjoy the activity listed in the book; we were to clap out a rhythm while "chanting" some phrases about how to avoid contracting MRSA.  It was a bit hard to understand.  I did, however, like the bonus activity where the kids could create lyrics based on what they had learned about MRSA and put them to a familiar tune.

There are science experiments included in the e-book.  The ingredients for the bacteria experiment list nutrient agar and petri dishes, each with an asterisk beside them, but there is no explanation that I could find for the asterisk.  Most likely, you will have to purchase these items from a science supply store.  I order my supplies from a science store online.

For history, the students are to make a timeline, and the e-book gives them a list of dates and names and "Major Events in the Fight Against Infection."  They are to then choose one of these events or scientists and write a research paper or a newspaper article, prepare a monologue while acting as one of the scientists, or write a short children's book about the life of the chosen scientist.  I like a lot of the ideas this unit study has for further study.  They are very creative and will certainly help the student to enjoy the topic.

Physical education was not forgotten.  A game of Tag for elementary students is suggested where the student who is "It" is MRSA and runs around "infecting" the others players until the last player who is uninfected wins.

There didn't seem to be a lot for the high schooler or gifted middle schooler in this unit study for really in-depth study until about two thirds of the way through when they are given a huge research project to do that would require around 20 hours or more.  This project would most certainly cause them to learn a great deal more about MRSA than is contained in this e-book.  It encourages them to present their research in a multimedia format.  Here, as well as throughout the unit study, many helpful websites are provided for further learning.  Also, a list of books for further reading, as well as answers to all of the activities, is included at the end of the e-book.

As I did this e-book with my children, there were only a few things I didn't like, which I have detailed above.  I don't think I would have chosen this topic on my own to teach my children, but I am glad I had the opportunity to review this and use it because it is extremely interesting and has a lot of wonderful activities in it.  The small things I didn't like are significantly outweighed by the good things that are contained in this study.  This is well-written, although it could be proofread a bit better to eliminate typos and grade-level designations could be more prevalent.  At $6.95 per e-book, it is a great deal.  At the current price of $1.00, it is a steal!

If you have questions about these unit studies or any other products The Old Schoolhouse Store sells, you can contact them through the contact page on their website or by calling 1-888-718-HOME.  Their address is PO Box 8426; Gray, TN 37615.

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