Cross Industry Borrowing, Scouting, and Organizing the Curriculum

Yesterday, I wrote about how Cross Industry Borrowing might help us think about how we should organize the curriculum for Customized Learning. When I think about one group that does an exceptional job organizing curriculum and operating from values similar to those for Customized Learning, it is Scouting. Where Customized Learning recognizes that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes (within a culture of voice and choice), Boy Scouts recognizes that scouts need choice and voice, ever Increasing responsibility, learn by doing, and learning at their own pace.

So, let’s explore how the Boy Scouts organize their “curriculum” to see what those of us working to implement Customized Learning might be able to borrow.

Merit Badges are certifications for small chucks of knowledge and skills. The requirement booklets and checklists for each badge clearly delineate what a Scout needs to know and be able to do, while providing some choice know they master it. Each Merit Badge has one or more Councilors who oversee the scouts’ work on the badge, but will also lead seminars for groups of scouts working on the badge. Seminars are offered as often as there are scouts actively working on that badge.

Merit Badges, however, are only half the Scouting curriculum. Scouts also have clearly defined advancement paths through various rank. Each rank outlines a combination of specific tasks and Merit Badges the candidate must earn. Some Merit Badges are required for a specific rank, some are “either/or,” some are choice, and some are required for Eagle Scout, but the Scout chooses a certain number to tackle for each rank prior to Eagle. Each level of rank also requires serving in certain positions of responsibility. Each scout earns Merit Badges and rank at their own pace, but all the supports are offered, either in an ongoing way or at specific intervals designed to facilitate scouts moving at a “normal” pace.

I think Scouting might tell us something about how we might organize curriculum into “courses” for performance-based learning, as well as about “grade levels.”

A high school I worked with in Philadelphia would award credit in tenths of a credit. Each year long course was divided into ten one-month units. Although a new unit was started every month, students could keep working on each unit until they had showed mastery. Each unit they completed earned them that tenth of a credit. And if they failed some of the units, they only had to make up those units, not the entire course.

This example makes me think that the “Merit Badge-like” organization of courses could work for schools. What if, instead of instead of having year-long and semester-long courses, those same courses were broken down into 4 or 5 or 10 smaller courses – for now, let’s call them seminars. Prerequisites could preserve scope and sequence where necessary, but we may find that there is much more flexibility in seminar sequencing than we think.

Also, rather than automatically scheduling all 5 or 10 seminars in a row, since we are recording and monitoring progress, we could simply offer a seminar when a group of students needed it. Our progess monitoring software should assist us with that scheduling. Depending on need, we might offer the same seminar over and over (or have several sections with different teachers) to serve a large group of students who need it. If students don’t need a seminar, perhaps it isn’t offered for some time.

Since curriculum is organized in smaller units, we should gain a great deal of agility with the curriculum. Most students would get exactly what they needed right when they needed it. A student who didn’t successfully master a seminar could either repeat just that one seminar (not a whole year-long course!) or take a different seminar that helps meet those requirements differently. A student who completed the seminar quickly wouldn’t have long to wait for the next one, making independent work in between seminars more palatable. The smaller unit of organization may also mean that teachers could create specialty, elective seminars, or different teachers might create different seminars with different pedagogical approaches to the same learning targets, allowing students even greater flexibility in the pathways they take to graduation.

Further, instead of being 4th graders or 8th graders or Juniors or Seniors, based on your age or how long you’ve been in school, we could establish rank (perhaps even call those rank what we currently call the various grades), but clearly articulate what is required to achieve such rank. And Scouting models for us that those requirements do not have to be a rigid, specific set of subjects or courses. It could be a combination of specific tasks, required seminars, and choice seminars.

For example, perhaps there is a list of 12 specific seminars that are required for the rank Freshman. So the requirements to graduate from 7th Grader to 8th Grader may include that the student has completed 8 of the 12 Freshman seminars, the Digital Citizenship Seminar, the Adolescent Health Seminar, 4 other seminars of their choice, completed their first research project, and participated in 100 hours of community service.

Perhaps some of Auburn’s educators should make a close study of the structure and organization of Scouting Merit Badges and rank advancement in preparation for thinking about how we want to structure the Curriclum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your thoughts on how to make the curriculum more flexible for customized, performance-based learning?

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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