Yesterday I talked about some ideas for what high school students should know before they graduate. But what would that look like in practice? Essentially, I imagine something vaguely similar to a Montessori school: lots of long blocks with some structure but also lots of time for exploring.
The curriculum itself is structured into just 4 classes. But instead of the traditional subject headings (math, English, science), each class is multi-disciplinary by design. Instead of having a semester-long course with exams spread throughout, the focus is on short, intense theme blocks, with the themes chosen based on interest and variety. Instead of intermittent exams, there is an emphasis on maintaining knowledge for the long term through computer-based spaced repetition, via memrise or anki, as well as in depth projects and experiential learning. And the day includes prep time to learn key facts and vocabulary, so that class together time can be focused on more productive uses.
The classes include:
- Citizens: this includes much of the content that would normally be found in a high school civics course, as well as American history and literature. It also includes an emphasis on local government, community service, economics, and direct, hands-on participation in politics and governance through an expanded student council and school [digital] newspaper. Finally, all-important noncognitive skills like grit and study skills are explicitly taught.
- Explorers: this class has two parts. The first is to build a deep relationship with one particular corner of the world, through ongoing language study, exchange programs, and focus on the literature and culture of the area. French and Spanish are both good languages for this, since they have so many countries to choose from, but others are fine as well. The other part of Explorers is focused units on a kind of “highlights” tour of world history, literature and art.
- Discoverers: this class emphasizes observation of the world around us, making science accessible.
- Inventors: this class emphasizes exploration of how things work, emphasizing both engineering and creativity.
These classes complement each other. Having a few different topics to circle back around to provides variety, forestalling boredom. Within each, there are choices for what to focus on, to respect student autonomy. The basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic, happen throughout each, building a spiral of knowledge. Instead of report cards, kids build a portfolio of work they created, and a progress book of strengths and areas to work on; the teacher can also track their computer-based work on a dashboard . And everyone learns to learn: how to approach a new topic, how to decide what interests you, how to seek help.