we can make school what it needs to be (part 1)

We’re talking a lot at school about innovation and change: the idea that we can basically turn our school into whatever we want it to be, as long as it works for kids.  One idea that’s gaining traction among us is the idea of mixed-grade level, open-enrollment “Expedition Classes” that students choose from a catalog, similar to what they’d do in college.  We could write Expeditions that draw on whatever resources we can find, that connect the students to their community in any way we can, and meet whatever standards possible while give the kids a real, captivating experience.

A culture of mastery-based grading is taking hold at school, and one by one we’re realizing that if kids meet the learning targets, then we’ve accomplished something – and grades don’t really matter.  Kids are learning this too, and taking initiative in their own education.  We’ve got the technology to help us do this.

We’ve also been talking about how obvious it is that if kids would just read for 30 or more minutes every day – from real books – then so much else will fall into place, academically.  Which gets me to thinking: when you come from an impoverished household, how much of reading is just knowing what to read and having access to it?

So what if kids show up for 9th grade, and we say, here’s what you have to do to become a 10th grader.  You have to read 10 (or n number of) books, write about them, and talk about them to someone else.  You should start a blog to provide evidence of what you’re reading.  We’ll help, by providing prompts.  You have to complete a series of projects in these content areas, but you’ll move at your own pace, and you’ll have some power to choose precisely which projects you pursue.  These projects will be called Expeditions, and you’ll meet in Expedition Classes with other students who are working on the same thing.  Some of you will take on some extension activities.  You’ll need to gather a few skills, and for that, we have daily classes and workshops to help you do this.  You’ll earn badges for all the things you accomplish, and great accomplishments will be publicized.  When you accomplish enough, you’ll move on to 10th grade, where another series of accomplishments awaits.  If you get far ahead, we’ll set you up with internships, or college courses, or at least “college level” courses, which will help you get ready for higher Ed, if that indeed is your goal.

We’ll also make sure that you really understand what it means to be part of a community, and we’ll celebrate together.  Heck, maybe we’ll even start a business or two – making stuff, feeding people, helping where we’re needed.  Of course, it’s all up to you, the student, but isn’t this a place where you’d love to hang out?


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