Updated: Jan 3, 2022
As part of my application for the Drexel Fund Founders Fellowship, I've been working on a more formal curriculum outline. From this we will create learning objectives which can be aligned with state standards. It doesn't look like a typical high school curriculum. Rather than starting with disciplines like Biology, Algebra, etc., it's build from key considerations of how adolescents learn and develop. The backbone is the Universe Story, which helps them orient themselves and their learning in place and time as part of something very big and awe inspiring. As the story is told over the course of the 6 trimesters of 9th and 10th grade, it is connected to the disciplines throughout. This is the Big History approach. The Big History Project is one example of how other educators are using this approach. If you want to know more about Big History, check out their website.
For an example from our curriculum, in the first trimester the study of the big bang, the formation of galaxies, and the formation of the Earth, naturally necessitates learning in Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics. But it also requires a discussion of other origin stories and the cultures from which they emerged, ontology and epistemology, narrative research methods, algebraic and geometric sequences, scalars and magnitude, scientific notation, etc.
One question I get sometimes is: isn't Math linear? what happens if one student is just starting Algebra while another student is ready for Algebra II? Montessori elementary classrooms have been dealing with this problem successfully for decades. By creating an environment in which students can function more independently, the guide can engage each student at their own place. While core lessons to the whole group allow students to make connections to the big picture, follow-up lessons can be done in small groups or even individually to help each student with the material they need to work on.
Our core lessons are also connected to projects. Some Montessori secondary schools call them Occupations and Humanities. Because of the EARTH School's special focus, we call them Research and Technology projects. Research projects lean more towards the types of investigations done in the Humanities while Technology projects focus on the tools we humans create (this goes way beyond electronics!) Each trimester, groups of students choose a real-world problem to work on connected to the theme for that trimester.
Research projects can be done individually or in groups and are based on questions students have about what they're learning that semester, areas of learning where they want to go deeper. When working on these projects, students go beyond Googling, beyond Wikipedia. By researching topics they are passionate about, they learn how to ask good questions, consider multiple perspectives, vet sources for reliability, and even interact with experts in a field.
Project themes are listed on the curriculum overview. This is just for 9th and 10th grades, the foundation years. I call them Establishing Roots (9th) and Branching Out (10th). I will describe grades 11 and 12 elsewhere. I'd like to call them the Flowering and Fruiting years (because I like the reaction I get when I tease teenagers that way 😂).
Take a look and let me know if you have any questions!