Category Archives: #standardizethat

Open Curriculum

I have been thinking alot about the conversation I am leading at Educon, #standardizethat and got involved in  an expanded discussion on Twitter about standards and curriculum. I was asked what open curriculum would look like. I have borrowed my ideas from too many places to mention including unschooling,  Postman, my own students, and my own children. So here goes my version of what a school with an open curriculum might look like.

At the crossroads by

First of all, the schedule would change. There would be no grades, sorting by age groups, bells, or set schedule. Students would work in a large room with different adult content experts in the room. The ratio of students to teachers should not exceed 25:1. Students would choose the topics and projects that they want to explore and would sign up to at least one adult to report their progress to. Projects would be encouraged to be cross-curricular and deep. Most projects would center on social studies and science as a general topic with ELA and math skills being addressed as they “naturally come up.”

Students would research their topics and teachers would help develop their search skills and expose them to multiple forms of literature and multi-media to learn from. Students would publish their results in many different formats addressing writing and media skills. Students would work in groups and present their learning to each other improving their collaboration and communication skills.

Students would not be entirely left up to their own as far as what they study. Teachers would play an essential role by exposing students to interesting topics in ways such as field trips (which could be as simple as a walk outside to observe nature), experiments, museum like exhibits of interesting objects, compelling art including primary source photos, and interesting problems to solve. Current events would also drive curriculum. News events would be talked about and lead to explorations by students. Students would choose which of these demonstrations to partake in and which of them to pursue deeper.

The other essential role of teachers would be to help students make connections of their passions to new areas of curriculum. As content experts teachers would use student interests to guide students both to cross-subject area connections and to connections within subject areas. An important continuation of what good teachers already do is knowing their students. Teachers would spend lots of time getting to know students as individuals so that they can share relevant learning ideas with them.

Students would not be without structure or requirements. Ideally students themselves would build the structure and requirements themselves. One essential theme of the school would be that you must be learning at all times. Learning would be defined with the students but would be very open-ended. Students would also be required to make and accomplish their own goals about what they learn. Students would also be required to present their learning. This could take many forms but would include both written and verbal forms. This also means that students will be sharing with each other their passionate learning so that they are constantly being exposed to new ideas outside of their personal interests.

Aloe by Genista

For example I have a couple of students who are very interested in botany. They are bright, but literally do as little as possible in every class except science, because they find no relevance in it. In an open curriculum they would be free to study biology at a college level. As social studies expert, I would expand their interests by tying invasive species to the Columbian Exchange. Regulations around plants would lead to many government topics (legalizing marijuana, etc). Statistics would come up all of the time. They could also study the history of plants and medicine, especially Native Americans (one of these students is building his own wigwam at home in his free time). This would lead to topics such as western expansion, Manifest Destiny, racism, genocide, etc. The social studies topics we would address would be abundant, but we might not “hit every state standard.” The difference is that the students would care about the curriculum because it is theirs and would engage and remember it.

This example is just one pair of students. Imagine how diverse the curriculum would be when you add in all of the students’ interests. Without even trying topics that my current students are very passionate about include: immigration, gay rights, genetics, computer programming, art, poetry, women’s rights, depression, mental illness, and theater. I am sure that the other content teachers see even more interests that I miss.

I am not saying that open curriculum will fix every education problem or that it would reach every child. But I do think it would be superior to most schools today. I am also sure that it would have to change and adapt over time and be different in different communities. Also I think students would have to be trained into it. Students who have been in traditional schools would drowned if just dumped into it. They would need to be gradually released to wean themselves from teacher dependence to independence. I also fully admit that some kids would waste time and choose not to learn. But doesn’t that happen already all the time? I believe this would encourage the most learning from the most students and that the passion of authentic learning would spread to include reluctant students.

What’s missing from this vision of a school? (Oh, don’t say assessment and grades because those are missing on purpose. I am interested in learning, not comparing students)

What to Obsess Over

I stole this title and post from Seth Godin’s blog today. He writes about businesses focusing on direct marketing techniques instead of customer satisfaction. Here is an excerpt that I have edited for schools:

“I think for most businesses schools that want to grow improve, it’s way too soon to act like a direct marketer politician/edu-reformer and pick a single number (standardized test score) to obsess about.
The reason is that these numbers demand lead to that you start tweaking cheating. You can tweak cheat a website test or tweak cheat an accounts payable policy students by test prep and make numbers go up, which is great, but it’s not going to fundamentally change your business school.
I’d have you obsess about things that are a lot more difficult to measure. Things like the level of joy or relief or gratitude your best customers students feel. How much risk your team is willing to take with new product launches projects to personalize instruction. How many people parents recommended you to a friend today…
What are you tracking?”

#standardizethat live

Here is my ignite talk. If you ever get a chance to do one, go for it. It was both one of the most horrifying, best experiences of my career.

The script and slides are posted here.


The video of this talk has now been posted and you can watch it here.

Today I gave an Ignite talk at New Tech Annual Conference. It was intense. I will share the video later but I wanted to share my script and slides here:

#standardizethat by Mike Kaechele
This talk is dedicated to all of the politicians and ed reformers who think we can standardize our way into improving the American education system. I would like to share the things that I think that they should focus on standardizing instead.  

You have probably heard the saying that “weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter” so what then is the real purpose of the “standardization” obsession in this country? It is about comparing. School vs. school, state vs. state. We are now obsessed with comparing children with each other while we race to the top to leave no child behind.

Standardization is also about conformity to someone’s ideal of what an American citizen should be. We need everyone to know the exact same stuff and to be able to demonstrate it in the exact same way: bubble sheets and 5-point essays.

I would measure school differently. My main measurement of effectiveness would be “Do students want to come to your school or class?” Is your school a real community that students want to be at. Community.

Our students wake up at 5:00am or earlier to catch long bus rides to arrive at school before 7am because they want to be here. Why? Relationships.

Parents comment that they don’t have to fight with their child to get out of bed to go to school because they want to go to school for the first time ever. Schools that are places that care about students. Love.     

Students who love life, learning, and people. Students who share happiness with all that they meet. Joy.

The one word students use to describe our school is “family.” Our students come from 20 districts across our county including urban, suburban, and rural. They represent many ethnicities and previous levels of success in school. Family.

Students who work with all kinds of people not just their friends and build upon each others’ strengths. Students who work together to solve big problems impossible to achieve alone. Collaboration.

Mary created a fun memes page on Facebook about our school and later a freshman survival guide video. No, she didn’t have to. No, she wasn’t graded. Creativity.

In problem based learning students think deeply to solve authentic problems. Students also direct their own learning through voice and choice in what they study and how they present it. Choices.

We ended the year with a world simulation where students took over and “ran the world.” They made treaties, fought wars, negotiated and called a world conference on their own. They came to me before and after school to tell me their strategies. Problem-solving.

I watched my students get concerned about injustice in the world such as the Holocaust, genocides, racism, women’s rights in the Arab Spring protests, and the effects of war.
Students who care about democracy, human rights, and justice. Empathy.

You see I care more about my students being caring human beings than their test scores. Caring.

Students learning how to speak in public about what they are learning and what they care about. Communication.

In PBL students can demonstrate their learning through creative ways. One pair of girls made a mock up of glamour magazine critiquing society’s worship of women’s bodies. Fighting stereotypes.

Students are controlled in schools. Don’t touch this. Don’t talk out of turn. Don’t..bla,bla, bla… At our school students can eat and drink in class, and move freely without a pass. Students are the ones who created the norms for how everyone should be treated in class. Respect.

Students are not some kind of widget that can all be taught the exact same way like a part is fashioned on an assembly line. Students need to have their individual needs met. Personalization.

My son wants to be a geologist and loves rocks. This year he had no science until 2nd semester because it is not a tested subject. Students should be given freedom in the curriculum to explore their passions. Passions.

I gave a collaborative, open internet test. You know the way real historians work. Peyton said, “ I wrote a lot. This test was fun. I hope we do this again.” Love of learning.

Anna on Facebook said, “People count down the days until the end of school, but I count down the days of summer! Look what this school has done!!!! It makes me dread summer!!!” Acceptance and belonging.

Hey politician and ed reformer, you want to make sure no child gets left behind?
Community, relationships, love, joy, family, collaboration, creativity, choices, problem solving, empathy, caring, communication, fighting stereotypes, respect, personalization, passions, love of learning, acceptance and belonging.
#standardizethese for every child in every classroom and you will not have to worry about the rest of their education.