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Self-Paced Learning and Badges

Authors: Adhishri, Anya, & Yatharth

Pictures by: Sai Sidharth

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” - Socrates

Imagine a school where there are no grades, no teachers, and where kids learn on their own. Well, that is exactly what goes on in our school, The Humanist Academy. Our school model is different from how traditional public schools function. Instead of having a class quietly listening to the teacher explaining a concept, there is an ecstatic buzz in our studio where students of all ages work together and carry out hands-on projects. At our school, Not only do we focus on core subjects such as math and reading, but we also explore skills and topics in the outside world. The foundation of our learning is based on three aspects: learning to do (goal setting, taking leadership, cleaning up, etc.), learning to know (exploring core subjects like math, reading, writing, spelling, and history), and learning to be (improving our character).

A vital part of this school’s learning design is having no teachers. You are probably scratching your head, wondering how students could learn without teachers. But, it is possible. At The Humanist Academy, we have guides who encourage and support us on our journey. Unlike teachers, our guides do not answer questions. This allows us to be independent and use the sources around us to solve problems.

At our school, the learning design is what we call The Flipped Classroom model. The adults do not control us. Instead, we govern ourselves. We have the freedom to advance at our own pace and choose what to explore. We hold each other accountable, work as a team, and take responsibility for our own learning. We are our own teachers, and we learn through our peers and the resources around us.

Another aspect of the learning transpiring at THA is project-based learning. These projects we indulge in are called quests. A quest is where we explore topics that prepare and expose us to the real world. From becoming the Wright Brothers and creating our own RC airplanes and role-playing as quartermasters who sent their agents on the field while figuring out classical and mechanical physics to launching our own businesses and learning how to survive in the wild, these six week-long journeys are action-packed. We are guided through six week sessions saturated with hands-on-experiences.

Our school has a unique curriculum. We have a distinctive system called badges. The badge process is where we earn badges to show our mastery and excellence in a particular area. This idea is related to the Boy Scout Badges. We have to fulfill a requirement, after which we will earn the badge. Badges are a way to measure the progress students have made and are a way to exhibit a warrior’s mastery and excellence. Simply put, earning a badge is equivalent to completing a course in a traditional school.

There are a total of 73 badges needed to finish middle school. At the beginning of each year, we make a badge plan. This is a document with the badges we want to complete and when we hope to do so. Here is one warrior’s badge plan:

Many badges in middle school focus on what we have dubbed Core Skills. These badges pertain to basic academic subjects: math, reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. For each subject, we have several badges in which we use different platforms to learn. For example, we have three badges for three levels of Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a platform we use to learn math.

The writing and history component in our school is different. In Civilization, we explore a new topic every six weeks regarding major events, processes, and people throughout history. We explore the why behind these events and try to apply it to our own lives.

Recreating the Constitutional Convention of May 25. 1787

(George Washinton is wearing the tricorn hat)

For writing, we have six badges every year. We call these genre badges. Every session we dive into a different style of writing and follow the extensive writing process to improve our work.

Other types of badges are project-based learning ones such as quests and apprenticeships. Apprenticeships (internships) are a way for us to explore a job or field we may consider in the future. The point is to learn more about ourselves and the outside world while observing a professional in action. Additionally, to build our character and develop good habits, we have badges called Servant Leader Badges.

Overall, our badge system exposes us to different types of learning and provides opportunities to explore the outside world. This will help us grow in the real world and give us real life experiences for our own future. Namaste.

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