Last night I spent the night at my ‘new place’ for the next month — a spare bed at a Boy Scout camp in northeast Connecticut. Due to other stuff going on, I won’t be there tonight or tomorrow night, but I like working there.
Part of the reason I like working there is that the Scouts use “standards-based grading.” For every Merit Badge I teach, there’s a list of ten to fifteen requirements, and they’re pass-fail: either you’ve done them, or you haven’t.
In some ways this is not an ideal process for schools — I can’t imagine trying to mark off a 10-page paper the same way I evaluate forty or forty-five “Indian” arrows or dreamcatchers at camp, by checking off a box in a spreadsheet. But I find myself wondering if I CAN create a series of merit badges related to certain kinds of academic processes, like the 5-paragraph essay, the 2-3 page essay, and the research paper. It’s kind of like the recipe cards I did a while ago… this could be like that.
Ironically, the Boy Scouts I meet are incredibly intelligent — usually well-read, capable, skilled writers and readers and thinkers. But they regularly tell me, “I didn’t learn anything in school this year. I learn everything from going to camp.” I think a large part of it is how physical the work of teaching at camp is: I’m never in the classroom. Instead I’m in the forest, talking about Environmental Science by talking about specific plants and fungi on the forest floor. Or I’m talking about Soil and Water Conservation while standing in a an eroded gulley. Or I’m getting the kids to think about the past and Archaeology while standing in the ruins of an “Good Feelings”-era mill. Mobile computing may in fact make this kind of program possible in schools, but I see what my commenter in the last post is getting at. Marrying these two kinds of program may make school more relevant, and bringing more school-like things into my Scouting program may be more useful to the kids who say they don’t learn in school. Hmmm.