Transitioning curriculum for organic education
Some people might worry about the lack of a set curriculum in an organic education environment.
I believe that organic education does not require an absence of curriculum, but rather that curriculum guidelines should be more general and flexible than under the mechanistic system. I do believe that having some structure at the primary and secondary level, rather than simply relying on learners autonomously dipping into and out of continuous learning flows, is important because structure exposes students to the need to persevere and it can thereby deepen learning. On their own children might become quickly bored and move on to something new – I think a balance of structure and freedom would be beneficial.
I know that the Finnish education system offers general curriculum guidelines that can be loosely interpreted by teachers. Perhaps we need to explore the sorts of curriculum guidelines that would be enabling of organic evolution in education. This does require that we trust teachers to do a good job, which once again comes back to the need for appropriate teachers.
I also believe it would be worth systematising good ideas through an education website, the way that Pinterest has done for crafters of all types, for example. I would love to see more open source ideas for topics, learning journeys, and all learning areas.
I have begun to list my first thoughts on my own IDEAS FOR ORGANIC CURRICULUM MATERIALS AND PROCESSES. Organic education would certainly support the continuing emergence of new ideas for learning processes and content and I think the Internet provides a wonderful tool for systematising these ideas and making them accessible to all.
We need to keep asking ourselves how we can take this thinking further?
MY IDEAS FOR ORGANIC CURRICULUM
As part of my journey to creating an organic school, I have been giving some thought to organic curriculum materials and processes. I think there is a definite space for a Pinterest-style website for organic education where educators can share their ideas (business plan, anybody??). I love the concept of open-source information, but as the daughter of a brilliant teacher who was very poorly paid, I am also very in favour of educators receiving some sort of financial reward for their amazing efforts, so perhaps some of the content can be paid for. The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it has global reach, so the model could be to charge a very small fee to a huge number of people and thus it could be a win-win for everybody.
As a very first step I have briefly listed some of the thoughts that came to me regarding ideas for curriculum materials and processes. I have not specified which grades these would be suitable for – this is really just to prick people’s own thoughts and ideas.
OPTIONS FOR CONTENT
There are many existing options for curricula which could be used organically – the Internet offers a plethora of choices and these are being added to continuously. It is not hard to find content, but the key is to find good content and I think once more people commit to organic education there will be a mushrooming of websites offering organic content and learning processes. It will require discernment to find quality content.
In the course of my research for this book I encountered a few content websites which seem to be offering options for content that can be applied organically. This is by no means a definitive list, nor have I conducted any quality control – it is just a list to get you started on your own search:
Khan academy (www.khanacademy.com)
Shmoop.com – students, schools and homeschooling parents are on a perpetual hunt for high quality, vetted, free (or cheap) education materials. The company and its authors own the content – funded through advertising and small licensing fees (content produced by PhDs, K12 teachers, other subject-area experts). Learning doesn’t have to be linear, you can bounce around. Things that kids are interested in TODAY, eg. the poetry of Eminem and Bruce Springsteen. This content is not just for students in school, but for anyone who is interested in learning.
www.teacherstryscience.org – lesson plans, strategies and tutorials designed to spark students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), together with collaboration tools for teachers to discuss and share effective instructional practices.
www.edutopia.org – how to do project-based learning. Schools that work share free resources and ideas for project-based learning professional development.
www.thoughtfullearning.com/store - selling Social and Emotional Learning textbooks.
Peer 2 Peer University (www.info.p2pu.org) – Networked learning, part of Education for All (EFA) - a grassroots open education project that organises learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. It creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education – leveraging the Internet and educational materials openly available online. High quality, low cost education opportunities. Learning for the people, by the people. About almost anything. OPENNESS, COMMUNITY and PEER LEARNING.
Udacity – online school delivering university-level education for low cost to anyone with an internet connection – for free (professor Sebastian Thrun from Stanford)
The Floating university – famous professors from Harvard, Yale, etc give lectures that can be seen on laptops anywhere, anytime.
SOME IDEAS FOR LEARNING JOURNEYS
I have jotted down a few of my own thoughts on the types of learning journeys that I would find interesting:
Study the ideas and accomplishments of known geniuses (e.g. Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci) to see what they can teach us about genius.
Study the lives of spiritual masters (Jesus, Buddha, etc) to determine whether there are a set of principles that defined their actions
What are ‘supernormal abilities’ and is it scientifically possible that these really exist? If so, what stops ordinary people from having these abilities?
Is there life on other planets?
Study how nature creates and stores energy and determine whether humans could learn from nature to create and store energy more efficiently than we do currently.
Study patterns in nature and determine why nature never takes the straightest route?
Why do so many small businesses fail?
Why do so many small farms fail to be profitable? Why is the only way to make money in agriculture to grow things in a way that is totally un-natural?
What are emotions and why do humans have them? What are they useful for?
Why are the most highly gifted people not always successful in their lives? What characteristics are most likely to guarantee success?
SOME IDEAS FOR PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES
These are also just my first rough thoughts. The possibilities are really endless!
My family has been watching a programme on Animal Planet called Treehouse Masters. This has inspired us to want to build our own treehouse – imagine the variety of skills and knowledge required in order to build a treehouse: geometry, carpentry, climbing, etcetera.
We also like a programme called Tanked on Animal Planet, which is about building fish tanks. There is a variety of skills and knowledge required to create and maintain a fish tank too.
On my learning journey towards defining and blueprinting an organic education system I found a whole lot of ‘new thinking’ that is being done in all sorts of fields of human endeavour, which inform where our world and particularly human society is headed. I believe that this sort of thinking guides the direction of where next for children to explore (beyond the known).
Although an organic education system is all about learning evolving naturally and not about enforced content – learning does not happen in a content vacuum. Many people talk about the need for teachers to spark children’s curiosity with ‘curiosity catalysts’. I believe that there is enormous potential for good teachers and learning processes to inspire children to explore some of these new frontiers in human thinking and to take learning beyond the known and into all sorts of new potentials.
Some of these new ideas that interest me particularly include, as I have already mentioned, biomimicry and fractal geometry. I am also interested in the concept of swarm intelligence or collective intelligence. I am fascinated by the concept of the quantum field and the everyday implications of quantum physics. I am fascinated by the concept of radical responsibility. I am fascinated by enhanced human potentials like levitation, telekinesis, telepathy, materialisation, instant healing and time travel. These may indicate my intellectual bias, but there are just as many new ideas in every field of human interest from sport, to nutrition, to health and healing, to art, to music, to dance, to film and photography, to philosophy, to mathematics and science, to economics, to social organisation, to pretty much everything else. I would love to encourage children to contemplate potentials that have not yet been realised by humanity.