Last week, I had the opportunity to join my son’s third grade class on a field trip to a conservation park. It was a wonderful day out side with gorgeous weather. More importantly, it was a great day for me to reflect on the “transferability” of competency-based education.
Competency-based education, or “CBE,” is a systems shift in what and how education is done in our schools. And there are teachers, administrators, and parents across the country working to implement this new model of learning for students. A lot of the concerns with CBE is how it gets implemented in the classrooms, buildings, and districts. This field trip reminded me that CBE happens “any time, any place, any pathway, any pace.” (Keep practicing that rhyme!)
First, I was reminded of the powerful potential of CBE when our naturalist gave our students some general guidelines about what insects to find in a prairie and how to best capture them. Then, the students were let loose to explore the prairie and find their insects. Imagine 60 third graders bounding through prairie grasses as tall as them searching for a large variety of insects. To some, it may seem like chaos, but it’s not. It’s CBE.
Students had the general focus of the lesson (objectives, standards) provided, yet the opportunity to learn on their own. Some used the insect nets, others their hands, and still others had more creative ways of capturing the insects for identification. Further, some caught only grasshoppers, while others searched for as many insects as possible, and some, even, were determined to capture as many yellow jackets as possible. CBE allows for students to expand on the what and how of the curriculum, while still maintaining the necessary requirements for learning.
Later, students were following the naturalist on a trail searching for insects and various plant types. Again, the naturalist gave some general directions, then students were allowed to explore the woods on their own. It was wonderful to see the curiosity of the students, as well as various “soft skills”. Some students were quick to take charge of their exploration, while others followed. Some asked questions of the naturalist, while others just got started on their own. Some stayed close to the group, while others explored the edges of the woods. What was exciting was how everyone learned from the experience.
A bonus of the day was a student who found a variety of insect that the naturalist was unfamiliar with. The students took time sharing information about what they had learned so far to try to determine this new insect. Finally, a parent searched online with their phone to share more information about the insect.
CBE has the power to transform our educational system – to maintain the curiosity of students through graduation, to use the unique interests and talents of the students fully, and to have teachers work collaboratively with students to be learners as well. It is a shift with much work, and much rewards. For students, teachers, and parents on the field trip, the rewards were evident clearly in that prairie.