Now that you’ve outlined the guiding principles and vision of your school, it’s time to fill it out and design a curriculum. This is the most important decision you have and one that you likely have opinions on if you’ve decided to open your own school. This choice will feed into all your other decisions, from marketing to the business plan, so it’s good to dig deep early on.
Choosing an academic calendar creates the shape that your curriculum will lay on top of. It’s not necessariy an obvious choice. Will the school year follow the traditional calendar with a summer break, or will it follow a year-round model? There are advantages to either option, and of course it boils down to choosing what’s best for your school’s families and goals.
Match local public schools
If a lot of your families have children in other schools, it would probably be easier for them to coordinate their family life if your academic calendar matches the local public schools. That way, they can plan family trips, holidays, etc. and it avoids the problem of a different academic calendar being seen as an obstacle to their child attending your school.
Year-round school can be more effective
Students lose up 2-3 months of math and reading skills over the summer, and it takes an average of 6 weeks at the beginning of the next school year to regain it. One way to combat the problem of summer learning loss is to shorten the amount of time students are out of school. Year-round school doesn’t necessarily mean students are in the classroom more often. They’re usually in school for the same 180 days as their traditional peers, but they take shorter breaks more often throughout the year, rather than one long one over the summer.
Our friends at Acton Academy favor a calendar closer to the year-round schedule. Their students attend school for 11 months out of the year in six-week sprints. After each six-week period, the students have a week off of school. An added benefit of this system is that it gives the teachers a week to prep for the next six weeks without concurrently managing a classroom of students. Acton also has a one-month-long break in the summertime for any families who are accustomed to traveling during the summer.
Target skills form the basis of a curriculum
Next up is thinking through the material for each subject. What are the skills you ultimately want your graduates to have in English? Science? Art? Most of those skills will be built over a period of several years. How advanced do you expect students to be in each grade? You can break each skill down into its basic pieces, then build them up in levels until they reach the ultimate skill you want for your graduates. It might be useful to look at your state’s common core to get an idea of general expectations for each grade in each subject.
One of the fundamental principles of Microschool Revolution is that education should be more skill-based than content-based. For example, it is more important to be able to think critically about a scientific question than to know exactly what Rutherford’s experiment gave to the field of science. However, there are some subjects in which the skill is inseparable from the content. Math, grammar, and foreign languages are the best examples. For these subjects, eLearning software can help identify and build those fundamental skills.
In other subjects, the content is less tightly dependent on each other. That allows you to build skills through project-based learning and group learning. Depending on the age range of your school, you can use a “one room schoolhouse” method. For example, combining history time for four years of students lets you have a four-year rotation for the material. That way, each student gets all the material by the end of four years without repeating it.
Another great framework for thinking about curriculum is the idea of multiple types of intelligence. Not all of us are strong in math and science, just as not all of us are strong in the arts. Whatever our strengths are, they can be harnessed to further our education. Check out the coaching toolkit to learn more.
Explore eLearning software
Your choice of eLearning software becomes critically important if the students are relying primarily on it to practice their fundamental skills. Take some time to vet the software you’re planning to use. Try it for easy and advanced lessons. Of course, it’s important to note how well each concept is explained and how well the exercises match what was taught. You’ll also want to get a sense of how well the software “manages” the student. Do you feel motivated to keep learning? How much autonomy do you have to choose what to work on next?
Since eLearning tools tend to specialize in a given area, you’ll probably end up using a handful of them. Here’s some great software we’ve used:
For reading and writing:
For math and science:
For foreign languages:
Decide on the rhythm of a daily schedule
Closely tied to your curriculum is the rhythm of your daily schedule. As you’ve been thinking through the curriculum, some activities probably lend themselves to a daily occurrence, while others could be done once or twice a week. For example, will you have independent core skills mastery time in the morning with group projects in the afternoon? Will you have time set aside for art every Tuesday? How often can you block time for the students to have physical activity? Of course, this will be affected by the logistical questions as well: When is drop-off? Pick-up? Lunch? If you’d like to see how an Acton school sketched out their weekly schedule, look here.
One idea we like a lot is to launch the start of the day with a Socratic discussion. It’s a good way to build community and get everyone’s brains warmed up for the day. Similarly, it’s nice to close the day with an honest personal reflection on how well the day went, looking at highs and lows, and asking each student to make sure they’re learning to their best potential.
Pull it all together
That was a lot of work. You now have the bird’s eye view of the whole year in the academic calendar, the content that will fill it out, and the daily and weekly rhythm to make sure you keep working toward those goals. The final piece is to pull it all together. You can frame it in terms of major projects and overarching goals the students will be working toward. For inspiration, check out an example from an Acton school. Of course, nothing will ever go perfectly according to plan, but now you have an idea of what your goals are and how you’ll reach them.