Scouting merit badges, micro-credentials, PBL, and historical thinking. It’s gonna be a thing.
James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Teaching What Really Happened, had a huge influence on how I began to see my job as a teacher.
My college history professors were incredibly knowledgable but were also incredibly traditional. As in, required purchases from the book store included sets of Xeroxed class notes in outline format – all followed religiously during daily lectures. So I started my career as a middle school teacher without a ton of experience in what research-based learning looked like. And forced my kids to go through some of the same things I went through simply because I didn’t know any better.
With the help of some incredible mentors, I began to see the possibilities of things like inquiry-based learning, primary sources, hands on experiences and the use of tools like games and simulations. And Loewen was a part of that transformation. His books opened my eyes to a different kind of history and a different way to tell stories.
I also began to realize – shocker – that sometimes the traditional methods and strategies aren’t always the best way to do things. And that we need to be willing to try something new, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
So . . . today? Something new. And it might seem a little strange.
But it comes at the perfect time. The year is wrapping up, your kids are leaving for the summer, and you’re gonna take a bit of a break. Then it’s back to prepping for next fall – books to read, lessons to preview, strategies to explore – looking for tools that can help your kids. Adding this to your summer research to-do list will change how your classroom looks next August.
Badges. Yup . . . badges. As in Boy Scout merit badges. As in Girl Scout badges.
Take a minute to wrap your head around this idea. We want kids who are able to think creatively using historical thinking skills. We want kids who can solve problems. We want process to be balanced with content. We want to kids to work with other students and adult experts. We want kids to have choice. So we design our instruction to include lots of inquiry and problem-based learning activities. We design lessons and units to provide feedback and support in the form of both formative and summative assessments. But schools and teachers aren’t quite sure where to start sometimes with this sort of teaching and learning.
Guess what? Scouting programs across the country have been doing this all along. (And here in the Midwest, the 4H program has too.) Badges require research, revision, collaboration, connecting with adult experts, writing, thinking across content areas, connections to contemporary events, final products. Most include lots of student choice and activities in the community. Sound familiar? These are all things that we want our classrooms to look like.
The Boy Scout merit badge page has one particular statement that I like that aligns specifically with current ideas of doing social studies differently:
If it says “show or demonstrate,” that is what you must do. Just telling about it isn’t enough.
And how about these Girl Scout badge requirements?
So we began looking at Scouting programs – specifically their merit badge programs – as a jumping off place for designing an inquiry-based social studies classroom. And here’s the cool thing, the merit badge idea fits in perfectly with recent research about micro-credentials and badges in education. So you’ve got established and successful resources with Scouting merit badges and research that says micro-credentialing works to engage and motivate learners.
Start by looking at the work that scouting programs have already done and combine that with the newer idea of micro-credentialing badges. Perfect combo.
Micro-credentialing is basically awarding recognition for content learned and skills perfected. Think grades. But rather than a quarter or semester grade for 18 weeks of work, kids earn badges for mastering smaller skills along the way. Analyzing photographs or creating an evidence-based argument might be a micro-skill worthy of a badge. And micro-credentials are perfect for “stacking” – asking kids to acquire a certain number of badges (from a specific pool of badges) to move forward.
Are badges, specifically Scouting and 4H badges, a silver bullet? No. But they can give you one more tool in your tool belt and a great place to get some sweet ideas as you redesign your instruction.
So later this summer, once you get your head back above water, take a look at the resources listed below. And begin to envision what that might look like in your classroom.
Badges / Micro-credentialing examples:
- Micro-Credentials for Micro-Students—Kindergarteners Swap Grades for Badges
- The Teacher’s Guide To Badges In Education
- 21st-Century Student Assessment: Digital Badges
- Chart students’ growth with digital badges
Scouting / 4H Badge lists and requirements:
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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.