Reimagining the Survey

We have three survey courses that make up the core of the history curriculum, followed by semester electives that students can take in their senior year. I have been dissatisfied with the mile wide and inch deep model a survey generally falls into. The most obvious remedy has been to shift to a more thematic approach, and assume that there will be content gaps.

The more I think about it, the less I think the survey needs to be saved in its current form. There may be a group of students for whom it is the most appealing option, and I would be willing to keep a version of it for those students interested. There are other options, though.

One option is to create more narrowly focused elective courses for underclassmen, like the ones seniors can choose. I like the idea of moving in this direction, allowing students to learn more deeply about the areas that interest them. Skills would be shared among sections, rather than content.

Another idea is a little more radical. I would preserve the shell of the survey – Modern World History or US History – but allow students to direct their own learning within that broad range. They would determine what aspects of history they want to learn about and then do it. They would need to share what they learn with the class. They could do some smaller research projects and some larger, combined with maybe even a group learning project. The students would drive the curriculum. My inspiration came from the Independent Project featured in this video.

Why do students have to wait so long to learn what they want? That may be why so many adults are interested in history and so many students are not. In the spirit of moving away from a one-size-fits-all model, I would also want to keep more traditional shared curriculum courses, like thematic surveys and electives – at least until students stopped signing up for them.