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What Parents Should Know About Badges at Wonder

By Zach Lahn on January 19, 2022

The most powerful takeaways we offer at Wonder are self-management, self-governance, character, high-level communication skills, learning how to learn and opportunities to dive deeply into areas of your greatest passions and gifts.

Badges are a way to showcase this work. It is their most important function.

Thankfully, badges also allow us to translate these accomplishments into a traditional transcript so that our children can compete with their peers in “college prep” environments if they so choose.

Here is a parent’s “cheat sheet” to understand better the badge system and philosophy at Wonder:

What is a badge?

A badge represents a long-term effort of learning focused on a particular discipline. Each badge involves a large quantity of work reviewed several times by several people. In traditional academic language, a badge equates to completing a course; however, only when excellence is achieved is the badge awarded.

How does a badge look on a transcript?

Here is a sample transcript from our partner school, Acton Academy.

Completion of a Badge = mastery = A. (High 360 scores would add a “+”.)

We are a competency-based learning environment. Mastery is the goal. Wonders work until they master their learning goals. Then, they progress to the next level. If a badge is not completed, the grade is “Incomplete.”

This is why the last sprint to compile work after completing the badge requirements is so critical to the Wonders. It is the final step and is the proof of their hard work.

And this is where our parenting support comes in most fruitfully.

The place where we can give the most encouragement to our children is in the compilation stage of the badge experience.

For example, when all the required work for a badge is done, the badge is not yet achieved. It must be compiled and submitted. Ask your Wonder about whether or not they’ve scheduled time to compile this work for badge approval; then check in on their progress; ask if they are excited about the work or worried they missed something. Finally, celebrate the hard work of compiling the badge.

Admissions officers may ask to see the work behind each letter grade. This is where Wonders will shine. (Personally, I hope Wonders will have the opportunity to show their full portfolios in an interview. Wonders will knock the socks off savvy recruiters if they get the chance to sit down and talk with them. I’ve sat in on one of these interviews and it was pure bliss. By the end of the interview, they wanted to hire the Wonder for a teaching job rather than merely accept them as a student.)

We have an entire collection of work from each Wonder for every badge achieved. This work is above and beyond what is required from traditional courses in middle schools and high schools across America. I am so impressed with the work the Wonders accomplish!

How do badges translate to traditional subject requirements?

Translating the work of a completed badge into traditional course content is necessary and is part of our curriculum planning. For example, a traditional school’s “English 101” in high school equates at Wonder to 6 genre pieces, 4 deep books and 1 No Red Ink badge. The Wonder curriculum is easily mapped to the core requirements of high school graduates for acceptance to competitive colleges.

Unfortunately, the most important accomplishments at Wonder such as Apprenticeships, Leadership, Project Management and Quest Creation don’t translate easily under traditional academic subjects like Math, Science, History and English.

I will leave you with the best explanation of Wonder's philosophy of learning and its impact on young people as described by one of our Wonder Five learners, who generously shared the following:

“What does it mean to pursue excellence? It’s something we discuss quite often at Wonder, and is defined as ‘the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.’ Excellence is our goal here at Wonder, our standard, and we are meeting it. No, we are not perfect, but we are special. We do great things. That much cannot be denied.

But why? Each person on the Earth is special, but there’s something about Wonder that causes every learner to strive for excellence. And that something is having equal standards for everyone.

In order to move up, every learner at Wonder is expected to earn a certain amount of badges. Each learner must receive a certain 360 score by their peers on kindness and tough-mindedness. Every person must earn a certain average of weekly points. At Wonder, we don’t believe that everyone must do this at the same pace or level. We know that it will take a unique amount of time and growth for each person to be able to hit these standards. But we believe that every child is a genius, and fully capable of doing the work in order to earn more freedom. That’s what Wonder is all about.

Some people believe that instead of requiring every learner to complete the same amount of work with the same level of quality, some Wonders should be allowed to do less work and lower-quality work. This is a mindset that tells these ‘lower Wonders,’ ‘You are incapable. You are lesser. You aren’t required to do this because we believe you can’t do it.’ According to this idea, whether a learner struggles with math, or has a lot going on outside of school, or says they are a ‘bad writer,’ or just doesn’t care, they shouldn’t have to do the work required of others. This is actually quite similar to the public school system, where you can go through middle school and high school turning in poor work or no work at all and still graduate.

But this is not how the real world works. If we want to be prepared for our true Hero’s Journeys, we cannot be accustomed to being pampered. In the real world, if you want to work for Google, you have to be good enough! You have to work incredibly hard to meet the standard! If you want to be a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter how hard the journey is, results are what matter. No one will ask how hard you tried to score a touchdown, they will ask if you scored the touchdown.”

Thank you, Wonders, for teaching us so much.

[Blogs or portion of blogs may be adapted from the blog of our partner school founder and advisor, Laura Sandefer.]