What I Learned from My Pilot Course

Over the last three weeks, we ran a new schedule Monday through Saturday, piloting the schedule we intend to use in 2015-2016.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new schedule is our use of Saturdays as a time for a standalone course, run in a 2 1/2 hour meeting period.  The goal is to create a learning experience where students are active.  In our pilot, I ran a course called Mythbusters, which gave students an opportunity to pursue and research a question of their own interest.

While I gave the students a chance to reflect, here is what I learned from the pilot:

  1. Two-and-Half Hours Goes Quickly.  After fretting initially about the length of each course meeting, I found just how fast 2 1/2 hours can move when students are busy and engaged.  I was moving all over campus to check in on and assist groups, who found the resources they needed in a variety of spaces.  Each time I came upon a group, they were working hard and working together to move their work forward.  My favorite moment was when one student said, “That was 2 1/2 hours?  That felt faster than a long block!”.
  2. Groups Will Work at Different Paces.  In the final meeting, the groups were all at different places.  Only one group of five found themselves waiting through the work period.  For this group, I had planned ahead and was able to show them video clips from the actual Mythbusters TV show.  In doing so, we had a small discussion about how they set up their experiments and how they went about “proving” their myths.  The different paces at which the groups work showed me that in the full course, it would be important to plan ahead so that each group was able to make the best use of their time.
  3. Give Groups a Budget.  The students raised this as an issue in the debrief and I agree that a small budget would be helpful and appropriate.  Money, as well as time, is a good bounding principle for the types of myths they will choose to explore.  I will certainly implement this for the full course.
  4. Work with Students on Presentation Skills.  Three of the groups created PowerPoint presentations.  While informative, these were not dynamic and seemed to cast our student-centered class back into a teacher-centered space.  It would be great to incorporate presentation work into the full course.

Overall, it was a great pilot and I learned a lot.  I am excited to see this course as part of our full roll out in 2015-16.

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