Structures and Habits

My courses this year are AP Calculus AB, Robotics and Engineering Technology, and App Development. Given a lot of the work I knew in advance I would be doing this year, I made the explicit decision not to change the Calculus course much from what I did last year.

That leaves Robotics and Engineering Technology and App Development. I wanted both of these courses to be:

  • individualized – students would not all necessarily be working on exactly the same task as others, nor at the same¬†level as others.
  • paced by task and student learning goals, not a unit calendar
  • centered on the process of making and creating¬†
  • limited in the amount of direct instruction required
  • assessed through documentation and communication of process, not skill level

There is one other critical design requirement that I want to mention.

Almost every course I have taught over my fifteen years has typically followed a gradual release of control model. Students typically start the year by following my directions closely under a lot of structure in the beginning. Then as they understand my expectations and follow my rules, I give a bit more independence to students over time. By the end of the year, we would be a close knit community that knew how to learn together.

I wanted this to be the reverse.

On the first day of each class, I gave students some ideas for what I hoped each of us could celebrate by the end of the semester. I was honest in saying that I didn’t know exactly how we were going to get there.

I did say that each project would be an opportunity for students to set some goals, figure out what was interesting to them in the course of completing the project, and make course corrections as they made progress. Short design cycles would be important to doing this. There was never going to be enough time or enough resources to do everything. Playing and brainstorming, research, testing, and evaluation would all lead to some difficult decisions to be made along the way. That, after all, is the engineering process.

I decided that it was important to put this structure in place at the start, or I might just slip back into old habits. I admit after a few months of doing this that I’ve wavered at times, wondering if I’ve done the right thing. I’ve always come back to the fact that this feels like it is just what students need.

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