Putting Together a Course

I’ve been building classes and syllabi for over 20 years. Which is kind of freaky. I still feel new to it somehow. I think because I challenge myself to do it better every year. Putting classes together is hard work. I was explaining this to a non teacher the other day. One thing I said was that often it takes 2 hours to plan an hour long class. Which is sometimes true though thankfully not always. I thought I’d share my process and get others to share. I’m curious about the many different ways of thinking through building a course.

I begin, usually, by thinking about the end. Where to I want students to get? I often think about a capstone project an what they should be able to accomplish by the end of the course. Then I think about how to get there. I think about themes or topics and what order to go in.

Here’s an example. I’m still thinking through my 8th grade elective. It’s a CS/maker course and I want my students to be able to create a complex project that involves something physical like a robot or lights or any object and something digital like a program that drives the physical or that he physical drives the digital. So I’m thinking of themes like this: digital design, physical design, from digital to physical (programming an object), from physical to digital (using sensor data). There are sub themes in there like interface design and working with data.

From the themes, I start to develop discrete assignments and projects. In the 8th grade class, I begin with web design, then do game design. Well do two games, one in scratch and one in JavaScript. They’ll learn HTML and CSS and about how web servers work. I’m thinking 4-6 weeks for the first theme, though I haven’t mapped it out yet.

And that’s what I do next. I start deciding what exactly we’ll do each day. Will we need to read something before class? What activities will we do? How much explanation will I need to give and what supporting materials will I need to have on hand? I try to map as much of this out ahead of time as I can, but sometimes I’m planning these single class periods the day before. And sometimes things change. Projects take longer or shorter than I thought. A snow day hits. The students really want to learn X. And so I adapt.

Adapting is key. Though I always have a plan, I always try to gage where my students are and where they want to go and adjust accordingly. I want them to have a sense of where I think we might go but I try to make it clear that it’s their journey and they have some say over how we get there.

How do you plan? And how flexible are you?