How Amazing Would Pop-Up Courses Be During the Year?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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pop-up courses
Could we apply the pop-up restaurant model to schools?

I was asked to work with a middle school leadership team to re-imagine what is possible in their two schools.

After arriving, we begin to talk and tread the same predictable ground for a long while. Ideas such as interdisciplinary courses, STEAM, Robotics, Maker Space, and Coding were bandied about. All of these ideas are interesting and potentially impactful, but not fresh thinking. I quietly shared this with the team and there was a long pause.

One administrator remarked, “What if students had real elective choice. Not the exploratory choices we currently have in the course of studies, but something that is interesting and relevant to them.”

Another administrator added, “And what if these choices don’t have to fit into a marking period cycle. What if they could be a few weeks? A couple of hours?”

And then it hit me. “Like a pop-up course?”

Pondering Pop-Ups at School

The notion of “pop-ups” has shown up in the merchant world and the food industry. Designers, artists, and chefs invest their time and energy into a temporary space to create something that is recognizable to the brand, but that tests out new ideas. Once they are finished, they close up shop.

What if we could pull that off in a school?

The leaders and I explored possibilities. Students could teach a course. Teachers could teach a course that reveals more of their passions and interests that may or may not line up with the courses they teach. Community members could offer a course — the mayor, a local business person, curator of a museum. It could be site-based or school-based.

We grew clear on a two essentials:

  1. The course should be contagious
  2. Students must create something as a result of the experience

Time ran out on us, but we were committed to exploring the idea further over the next few weeks. My part was reaching out to see if this has been attempted before.

After surfing the web for similar ideas, I found just one blogger that was on to the same idea.

One Blogger Envisions Pop-Up Courses

In 2012, Bo Adams pondered: “So … what if we had Pop-Up Classes at school? What if we created time and space to invite students and teachers to offer quick-pitch courses that could be opened and operated for low cost, for a limited amount of time? A sort of mash-up between school as we know it and flash-mob learning.

“‘Owners’ and ‘chefs’ could share their passions and their ‘offerings,’ and others could partake in the mental nourishment. It could be a great way to try out ideas and methods, just like the Pop-Up Restaurants provide R&D experimentation for foodies.”

Secondary Education

The remainder of what I found were relatively predictable in secondary education:

  • Online classes where students can select a topic of interest
  • Independent study courses guided by a mentor

Post-Secondary Education

Post-secondary, I found more flexibility in what was possible:

  • In November 2015, a Fellow at the University of New Haven hosted 3-Day Startup, a 72-hour learning-by-doing campus workshop. This program is used by colleges across the globe to teach entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme, hands-on and experiential environment.
  • William Jewell College, Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City collaborated to host #OneDayKC in April 2015. This event gave six teams of undergraduate and graduate students 12 hours to create and pitch a lean startup company that leverages Kansas City’s infrastructure and the Internet of Things to solve community challenges.
  • A Fellow and several students from Virginia Commonwealth University created Indie Lab, a co-working community laboratory designed to provide access to equipment in a creative space in order to accomplish scientific projects. The space provides a membership program to supply aspiring scientists, artists and entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to perform safe and reliable experiments outside of higher education labs.
  • This fall, Fellows at Kent State University created and launched The Fridge, an open co-working space in the library for students from all majors to work on collaborative projects. Fellows hosted a University Innovation Fellows Regional Meetup in the space in mid-November, where participants used the design thinking methodology to explore ideas around advising and mentorship.
  • At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Fellows enhance the entrepreneurial playing field for the region’s student entrepreneurs and innovators through Saluki Ventures. This incubator runs the Saluki Innovation Series, which offers a pitch competition, hack-a-thon, marketing workshop and other events.

Summer Courses

There was also more flexibility during the summer. For example, here is a pop-up course that targets middle school students.

Become a paper engineer! Make unique collapsible art; make folding models of furniture, architecture and animals; or create unique and dynamic pop-up storybooks and cards.

Learn and apply math and physics concepts to engineer mechanisms that become 3-D as pages turn or a card is opened. This class offers a unique opportunity to explore the amazing potential of a sheet of paper or cardboard. Transforming this simple material into dynamic 3-D forms provides a chance to practice spatial visual reasoning, envision objects three-dimensionally and reinforce your understanding of mechanical movement.

Whether you are learning the basics or expanding on knowledge and skills you already have, this class provides plenty of room for creativity. The size and scope of your project is completely driven by your interests and desire to tinker and invent.

Our Criteria for Making Pop-Up Courses Happen

Creating something during the school year would have to meet the following criteria:

  1. Appropriate for middle school students
  2. Open to teachers (regardless of age) with an expertise
  3. Flexible based on time, location, and interest (this is what I haven’t found yet)

Are there any examples out there? We are committed to making this happen and will happily share the progress!

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