Malvern introduces…. Micro-Courses

As Malvern continued to use the block scheduling, Mrs. Lappas looked for new ways to implement her long standing idea of real world “micro courses.”

Micro Courses have always been something Malvern has tried to implement into the curriculum. About 3 years ago, a J term was put in place, it allowed for teachers to teach their passions and for students to learn something outside of the core curriculum. Many teachers who are still at Malvern taught courses. These courses gave students a new opportunity to learn, this was something that Mrs. Lappas wanted to be brought back to Malvern. 


“Most kids look at their phones during lunch, so what if we ran these really cool courses during lunch, and see if we can get the kids interested in signing up,” Lappas said.


Mr. Sillup and Mrs. Lappas then began to brainstorm the micro-courses ideas. This then allowed them to begin planning the Micro-courses.


“We started planning a full year ago, luckily the logistics are easy because there are no classes going on. So we don’t have to find classrooms and where are we going to put these classes,” Mrs. Lappas said. 


Although the original planning was easy, they began to run into complications later down the line. 


“People’s minds are not in the same work mode in the second and third term. Then making a calendar and realizing that there was only room for seven or eight courses. And we wanted to get the seven or eight best people that we could. So that was probably the hardest thing this year. Next year, We’ll be turning people away, because I now have people calling me from everywhere wanting to do courses, outside businesses wanting to come in and do courses,” Lappas said.


Along with having to turn away many people, there was also the issue of if students would remain focused during all of these courses. This thought was quickly erased after the first few days of courses and the student’s engagement made it an even bigger hit than anticipated.


“I think that there’s a core group of kids in each class that are really excited about our real estate course. Yeah, three young alums in their 30s teaching that course, and we had a really devoted core group, and they ended up meeting with them after class, or they would ask them “can you stay another half hour?” I mean, the kids wanted more so that was really, I felt like a mark of success,” Lappas said.


These future changes allowed Mrs. Lappas to look into the future of these micro-courses which she believes may turn into the future of education. 


“You know, a lot of education is changing and there’s a lot of reason why it is changing is that we used to give you facts. You can find those facts on your own. You don’t need me to teach you what the three branches of the government are, just go to Khan Academy. Schools are not going to go away. So how can we morph into something that’s more beneficial to the students? So having these experiential type classes, we think there’s a lot of research that says that’s the future of education,” Lappas said.


As education continues to change, so do the types of people who love to teach. These Malvern courses have offered some of the most amazing opportunities for not only the students but also former alumni to come onto campus to teach their passions. Two examples of this are Mr. Joe McLeod and Mr. Colin Sweeney.


Mr. McLeod, a 2009 graduate and real estate agent who specializes in first-time homebuyers, was pulled back to Malvern through Mrs. Suber. 


“When Danielle Suber became the Director of DEI (now Inclusion & Belonging), she reached out to me to welcome me back to campus. Patrick Sillup received me on campus and introduced me to Malvern’s innovative approach to education,” McLeod said. 


This opportunity from Mr. Sillup sparked not only the interest of Mr. McLeod but also 2013 graduate, Mr. Sweeney.  


He said “ Mr. Sillup had mentioned that there was a real estate course 2 alums (Leon Stimpson and Joe McLeod) had taught the year before and when he mentioned there was an opportunity to help this year I could not resist.  I have also always wanted to give back to Malvern, and this is one very small way I can do that in the early years of my career,” Sweeney said.


While these opportunities have been great for the students, it also allowed for these alums to teach which is something that they have both wanted to do for a long time.


“I never knew how I would pursue it, and I never thought of it as a career but I always knew that whatever I found myself doing, I would eventually want to teach it to others,” Mr. McLeod said.


His reasoning was very similar to Mr. Sweeney’s,

“I have always thought about different ways to give back to Malvern and in recent years I have thought about coming back to teach at some point in the future (likely after ‘retirement’ or at a point when I do not have to be so involved in my business).  I have always enjoyed coaching and working with the next generation of leaders in the world,” McLeod said.


With three amazing real estate agents at the helm of this course, it was easy to see why this course would be such a hit amongst the students. 


“It was great to see a variety of grade levels in the course and the level of engagement from the students was very high which made the class more enjoyable.  It’s nice when kids are there because they really WANT to learn something.  I was a little surprised when 2 students approached me, Joe, and Leon after the final class to discuss the ins/outs of setting up some kind of “real estate scholarship fund” for Malvern.’ said Mr. Sweeney.


This course was an amazing success and opportunity for students. It also brought along ideas for the teachers on how they can make it even better next year.


“I would shoot for one more full class (4 total) or, better yet, I would open the class to everyone who signed up and make it a year-long class as there is just so much information/knowledge to uncover in real estate (and other micro course topics),” said Mr. Sweeney. 


The real estate class was a great success with all the positive energy surrounding the course but it wasn’t the only course taught during the second semester.


Another hit course was the one taught by Prof. Lohse, American Sign Language.


“I am teaching American Sign Language, “ASL” for short. It’s a unique course in that I myself just started studying this past summer,” Lohse said.


Prof. Lohse, who is learning sign language while teaching the class, found a love for American Sign Language because of the pandemic. 


“I think that during the pandemic, it kind of came to a lot of our attention the importance of sign language, because of all of the different news stories. There would always be someone signing to the right of the screen, and I think that kind of got on my radar is something interesting,” Lohse said.


Although she is still learning the language she wanted to find a way to teach students at Malvern her newfound passion. 


“I had kind of offered it as potentially a club or a micro course. Then when they initially talked to me about it. They said, “this might fit well into our format for a micro-course,” Lohse said.

One of her favorite things about this course has been student engagement.


“I’ve enjoyed the fact that the students who have signed up like they want to learn to know that it’s not for a grade. I do give a little bit of homework each week and they’ve been doing it, but they know it’s not for a grade, they know they’re getting credit for taking my course. It’s a very aspirational course. People are in there who just really are curious and want to learn the language,” Lohse said.


This course has been amazing for both Prof Lohse and the students as they are learning the language together. 


In general, these courses have been a hit. They have brought together students, alums, and teachers who all have areas of passion near and dear to their hearts. This has brought the community closer and will continue to make Malvern the special place it is. Although the second term is coming to an end there are still many chances for students to get involved with these courses. The third term will offer a variety of courses similar to the ones in the first term and Mrs. Lappas hopes that many new students will bring the same enthusiasm for learning.