What if we took the traditional school day and shortened the length of the periods? Would there be any real benefit to rethinking how we structure school?
I’ve been thinking a lot about school schedules and how to structure schools recently. I think it has been on my mind because our 2017/2018 school calendar just got approved and there is a lot of talk about it. If interested you can read about it here, but the quick version is that school is required by law to start after Labor day and end by June 15th in Maryland. This leaves schools with the challenge of getting their days in while getting rid of some days that were traditionally designated as off.
But calendar discussion doesn’t really address school structure, does it? What I mean when I say school structure is how do students have their day organized? Do they have choice? Does it change? Does it best fit their needs?
The answer to almost all of those questions is a resounding “no.” But why? Why is school set up so that students go from period to period for 45 minutes at a clip? Why are their seven periods in the day? Why don’t those period happen at different times throughout the week?
I don’t know the answer to those questions but I would like to see some experimentation in how school go about their scheduling. I was talking with one of our school’s administrators the other day and I mentioned that I wish the periods were 30 minutes long. My argument, that she agreed with, was that students learn better when getting smaller chunks of information quickly. And, to add, that teachers should be able to get the content out in 30 minutes because a shorter class forces you to focus on the important points. The details can be filled in later, but the main points should be able to be covered, practiced, and reviewed within 30 minutes.
I’m a tech ed teacher and a 30-minute class would be difficult for me to get everything accomplished in. I lose 5 minutes getting students logged in to computer and/or getting tools out. I lose the last 5 minutes doing the same but in reverse. So a 30-minute class would take my real instruction time down to 20 minutes. That doesn’t really work when students need to focus on a project. I would imagine that science classes and other lab-based classes would have similar problems.
Then it struck me, those classes could be double periods. A double period would give the students more time to focus on a lab-based activity. Maybe I’m getting into the weeds a bit here. Let’s reset.
How it shakes out
I will use my school as an example. The students start classes at 8:30 AM and they head home at 3:15 PM. That makes the total amount of time that students are in school 6 hours and 45 minutes. That time is currently broken down into roughly 7, 45 minute long classes, a 30-minute lunch, and time between bells to go from one classroom to the next.
Now let’s see what happens if we make classes 30 minutes instead of 45ish minutes. For my quick calculations, I’m going to approximate a class as 34 minutes to account for time between classes. 34/60 gives me 0.566 hours per class. If I then take the 6.75 hours students are in school and divide it by 0.566 I get 11.91 or basically 12 class periods. Now instead of 7 periods and a lunch, students have 12 periods. If we lose one to lunch that still leaves 11 30-minute class periods a day. Four additional class periods a day. Four!
What does that do
If there was room in a schedule for students to take an extra four classes imagine what we could do with that time. Students could have more elective choice, more time to focus on areas of interest, or more time to get support in areas of need. We could really tailor a student’s schedule to their needs.
Students would also be able to have better focus in class since they are sitting for a lower period of time and the information is coming at them in more bite-sized chunks of information. Students would also be able to take classes when they better suit them. For example, I loved having math in the morning as it was when I was the most focused, but I didn’t always get math in the morning. When extra periods in the day, it is more likely that students will be able to schedule classes with times that best fit their needs.
Teachers would be able to focus on the most important parts of topic and better engage students with the content. Teachers would also be able to better plan as there would be less variability in things that could go “wrong” during a lesson. They would also be able to address areas of concern quicker because they could more easily identify the key concepts that students might be missing. You may also be able to decrease classes sizes depending on how the schedule is implemented.
I’m not saying this is a cure-all, but it might be worth exploring to see if it has any measurable impact on the students and staff. School and school schedules have been unchanged for so long it might be worth it to take a risk and see if there are any benefits that come from a change.
One of my favorite parts about Camtasia is its flexibility and ability to create exactly what I need. As a teacher, I like to make a lot of instructional tools for my students. I often create videos and capture my screen to teach various concepts.
Ever since GIFs have been enabled in Google Docs, I find myself creating a lot of animated GIFs to show students how to do things. This allows them to focus on the message instead of having to watch and listen to me. It also gives bite-sized info since only so much can be shown in a GIF. I find that documenting a process through a series of GIFs embedded in a Google Doc is more effective than capturing a whole video that walks them through the same process.
In the video above I review the process of making an animated GIF inside of Camtasia. There are several different settings which control the file size, screen size, and quality of the GIF; all of which are important to understand to get the best product possible.
This time last week I was trying to sleep, but not doing so successfully; the wind was howling, my brain was turned on, and I was excited for what the next day held. Eventually, I went to sleep and awoke the next morning at 4:30 AM and began my long day. I drove up to Hershey, PA to attend the PETE&C conference. I’ve attended the conference for all seven years of my teaching career and it’s one of the most valuable professional experiences I have each year.
The conference is centered around educational technology. I love hearing about different ways of doing things, learning about new tools, and connecting with people who share a common passion. Since I’ve been teaching in Maryland, I feel a little like a fish out of water when attending the conference. Luckily I get to connect with old coworkers and meet new people to keep me going.
I’ve reflected in video form last year and this (videos below), but I wanted to capture a few things in written form.
Here are a few resources that presenters at the conference shared with us:
- 10 Ways Google Forms can Transform Your Classroom
- Computational Thinking K-8 Unplugged
- Hacking Project Based Learning
- Product Design Made Easy
- Film School for Flippers by Aaron Sams
- TouchCast for Video Creation
- Drones in the classroom
After listening and interacting with people at the conference I have a few things that I would like to accomplish. My main goal for the remainder of this year is to really work on flipping my classroom. I want to empower students to work at their own pace and to explore things on their own.
I used to teach at an online school where flipping was kind of what we did, but I want to take it to another level. In Aaron Sams workshop he talked about the different versions of flipping and how the quality of what you produce really matters now. I want to make high-quality content for my students but I also want to share that content out. I’ve really been evaluating how I share my teaching out and how I show off my classroom. I’m ready to really explore what it means to open a classroom up and be a content creator instead of a consumer.