“To Maximize Learning” — #EdChat Summary: 01-17-12

Topic: How do we consider time differently to rebuild school schedules and calendars to maximize learning?

Sometimes, when I’m out and about on the roads early in the morning, I see a school bus and think to myself, “Why on earth do we make kids start their school day so early?” It wasn’t too long ago that I was one of them, I can remember how torturous it was to get up before the sun rose and try to get my brain out of hibernation mode.

Many times I’ve wondered what it might do to our education system if we just pushed back the beginning of school by an hour or two. I suspect it would improve focus and, by extension, learning and knowledge retention. I’m sure there have been more than a few studies on the subject, although the fact that we still are doing things the same way suggests that either the correlation between later start times and better student performance just isn’t there or that we just don’t care to change the status quo.

Either way, my thinking on adjusting school schedules never extended beyond pushing the start of the day back a bit. This week’s #edchat, however, went much deeper than that. It was amazing how quickly the community spat out more suggestions in a single hour than I would have been able to come up with in a week. Of course, that’s what I expect when I sign on to #edchat these days.

Ideas ranged from the realistic to the radical; from the small tweak to the complete overhaul. I fear that even some of the simpler suggestions will go completely unheard thanks to the rigid administration that seems so prevalent in public schools these days. But at the same time I have some hope that teachers can make some of these new ideas work on their own – or maybe they can bring them up in a private school setting, where things aren’t set in stone.

Change may come slowly, but it is encouraging that there are so many good teachers (and other school staff members) out there who are working on it every day.

Main themes from the discussion:

  • What do we want to do: extend the school day or restructure the current school day? This is a central question that needs to be answered, and carefully. Do we think that we need students to spend more time in school (kids in other countries often do go to school longer and for more days every year) or do we think we can do better with the time we have? We also need to consider how homework plays into this. Do we want to effectively extend the school day “unofficially” by giving more homework or by flipping the majority of classrooms?
  • Should we extend the school day? It seemed like there were a good number of teachers who favored extending the school day. Most of these folks admitted that they wouldn’t just focus on academics if they had more time, however. They wanted more time for extra-curricular activities, sports programs, and tutoring to help those students who were falling behind. There was some discussion over whether participation in “after hours” activities should be mandatory or optional. I think convincing cases can be made for both sides.
  • If we extend the school day, won’t that cost us more money? No #edchat discussion would be complete without a discussion about how we plan to pay for all these brilliant ideas. It certainly seems logical that if we extend the school day we’ll have to be paying a lot more salaries and hiring quite a few more people. But what about volunteers, such as parents or older students? What about private tutors who wouldn’t get paid by the school system but would be compensated by the parents who decided to enroll their kids in their programs? And what about renting out the school building during off hours to various organizations as a way to defray some of these extra costs?
  • Restructuring the school day is the way to go. There were just as many folks who preferred to rearrange the school day as wanted to extend it. I think that makes sense (and is itself an argument in favor of making an extended school day optional). Tom Whitby had an interesting idea to teach students five subjects per semester and to have each subject meet once a week all day long so that teachers could go really in-depth. David Wees suggested making the school day more “fluid,” allowing teachers to bargain amongst each other for extra time when necessary. And Jerry Blumengarten (better known as the Cybraryman) wondered if we should try to combine subjects a bit more. Each of these suggestions is a way for teachers to have the time to go deeper into their subject matter, and I think each one deserves some consideration. Unfortunately, they’re all a bit on the “radical” side.
  • What about just focusing on not wasting so much time? This, I think, is one of the best and simplest suggestions from this week’s conversation. Every school (and teacher) should, on an annual basis, reexamine their general practices to see where time is being spent inefficiently or completely wasted. For example: do all students need to sit and listen to the announcements for every grade level every morning? Or couldn’t announcements be made via email or other social networking services? The possibilities are probably endless.

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

<> Great questions:

birklearns Is there a need for a longer school day, or is the solution restructuring the day that we have?

cybraryman1 How do you feel incorporating more self-directed http://t.co/HtLsFiGC and blended learning? http://t.co/cgTtePy9

cybraryman1 How do you feel about combining some subject areas?

<> In favor or rearranging the day:

davidwees We need to examine our school schedules and ask ourselves, where does this schedule come from?

bjnichols Time cannot be segmented into blocks. It should be around projects or problems. Life is integrated, not isolated.

mikevigilant Just let each team decide–if nothing’s going on in science and math is blowing up, shift a little time around.

davidwees @drdouggreen Ever been in the middle of a deep learning activity with students and been interrupted by the end of class?

tomwhitby Teaching 5 periods a day for 5 diff classes: How about each class one day a week for 5 periods? Result: more continuous project time.

<> In favor of integrating the school day more:

DoeMiSo As a music teacher, I’m integrating other subjects all the time. Why should it be so hard for others?

MertonTech @rliberni @TestSoup Give the kids social time with their emotional peers, and learning time with their intellectual peers.

stumpteacher @cybraryman1 There are so many natural connections in learning that teaching in isolation no longer makes sense.

<> Challenges to integrating the school day more:

mikevigilant @cybraryman1 Combining subjects would be great IF we weren’t accountable for test results on *our* subject. Would you give up time?

<> In favor of a longer day:

Loldsteach My son’s high school stays open three hours after dismissal to allow students access to the resources. It’s a start.

rliberni Think of all the art, drama, and sport that could be done at school!

cybraryman1 @rliberni I would like to see more choice given to students after academics of areas (arts, sports, etc.) to explore.

mr_isaacs Open the school for more activities. Let students stay because they want to stay.

MertonTech @TestSoup Keeping the building open can be a revenue generator.

<> Challenges to extending the day:

birklearns For students who are not fond of school, more school would be awful. Eating more brussel sprouts doesn’t make me like them…

davidwees @PrincipalPC @tomwhitby ’It will cost too much’ is an excuse to continue to do what we always do; it keeps us ‘safe.’

rliberni Does an extended day need to have teachers? What about parents? They have expertise too. I think we often underestimate the skills that others have (parents and other people attached to school).

<> Great miscellaneous comments:

tsocko @jswiatek I’ve found that time isn’t wasted if teachers are properly prepping and recreating lesson plans, not just extending old ones.

PrincipalPC @drdouggreen @ShiftParadigm We should not worry about gaps — we should worry about maximization of capacity.

TeachPaperless One problem is that we tend to think that if a student isn’t learning in our classroom, they aren’t learning.

Mamacita My own memories of elementary school are mostly of waiting, waiting, and waiting. And being punished for working ahead.

To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.  They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.

Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.


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One Response to “To Maximize Learning” — #EdChat Summary: 01-17-12
  1. Pingback: Recent #Edchat Discussions January and February « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

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