Schools are turning to hybrid or virtual learning during the pandemic. As a result of the new school year and continued online learning, the typical school day looks different as well.
“High school schedules vary, with each having cost and benefits to them,” principal Matt Irvin said over email.
The district’s plan to change the high school from the previous drop schedule to a 4×4 block schedule was first made July 29. The plan outlined four classes a day, 85 minutes each. It also consolidated year-long classes into one semester and semester-long classes into a single term.
“Webster has used the drop for decades, and we began by asking the fundamental question of ‘does the current schedule serve our teachers and students needs?’” Irvin said over email.
The previous drop schedule allowed students to enroll in seven classes a year, but only take six on an average day. The class that got “dropped” would rotate, so that all classes got roughly the same amount of total class time throughout the year. Each class was roughly an hour long.
“We saw last semester that having six or seven classes virtually was overwhelming for students and staff, so in that respect, block classes [are] advantageous in relieving some of that stress,” German teacher Brent Mackey said over email.
Irvin listed some benefits that the new block schedule provides. He explained the block schedule allows for less stress, more flexibility in terms of switching from online to hybrid or even face-to-face school, and more time for concentration on material due to longer class periods.
“[The block schedule allows for] greater ability to maintain stable groups and potential contact tracing when in-person,” Irvin said over email.
These changes affect different departments in a variety of ways.
“From my perspective, the longer class periods allow for more language input. We have more time in a day for discussions, more time to read, etc. We learn languages by hearing it, seeing it, writing it, so the more of that we can do in a day, the better,” Mackey said over email.
“The social studies department is working with the new block schedule fairly well. It speaks well to lessons that are content heavy, as we as teachers can teach and discuss at the beginning of a lesson and then spend the second half using what we learned or working together on applications of the material,” social studies teacher Jon Petter said over email.
“Most of us are thankful for having fewer hours to worry about while online teaching,” math teacher Susan Riegel said over email.
The two main challenges that many teachers face with the block schedule are modifying their lesson plans and dealing with an additional semester on top of the usual summer in between instruction.
“I have had to decide the most important lessons I want the students to learn, and ‘trim the fat,’” Mackey said over email.
“The major downside for world languages is the gap in instruction students will have between this year’s and their next course level,” Mackey said over email.
“Teaching math in a block and condensing year-long courses to a semester is less than ideal. Despite the extended class periods, we do not cover twice the amount of material in a day and nor do we expect students to be able to handle such a speed,” Riegel said over email.
“It really is less than ideal for students to have a semester-long break between math classes,” Riegel said.
Teachers know what challenges the new block schedule is creating for their subject and in general.
“Acquiring a second language requires continual language input. Language acquisition is a lot like exercise in this regard. In order to be our healthiest, we should be exercising a little every day. Exercising for half a year, then taking half a year off, is not ideal. It’s the same with language learning,” Mackey said over email.
“Challenges may arise with scheduling, access to and acquisition of consumables, service and repairs associated with the facilities will cost students double time and reduced opportunities for students to access facilities and teachers outside of class time,” automotive technology teacher Frank Mandernach said over email.
“Social studies is very content heavy, and many classes (especially AP) and the semester model is going to hurt our ability to cover everything without exhausting students and moving really fast,” Petter said.
“Change is not easy, and [it] will take some time to learn what is working well and what we need to adjust, especially with the fact that we are doing [school] virtually at this point,” Irvin said over email.
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