Sunday, November 21, 2010

Unexploited resource time on LeaderTalk

I posted this on LeaderTalk

The Unexploited Resource: Time

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Have you ever wondered why there are so many schedules out there for high schools? I would suggest it is due to efforts by educational leaders to make the most out of the second most precious resource in education. If you are thinking money is the first, think again. Despite what a great many within our own profession would profess, our most precious resource is our people.

Human capital in any organization is often overlooked and even more often not increased through proper investments. This being said, most successful leaders have already figured this out and get the most out of their best by breaking the tradition of allowing your best teachers to teach the most teachable students. There are those leaders out there that realize, you need your best teachers with those hardest to teach.

Time on the other hand, still holds plenty to be exploited if we can just break from the mass production model which has long outlived its usefulness. Gone are the days when there was value to being able to mentally store great quantities of information about a narrow topic and being able to recall it quickly leading to organizational efficiency. Technology now makes these skills unmarketable. Instead we now look at information as the artist looks at clay. As Daniel Pink states in his book "A Whole New Mind," this is the era of creativity.

Creativity is a funny thing in that it requires the integration of skill and information. Not information in nice neat organizational bundles, but rather in webs of inter-connectivity. We know that learning is a social process, but in the industrial model of school, we isolate individuals so we can sort and select them for specific tasks. Unfortunately many of these tasks are no longer done by people and those that are still done by people are not done by people here in this country.

We place value on concepts and skills by their inclusion in the curriculum. However, we do not always allocate time based on importance nor even in varied bundles conducive to acquisition of that particular skill or concept. We measure proficiency in aggregated scores which communicate little and in credits based on seat time. In attempts to better utilize time, we change the length of the allocations, but do little in terms of allocating more time for subjects which require it or even more desirable, different amounts of time for each child beyond elementary school. We have set up curriculum and even schedules based on the average student's rate of learning. We require the same amount of time for most subjects varying a few by length of term rather than length of meeting period. There have been some attempts to move students through the curriculum at a pace conducive to their success, but more energy has been spent on figuring out various ways to break the day up into equal pieces in different ways. Popular methods of organizing time for high schools today include what some call a "traditional" eight or seven period day, where the day is divided into 40-50 minute periods. Each subject in this model gets the same amount of time during the day, but some subjects may get less time by lasting fewer terms. There are a number of variations to this in terms of term length. There are quarters, semesters, trimesters and a number of others I am sure I am leaving out. The other most popular schedules in high schools today are variations of the block schedule. In this model a student is engaged in fewer classes for longer periods of time, but again the day is equally divided into periods or blocks of time.

We had a scheduling model in the 70's that allowed for subjects to vary meeting frequency, meeting length and even left it up to the student as to where they would spend a significant part of their day to get the extra help they needed in the area they needed it. It was called the Flexible Modular Schedule. The day was still broken into periods, but they were very small and courses did not all use the same number of them nor did they all meet every day. The complexity of building such a schedule is why most schools left this model. Today's technology would allow for this type of schedule to be reintroduced. However, we now have a student population that has been told where to go and what to do and has little likelihood of success in managing their time without a great deal of training. Emphasis on a grade, test score or diploma rather than mastery of skills and concepts would deter schools from risking letting students learn the skill of self-management and making decisions about their own time.

We talk about tradition a lot in education. With the infusion of technology, we need to start taking a look at innovation rather than tradition as computer software programs allow for meeting many of the students learning needs in terms of subject matter. It is skills that are still best learned in the context of a classroom filled with other students. One could possibly argue that time management is one of the most vital skills in our adult world today. We desperately need to begin to look at innovative ways to manage one of our most important yet unexploited resources, time. Students need to be part of the process of determining how much time they need to truly master a concept and skill. this will not be the same for all students. My proposal would be to spend less time in structured settings and allow more flexibility for each student to access the help they need when they need it.

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  1. Thinking alot about schedules myself and how they work or don't work. I also have been thinking about how schedules are built in and around the classrooms and the physical buildings that house education. Learning is not done in isolation so why do we have facilities that isolate learning in to curriculum based cells (classrooms). How can students and staff collaborate with each other when you have to find a room big enough for two classes or go down the hall and down the steps and then back up the steps anc back down the hall. How can administrators be involved in classrooms when they have to walk the halls and open door after door. How can learning maximized with fewer resources when every classroom has to be cleaned , supplied with supplies, heated, and staffed. How can I say this? I think of the days when one bathroom was enough for a household of six kids. When three children slept in the same room. How does this relate. Budget cuts are being made and the focus is on what will have to be cut but true education does not have to be based on the physical facility. We try to think outside the box but we should think inside the brain. Take a facility where a central core contains teachers and technology and then spokes out into learning areas that can expand and collapse upon class size or project. Spaces big enough to hold 300 students if needed and then collapse into spaces for specific learning with a group of students as small as 20. Students flow from area to area and are facilitated from the core where teachers serve in more than one curricular area. Sounds like an orchestra of learning. To break the mold of industrialized education will take ideas from all facets of creativity... architects, bussinessmen, bankers, educators, managers, politicians, students, parents....

  2. Just a comment about time. Rural schools and even some larger schools share staff building to building. Now if a teacher has to commute 15 minutes to another site (or even further) and then you figure in the time it takes to get to the car, pack and unpack class stuff and belongings, then get in the state of mind to teach you are looking at 30 minutes or more. In a regular 8 period class schedule that is basically a class. Then take the perdium and and divide it by 8 for an hourly wage, add on the mileage. What a waste of tax payer money but what a real waste of student/teacher time. This in at time when money and time is sparse. Is this an advertisement for one large educational complex probably yes. Now lets think about the time a student spends being transported to and from school. In rural areas you are looking at an hour without even talking about the time the student waits at the bus stop, waits to change buses, and then getting into the school and putting everything away and ready for the day. Now add in the waste of time for snow days, water shut off days, etc. Is this an advertisement for on-line classes , maybe. We need to be creative is solving these issues of time and money and learning. What was is not now unless the idea is timeless (which some are). Reinventing the wheel is okay if you want a wheel that is different but it is still a wheel.

  3. Really looking into schedules and the options that only maximize staffing issues, budgetary issues, and educational value. I seem to be drawn to a schedule that mixes three types of class frame works. I very rarely say that one type of solution is good for all cases. That being said I like the idea for the 3/2/1. Not sure that is the correct term just how I view it. first three periods of the day are based on tri-mesters and run 60 minutes. These courses will be used for electives. The next 4 periods of the day will be based on traditional two semesters and run 40 minutes each. The last period of the day will be for on-line virtual classes and will be available through out the evening and contact hours as set up by staff. Lunch time will rotate so students can have study hall, advisory home rooms, or meetings. The 3/2/1 can also be ordered in any way if needed such as 2/3/1 etc. Lots of rational for this idea but still sorting through some issues as to times and how semesters and schedules ending at different times would work. I am sure somewhere a school is using this schedule, if I can think it up it can't be that innovative. If you know of one let me know I would like to read about it.