December 2019 Schedule Pilot

Throughout this December, the Upper School will pilot a modified version of this year's schedule that creates longer class periods and fewer of them per day. (The pilot schedule is reproduced at bottom). You can read more about our thinking here. In short, we are examining how a schedule like this one - this is not a design we expect actually to adopt, but an experiment carved out within the confines of this year's existing schedule - might affect the teaching and learning in our classrooms, the extent to which students are engaged with their learning, and everyone's wellness. 

Starting November 20, students may view their own, processed pilot schedules, including the meeting times of their "minor" classes, on the Color Schedules Server

Q & A about the Pilot Schedule

How are teachers planning lessons for such long periods?

When content is new, teachers generally will break up long lessons with transitions between several activities. These transitions - within a class, between related activities - offer a brain break and an invitation to re-engage, serving students who have been engaging deeply as well as those whose minds have wandered. Once students are familiar with the content, classes periods can move to another model: problems and projects. For students to tackle real problems and/or pursue their own curiosity generates intrinsic motivation, which enables them to engage deeply over longer periods of time - leading to deeper learning.

Neither model simply offers two typical fifty- or sixty-minute lessons in the space of one period. Neither simply offers one lesson followed by “homework time.” Neither simply divides the class period with a ten-minute, out-of-the-classroom break in the middle (which would reduce every period’s length by more than ten minutes). Both are fundamentally student-centered, encouraging “minds-on” - and often “hands-on” - engagement with course content during the class periods themselves, not just at home.

How will students learn enough this way?

A well-established body of learning research shows that, to learn deeply, students themselves must wrestle with content, adjust to feedback, and demonstrate their understanding. That wrestling, adjusting, and demonstrating is exactly what students practice in the project- and problem-based learning that we are promoting. For instance, as part of a required unit on experimental methods, AP Psychology students are conducting internal studies on the effects of the pilot schedule. Rather than simply memorizing experimental methods, they are wrestling with which methods will best address our pilot’s questions and how best to analyze the real data they collect. As a result, they will memorize the methods and practice them in a manner that is both authentic to the discipline and valuable to the school community.

Meanwhile, research shows that students do not learn as deeply in primarily lecture-based classes where the teaching prioritizes delivering content to students. Students may feel like they are learning more in compelling and time-efficient lectures, but when tested, they turn out to have retained less.

What about students with attention deficits?

Everyone’s mind wanders, and attention lapses may actually cause students to miss more content in shorter periods that offer fewer transitions as explicit opportunities to re-engage. (See above: How are teachers planning lessons for such long periods?) Furthermore, people with ADHD still can focus intensely on activities that interest them. Project and problem-based learning experiences, which long periods will encourage even more of, capture students’ attention by tapping their motivations to solve authentic problems, to seek answers to their own questions, and to collaborate socially.

How does the pilot change our homework policy?

It doesn’t. Classes may assign 45 minutes of homework - AP and AS classes may assign up to 1 hour - and that limit applies per class meeting, so even when a color block drops for two days in a row, the limit remains the same. The pilot will examine the effects of having one or two fewer classes per day for which to prepare homework.

What if I miss school? Won’t I be twice as far behind?

Missing a longer period may put you farther behind in that course than missing a sixty-minute class, but with fewer periods per day, you may actually miss fewer classes. When you do miss, we expect you as always, with your advisor’s support, to connect with your teachers about what you may have missed and how you can catch up. The plans that arise are always specific to that course in that moment. Of course, no alternative compares to attending class, regardless of the period length. 

How can I use longer stretches of open time (either free periods or study halls)?

We'll start with this: we do still expect students in Grades 9 - 11 to attend school for each full day 8:00 a.m.-3:15 p.m. 

Research suggests that students may take better advantage of school resources when operating in schedules like the one we are piloting. As always, the Math Help Center will be available, and students can certainly make appointments with their teachers, as well. 

We are also hard at work planning optional recreation, service, and wellness opportunities to offer students during extended periods. These opportunities will be available to students in extended (and/or subsequent) free periods and study halls. Proposals include assisting lower school classes, performing service at off-campus community partner organizations, engaging in supervised recreation in our gymnasium, playing role-playing games, discussing books and/or foreign language newspapers, and learning in several different workshops about mindfulness - including one on the body’s stress response (and how to counteract it), and one on QiGong.

Some opportunities, like service on campus, will be available every day - with about a day’s notice necessary to coordinate. Others will be spread out occasionally over the pilot weeks to offer students choices as often as possible. We will publish a menu of these opportunities for students to compare to their schedules and plan ahead, and we will offer means for advance registration whenever it may be necessary. We will routinely filter the information about these opportunities through students’ advisors, who will prompt them daily to look forward in the week and consider how they might occupy themselves during long stretches of otherwise unprogrammed time.