With nine 44-minute class periods plus lunch, Farmington middle school students have a lot of hustle and bustle built into every day.
“It’s a lot of movement throughout the day, a lot of transitions,” said Kerry Beton, a literacy teacher at Boeckman Middle School. “I’m not saying the schedule is bad, but for a lot of classes or content areas, you just get started on something and then it’s time to go.”
Next school year, things will be different. Students at the district’s two middle schools will switch to block scheduling, with just four 88-minute classes and a homeroom period. Most classes that now last a semester, will last about half as long.
The change will help both district middle schools provide more elective choices, scheduling flexibility and chances for student and staff collaboration, administrators say. Middle schools in some metro area districts, like Hopkins and Edina, already have block scheduling, as does Farmington High School.
There are some downsides to block scheduling. When a student is gone for a day, they may miss two days of content. Some teachers also say it is harder to cover a semester’s worth of material in a quarter, even with extra time each day.
Before deciding to make the change, staff members asked Hopkins and Edina about their experiences.
“The feedback we received during recent site visits is that they cannot imagine going away from what they have,” said Chris Bussmann, principal at Levi P. Dodge Middle School.
But the new arrangement will require Farmington staff members to make some changes, he said. Last week, teachers spent a day learning about ways to keep students engaged and active during the extended classes.
“We’re not going to be standing in front of the classroom where we’re teaching at kids [the whole time],” said Beton, the literacy teacher. “Hopefully it’s more of a transition where we see more kids ‘doing,’ and teachers more as guides.”
More time, depth
Whether class time will look and feel different next year depends on the teacher and the subject matter, Beton said.
For example, the teacher of family and consumer science — previously home economics — is excited that she will be able to finish an entire cooking lesson in one period. Other teachers might incorporate more projects.
“How great for a kid to be able to go more in-depth,” Beton said. Often, “We get to the surface, but we never get down far enough where kids are like, ‘Oh, I might like … to learn more about that.’ ”
The schedule is part of a larger shift that began several years ago.
A committee of faculty, parents and administrators at both Boeckman and Levi P. Dodge middle schools examined their strategic plans, focusing on basic questions about their philosophy of teaching, learning and students.
Beton, a committee member, said the outcome was a new focus on using time and space more efficiently, offering students more elective classes and ensuring that academics were rigorous.
Another change will be homeroom classes with a mixture of students from grades six, seven and eight.
The groups will stay together for three years to help students form stronger relationships.
The middle school environment has already changed over the last three years, since the district gave iPads to all students and staff, Bussmann said.
“You’ll see students engaged with one another in collaborative spaces all throughout the building as we develop more independent learners,” he said.