Saturday, November 19, 2005

What to do with the 37 1/2 minutes?

I have written a proposal for my school to pilot Schoolwide Enrichment Model enrichment clusters during the new 37 1/2 minute period.* I have no idea how my colleagues will react to this plan, or whether the DOE will come up with something of their own that will make all my work a waste of energy. It really only took me about 2-3 hours of thinking and writing to put this together, which is not that much in the scheme of things, so I'm willing to put it out there knowing it might be for naught.

This is a summary of what I came up with; email me if you want a copy of the whole proposal sent your way.

First, I listed all the Mondays-Thursdays from February to June. I also listed the dates of the 6-8 Math Test, the 8th grade ILS Exam, and the 8th grade SS Exam. I saw that those tests divided the time up into four neat blocks, which I called Cycles.

Cycle 1 is from Feb. 1 - March 16th. All the students take their Math exams on March 14-15th. During this time, I think it makes sense to identify those students most in need of extra help in math, and have every teacher offer math tutorials. The students should be grouped based on their specific areas of weakness. This won't be popular, especially with teachers who aren't confident in math themselves, but it does make sense and is probably inevitable. What I have done to make it more manageable is proposed that we end our after school program on January 26th and pay teachers per session to stay after and plan cycle 1 (identify students, group them, prepare permission slips & parent letters, plan the curriculum). Then the first two days of the new schedule, Feb. 1-2, will also be spent getting teachers ready for these classes, planning, PD on math instruction, etc. I think it is crucial to build planning time into the new schedule, though I don't know whether the DOE will allow that or whether they will expect every second of that time to be face-time with students. Cycle 1 classes end Mar. 9, just before the Math Tests, and the following week is spent planning for cycle 2.

Cycle 2 is from Mar. 20 - April 27. The 8th graders will have Science Enrichment Clusters, as the ILS Written Exam is May 3rd. This is not the same as test prep; the idea is that the Science teachers, plus any other teachers interested, offer intensive enrichment classes on one topic, such as the Science of Music, Darwin & Evolution, Kitchen Chemistry, etc. Part of the planning week will be spent looking at the ILS Exam and identifying skills to integrate into each enrichment cluster. The clusters are not intended to go over every Science topic, simply to provide an engaging Science experience that will boost the kids a little before the test. We will not be able to provide this for every 8th grader, and the kids should be given the opportunity to choose their clusters from what is available.

Meanwhile, the 6th & 7th graders will have open-topic Enrichment Clusters offered by all remaining teachers. Topics could include Italian, Robotics, School Newspaper, Art & Math, whatever interests teachers and students. Again, students will choose to participate and will rank their choices of clusters in order to get a good match between students and clusters.

Cycle 2 will end April 27 so that the first week in May can be spent debriefing cycle 2 and planning cycle 3.

Cycle 3 is from May 8 to June 4th. The 8th graders will have SS Enrichment Clusters, as the SS Exam is June 7th & 9th. The idea is the same as with the Science Enrichment Clusters, except topics may be The Sixties, Exploring India (or some other country/culture), Archaeology, Anthropology, etc. Again, planning time will be used to look at the SS Exam and identify skills to integrate into the clusters. The 6th & 7th graders will have another round of open-topic Enrichment Clusters.

Cycle 4 will be open topic Enrichment Clusters for the whole school. The difficulty is that the time at that point is much shorter, with only a few weeks left until the end of the school year. It's possible that it would be better to extend cycles 2 and 3 rather than trying to offer a 4th cycle, although doing this will mean that the 8th grade clusters will no longer align with the dates of the Science & SS Exams. My other idea is that Cycle 4 Clusters could be focused on Physical Education and Art topics, which ought to be more motivating for both teachers and students during the nice weather at the end of the year.

Lingering questions include how to handle teacher absences, what to do about our existing after school program, and what to do about after school classes like my High School Prep class or the Chess Club, which don't necessarily make sense in an enrichment cluster format.

I'm curious what you all think of this proposal, and I promise to post more as my school proceeds with our planning for the new schedule.

*We have got to find a name for this.


Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Fizzle;

Bless you for all the work you put into this and while I may disagree on some of your ideads. For example clubs not clusters are what keeps children interested in school. Your probably wasting your time. The DOE educrats have already decided that 37.5 minutes of classroom instruction is required. Their problem is that tutoring is not classroom instruction and the STUDENTS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO BE THERE! Further, how to give the students credit for coming to the classroom instruction since tutoring is not credit-bearing? They are trying to work this out.

Good luck on trying but DOE has other plans which will end up in chaos and grievances. I wish I can be more optimistic but my principal has already informed me what the LIS was told by DOE. That is to encourage the students to come to the 37.5 minute tutoring, tell them that they will get credit for it (makeup labs, essays to increase exam grades, math quizes, etc).

If your principal hasen't told you yet, she will.

2:35 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...


I take your point that I may be wasting my time. I knew that was a possibility from Square One.

I actually have no concerns whatsoever that kids will come, pretty much regardless of what is offered. Sure, not every kid, every day, but in my experience, when you make extra help available, kids come. They know what the tests mean for them. Every after school program, club or remedial, that I have ever been a part of has been full. Saturday programs that are organized well will also often fill up. And no, they weren't mandatory. Some kids' parents make them come, some kids come because they want to, some want to spend more time with friends rather than at home by themselves.

Parents at middle schools in the Bronx LOVE afterschool. Think about the child care issues they don't have to deal with! And it's free!

So, making any particular kid attend may not be possible, but finding groups of kids who want extra help or whatever is offered will probably not be difficult.

Furthermore, it has not been my experience that clubs are exclusively what bring kids to school. Some kids don't like anything about school no matter what you do. Some actually like learning, or at least know that what we are teaching is of value to them later in their lives. (Most middle school kids like or at least don't hate well-taught Science classes, and I'm talking about all kids here, not just my current population). Some come because of the friendships they have with other kids and the fact that a bunch of adults (teachers) actually seem to care about them. And what I learned this summer - from other teachers who have actually implemented enrichment clusters, some in NYC - is that the clusters seem to increase motivation in many students.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Fizzle;

I guess there is a difference between middle school and high school. In the high schools it is very difficult for the students to go to afterschool tutoring. Sports, jobs, babysitting responsibilities, etc. Further, by high school the students don't listen to their parents and don't need to be supervized. Yes, some students will come, but not many and certainly not enough for all the teachers to have students. Even at the Middle School level I highly doubt you will get enough students for all the teachers to have a cluster/classroom program when the students find out it is required.

By the way what will your gym, art, & music teachers be doing while you are instructing??

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

oops, I ment not required.

3:51 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

We have 225 students. Right now, three days a week we have afterschool until 4:35. Some are remedial math & reading which we strongly encourage certain kids to attend (and more than 90% of those who are encouraged DO attend); some are "clubs" or enrichment. Our classes are currently about 15 students each, and we have more kids interested than teachers available; we had to tell certain kids that we simply didn't have space. I have 17 in robotics and would have more except that it would be unmanageable. I don't know the exact numbers, but it is definitely more than 50% and probably closer to 75% of students who attend. Afterschool in the first middle school where I worked was also very high demand, and the principal was constantly begging/pressuring/bribing more teachers to offer classes, remedial or enrichment.

You're right, though, that high school and middle school are different, so the issues you face with this added time will be different from those I face.

We don't have money for a separate gym teacher, so teachers who have sports experience (including me, last year) teach gym, and some of those teachers offer PE type activities during afterschool (sports club, basketball team, etc.). Our art teacher teaches an art & photography after school class. Sadly, we don't have a music teacher.

Nearly all of our teachers have, at some point in their time at our school, taught some kind of remedial math or english class, because the demand is there and most of us feel like we've sat through enough math & english PD, and are smart enough people and good enough teachers that we can pull off teaching these subjects to small groups if we have to. Not least because we work together and help those teachers who are less confident. It isn't always fun, but it is in the best interests of the kids (and it keeps our test scores up and DOE pressure down).

The reason I spent time on this proposal is that I want to minimize the time our teachers have to spend on math & reading tutoring/test-prep (while respecting the need for some of this) and make it more possible for teachers to teach things they are passionate about to students who also care about those things. Plus, the DOE wants us to pilot SEM, so this might kill two birds with one stone, and in a school where we are already overwhelmed by the number of hats we wear, that is an important selling point.

I'm not convinced that it will be shot-down until I hear that from my principal, but thanks for the warning from your LIS to your principal to you!

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle;

I hope it works out for you. The cluster idea seems like the perfect solution for the 37.5 minutes in your school. However, Klein has shown a knack not to do what's best for the student but what's best for his statistics. Therefore, any good idea from a classroom teacher is probably doomed.

I especially, like the idea of a sports cluster which could include chess on bad days as a change of pace one day a week along with the other clusters. In high school sports teams keep the students in school and helps keep them motivated.....Just a suggestion from a very appreciated high school science teacher

5:31 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

Maybe the final cluster could be spent using writing skills to review for final exams . . .

Your idea is a good one.

When I taught in a middle school, we each had to teach an enrichment class much like what you have outllined. They varied in length from a full year to a smester rotation to a 9-weeks rotation It turned out to be a lot of fun -- after the initial planning was over.

7:57 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

I note with displeasure that this sounds like a 6th teaching period, at least for 3 of the cycles. I'm not knocking it or telling you to do different; based on what you've described about your school, this plan has some strong logic behind it. It may be the best for your faculty and kids. But in the long run if the 37½ turns into a 6th class in a significant number of schools, it would become easier to negotiate it into all of our schools.

Last Spring when they were renegotiating the 100 minutes (most of us ended up with 60 minutes every Monday), they also offered coming in for 2 or 3 days before Labor Day in lieu of ever staying late. I voted no at the DA, and argued with my DR.

me: "1. if you are at a school that votes to come in in the summer, you have to. no choice. and 2. Once you open the door, it can be imposed elsewhere. We should keep that out of bounds."
DR: "1. You are denying teachers the right to choose how the time is configured. 2. You are opposed to flexibility"

So again, flexibility has won. I will watch closely how it is used in other places (let us know, if you don't mind, what your school adopts), and will do my best to keep other chapter leaders vigilant against someone else's flexibility being imposed across the board.


8:34 AM  
Anonymous northbrooklyn said...

Why can't we have 37 1/2 minutes of fun?

6:31 PM  
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1:52 AM  

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