Posted by Sandy Merz on Wednesday, 06/29/2016
Discussions of more and better learning time tend to revolve around how we think about bell schedules and yearly calendars. But last year my algebra class earned back days of instruction lost to interruptions. We didn't use magic, we used math.
Losing instruction time stinks. But not all loss is the same. Some is waste. Some is not. Some is out of our control. Some is not. In the first days of the year my algebra students analyze drains on instructional time and develop a plan to reduce them wherever we can.
It's a simple lesson. We get the number of school days from the district calendar (180) and start subtracting. First, we subtract a reasonable number of days for testing, assemblies, parent conferences, assemblies, and so forth. Everyone is shocked when even conservative estimates show that we lose at least 20 periods a year due these formal, mandated interruptions.
Then we estimate how many minutes we lose daily within the period due to beginning and ending of class, transitioning between activities, and behavior. Students figure out that every minute we lose every day from our standard 50-minute period amounts to nearly four lost days of instruction over the course of the year. So, if we typically get started two minutes after the bell, take a minute a piece to transition from bellwork to review, review to new material, new material to practice, practice to closure, and lose three minutes to misbehavior, it adds up to nine minutes a day or nearly 30 days of instruction.
And that blows everyone a way, 180 calendar days is reduced to 130 days thanks to mandatory interruptions, classroom procedures, and misbehavior.
Now, my eighth grade students in algebra earn high school credit and are highly motivated, and when they see the cumulative cost of daily procedures, they're willing to offer ideas for being more efficient - and, more importantly, put them into practice. For example, last year they suggested having everything they'll need written on the board so they can get it all out at once and cut transition time significantly. We make a poster of their ideas and refer to it as needed.
I'd estimate that last year we earned back as many as 10 days by being more efficient in our procedures and less disruptive and actually had some breathing room near the end.
This year I'm planning to trick out this lesson by making it into a structured and systematic analysis instead of a class discussion and by having students critique each others' approaches.
In a last step students will identify how they used each of the standard mathematical practices:
- Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them
- Reasoning abstractly and quantitatively.
- Constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.
- Modeling with mathematics.
- Using appropriate tools strategically.
- Attending to precision.
- Looking for and making use of structure.
- Looking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning.
So, even though a one-day exercise will probably stretch into three days, we'll have an awareness of the benefits of using class time wisely, tools for being more efficient, and a first example of how well approach our content and how it connects to standard mathematical practices.