In real time

The other day, my wife made a comment about the time that orientation starts at my son’s new middle school. The kids are to report at 7:50 in the morning, and she wondered aloud about this time’s oddness, its disconnect from reality. Why did orientation not start, say, at 8:00? In the real world people make appointments on the hour or half hour, maybe even at quarter past or quarter of. What’s with ten of?

I then looked at the school’s bell schedule. Here’s a regular day:

The kids had to be at orientation at 7:50 since the normal school day starts at that time. But the time oddities continued. A class that starts at 8:46 and ends at 9:31? And none of the four lunch periods begin on a multiple of five.

Now, full disclosure: I’ve developed bell schedules for schools, and I remember wanting to minimize hallway passing time to maximize teaching time. So what’s driving the above schedule, that slices and dices time to the nth degree? The four minutes that kids get for passing from one period to the next. If it were five minutes, we’d see a schedule that aligned more acutely with the real world. The first class of the day would start at 7:55, not 7:54. But with four minutes of passing time and 45 minute class blocks, classes and lunch periods will not start or end on a five.

Back to that big rule about schedule building: Minimize passing time – within reason – to maximize classroom time. I will assume that my school district’s done careful study about four minutes of passing time vs. five minutes and has determined that middle schoolers can get what they need from their lockers and get to class in 240 seconds. With four minutes of passing time – as compared to five – that gives teachers eight extra minutes of instruction a day, 40 each week (or about one class period), and about 25 hours each school year (or about 33 class periods or four full days of school).

So there’s a trade off: The ludicrousness of class periods that begin at odd times, unconnected to reality, vs. more instructional time. I’m all for increased instructional time as long as (1) middle schoolers can get their act together in four minutes and (2) that teachers teach like mad for those additional 40 weekly minutes. It will be interesting to see how those two qualities play out over the course of this school year.

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