The new normal of school. What will this be? How will we be able to teach in this new normal. As our crisis teaching is coming to an end, we are all thinking how do we change for the new guidelines of distancing? Can we really go back to status quo? Do we just modify what we have been doing and try to make it fit?
Now is the time to rethink what school is and what it can or really should be.
How do we phase back into school buildings?
How can we accommodate distancing? How can we have lower class sizes?
How are we supposed to do group work, gym, labs?
How do we incorporate more outdoor time?
These are questions we are all dealing with. But the real question is can we create a new normal that benefits our learners and it optimal for the new way of life.
I would say yes we can change to a new normal and i believe it is a flexible timetable school program. I was lucky enough to move to the BC coast to a school that was heading this way. I helped create, design, teach and administrate the move to a flex timetable high school. What this meant is our junior students (gr 7-9) would have a set timetable with STEM, HUMANITIES, Phys ed, electives and french. The main change in the younger grades was they would have cross-curricular classes instead of independent courses. This lowered the prep and teacher load and the work load for our students. This allows for great project based learning in theory.
I have always been the type of teacher that needs to have change in my life. I have never been happy teaching the same things every year. I also was never happy with teaching in the schedule driven high school. So 5 years ago, I moved to a small school of 75 students for grade 7-12 where I would be teaching all the math and science courses. My first year was tough as I was trying to be innovative with in the parameters of the 5 day schedule. But there was a silver lining, my school was looking to change to a flex model timetable. Why you might ask.... We are a small school that would not exist in the old ways. The funding would not carry us. The limitation to time meant less course options. We could not afford to staff everything..
So the principal at the time floated an idea of moving to a new type of timetable. We started to have group discussions and plan what it would look like. We took the time to visit different schools who had already blown out the brick and mortar style of teaching. We needed to formulate a model that would work for us.
What we settled on was a flex timetable. What this means is our junior students (gr7-9) would have a set timetable with STEM, HUMANITIES, Phys ed, electives and french. So the big change in the younger grades was they would have cross-curricular classes instead of independent courses. This lowered the prep and teacher load and the work load for our students. This allows for great project based learning in theory.
Where the big change happened was in grade 10 -12 classes. We now schedule 2 periods a week with the teacher and 2 periods a week in seminar time. All of this change allowed us to have little to no course conflict time and have no distance ed courses anymore. But it did mean we needed to change our teaching style and look more in depth into our learning outcomes. We were limiting our direct teaching time and helping to develop greater project based learning. I like to say my 2 classes are like my rock show time. We are going like crazy and developing the ideas and areas of student the students want to take further. So this means we don't sit in class and watch videos, students watch them in their time and come to class prepared to discuss them. We also don't use class time for worksheets or questions. We don't do labs during these two periods, students make time to come do them when it fits their schedule.
So what is seminar. It is a common area where different teachers rotate through to help students stay on task and assist the learning. We do not mandate what students do during this time but we do expect them to learn. Students use this time for projects, worksheets, labs and personal passions. This is the flexibility.
Now my group is in grade 12 and ready to graduate from their flex model high school. Are they prepared? Yes. Most of our students have 130+ credits and have been part of major one or more major project (solar irrigation greenhouse, little house, drag race car) and some even acquired red seal standing in cooking and carpentry. Wow this is a great success.
So what is seminar. It is a common area where different teachers rotate through to help students stay on task and assist the learning. We do not mandate what students work on during this time but we do expect them to work. Students use this time for projects, worksheets, labs and personal passions. This is the flexibility.
So can we adapted this type of plan into our new normal going forth. Yes we can. What if our classes were limited to 2 a week and students did the seminar time at home. Could we accommodate the changes needed for our new norms?
Yes, we can have smaller classes at different time of the day. You may have to repeat the topics but students will be doing most of the investigative work on their seminar time and you would just be the helpline email person.
We could create lab sign in times for small groups where you just facilitate or monitor the learning.
We can have gym slots that students sign up for in smaller numbers. This could allow you to change what you do in gym class to smaller number activities or look at fitness/activity logs for gym credit.
We can create smaller reading groups that meet and discuss the book. Or even let them read at home and meet together part in person and part of them on zoom for discussion.
The ideas are endless. Think outside the normal and apply the new normal.
We can totally redo high school in a meaningful way for our new normal. But we have to be open to change and realize that we are not just teaching content. We are really teaching the process of learning and figuring out how our brains learn. Because we, as educators are really only trying to help our students be joyful, intrigued life long learners.