North Carroll to try longer classes School planning 90-minute periods

January 18, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Not one school day goes by when Peter Litchka doesn't think about how much more effective his teaching can be next fall at North Carroll High School.

In September, North Carroll plans to be the first high school in the county, and the second in the state, to try having fewer but longer "mods," or class periods.

Westminster and South Carroll high school staffs plan to do the same later -- for the 1994-1995 school year. Faculties at those schools want more time to prepare.

North Carroll's faculty, however, has a tight plan to modify the curriculum, train teachers and iron out most of the kinks by Sept. 7, when students walk in the door.

In a vote, 89 percent of the faculty favored the change for September, Principal Gregory Eckles said.

A longer mod, short for module, would mean the lesson Mr. Litchka gave on the increasing world population last week could be done all in one class period instead of two. Students would have time to look up the information on their own, instead of the teacher feeding it to them via the overhead projector.

And the bell wouldn't have rung before they finished discussing solutions to population growth in poorer countries. As it was, the class had to review briefly the next day before continuing its discussion.

"I think the whole key here is we're trying to make better use of our time," said Mr. Litchka, who is chairman of the social studies department as well as the committee steering the move to longer class periods.

North Carroll parents will have a chance to learn more about the proposal and express their views during forums planned for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2, 4 and 10 at the school.

Dr. Eckles said the parent forums are the last step in a process that began about a year ago when the faculty discussed this new trend in secondary education.

Once the parent feedback is in, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling will make a decision. He has supported the change so far, Dr. Eckles said.

At North Carroll, instead of seven, 47-minute classes, students will have four periods that last about 90 minutes. The proposal could mean starting school at 7:50 instead of 8 a.m., but still dismissing at 2:35 and allowing 30 minutes for lunch.

Students would take four classes in the first semester and four in the second. Study halls would be eliminated, but the new format could allow other concepts, such as "learning centers," where students can go to get help in a particular subject.

Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick began a similar program this year. Teachers, students and administrators from Carroll County have visited Johnson and other schools in the country to see how the schedule has worked. They liked what they saw.

The advantages, Mr. Litchka said, are that students have more time to focus on what they're learning, and teachers get to spend more time with individual students. Both will have opportunities for of projects that could never have fit into a 47-minute period, he said.

"We're still on the schedule we sent kids to high school with 50 years ago," Mr. Litchka said. "Everything else has changed."

He said that for students to focus on seven different classes and subject areas every day hinders depth in any one area.

"I don't know how productive we [adults] could be if we had seven different bosses with seven different expections," Mr. Litchka said. "Yet that's what we ask our kids to do."

Senior Shannon Walter will be away at college by the time the longer mods begin, but she wishes they had come earlier. As president of the Student Government Association, she has been involved in the planning, and visited Thomas Johnson.

She said some students at North Carroll are skeptical, but that's usually because they don't fully understand the new system.

Dr. Eckles said that by spring, all students will be briefed on the plan, so they can begin choosing schedules for next year.

Shannon said students worry that the change won't allow them to take courses at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center (it will), or that it will result in more homework (it won't necessarily).

She said students in upper-level classes are looking forward to the change.

"It seems just when you get the idea for a paper or just when the discussion starts, the bell rings, and you can't just pick it up the next day," Shannon said.

Dr. Eckles said faculty in subject areas with labs, such as science, home economics and shop, will be especially at home with this new format.

He said the concern among students is that hearing one teacher lecture for 90 minutes on one subject will be boring.

"And they're right," he said. But the point will be to train teachers to do more student-centered work, he said. Training for faculty will emphasize more group discussion.

If it is approved by Superintendent Shilling, Dr. Eckles' and the steering committee's plan for training teachers and preparing for the change will be to use time already set aside this year and next for teacher training.

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