Students like longer class periods

May 31, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

After nearly a full year of having four classes a day instead of six, teachers and students at Chesapeake High seem happy with the arrangement.

"For science it's a real blessing," said teacher Hank Gottlich.

The four-period approach has brought a whole new flavor to Chesapeake. Teachers found imaginative ways to fill 85 minutes of class time, instead of the usual 45. Students, who initially feared they'd be bored out of their minds, found their grades improving.

"This has forced teachers out of the 45-minute routine, and we've gotten out of a stagnant situation," said Principal Harry Calender. "It really was a matter of getting teachers to really believe in it."

Other high schools, including Severna Park, are studying the four-period day and other scheduling alternatives, but no decisions have been made.

The four-period day is the latest educational trend. It lets students take a wider variety of courses and perhaps have more fun in school. And, the 85-minute class is important because sitting and working for that length of time will prepare students for college and work.

"The only detriment is that kids get tired of sitting that long," said Mr. Gottlich. "It's not an entertainment show, but it has to be interesting."

That's why Kay Sokoloff, a math teacher with 20 years of experience, spent time at home this year devising games and lesson plans, just as she did her rookie year as a teacher.

To teach students about a transversal, a line that cuts two other lines, she made a game, actually 17 games. Using two manila folders, she drew parallel lines on one side, cut by a third line, and on the other side the lines weren't cut. The students' job was to describe what they saw and figure out what was the same and what was different about each picture.

"I taught the vocabulary the day before, and they sat and they did it," Mrs. Sokoloff said. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this really works.' I brought some other teachers into the classroom . . . and we stood and watched and we were amazed. They taught me something new after 20 years of teaching. The ideal thing is to do something like this every day."

The students have noticed the difference.

"I didn't think I'd like it, but I do. We have a lot of group work," said Christina Horn, 17. She is finishing her junior year and has become a straight-A student. "My grades are better, and so are )) everybody else's. I enjoy more of my classes, and teachers have more time to answer questions."

Patrick McBee, a 16-year-old junior, also likes the longer classes.

"You get more done in a day," he said. "A lot of things you'd do for homework that you might not understand, you get to work on during the day and you can get help right away."

Seniors were understandably anxious about the change, said Dana Strong, a 17-year-old senior and editor of the student newspaper. The Chesapeake Chronicle has covered the four-period day's highlights and glitches all year.

"Finding out a month before school lets out that the whole system will change in the fall was scary," said Dana. "But it all worked. I'd tell students at other schools to be open-minded if it's suggested. I like it a lot."

Even freshmen, who had no clue about what to expect in high school, found they liked the format.

"You get to spend more time working on something, and you don't forget what you learned," said Stacey Guinn, a 15-year-old ninth-grader. "There's a lot of pressure, though. We have a lot of quizzes."

Here's how the system works.

A student who had lunch on first shift, for example, would have the first class from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and a second class from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed immediately by a half-hour lunch. Third period would be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The fourth class

would be scheduled from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

That schedule allowed Jennifer Michael, a 17-year-old junior, to take algebra, keyboarding, yearbook and oceanography in the fall semester. This spring, she took the SAT preparatory class, modern American writers, U.S. history and geometry.

Taking eight classes a year lets students earn 32 credits by graduation. Because only 22 credits are needed to graduate, students have the luxury of taking 10 electives. Under the current system with six periods, students graduate with 24 credits.

The new plan still has some glitches. For instance, algebra may be taught all year -- a half-credit per semester with the class lasting about 45 minutes -- because not all students understand it right away, Mr. Calender said. Band, too, presents a problem, and could be taught all year, with a half-credit earned each semester, he said.

To do that, Mr. Calender is considering adding 20 minutes to the school day -- five minutes per period, so some classes could be offered as a half-credit and last 45 minutes.

"If I had one thing to do differently, I'd start [informing parents] earlier," he said.

Parents learned of the plan in a newspaper article before their scheduled meeting with Mr. Calender.

"That article caused us more grief," he said. "It wasn't that parents or students were necessarily opposed to it, but they were concerned."

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