4-period day is promising despite snags Teachers had trouble pacing year's worth of lessons in 1st semester

Still ironing out kinks

Curriculum changes caused problems for U.S. history courses

February 03, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

At midyear in the switch to a four-period day, Carroll high school teachers say they are still ironing out kinks in the new schedule. But most say they're optimistic that the depth that comes from having longer class periods will benefit students.

Three Carroll high schools -- Westminster, Francis Scott Key and South Carroll -- began a schedule of four 90-minute periods a day instead of seven 45-minute classes. For the most part, students switch to four different courses at midyear. This allows them to take up to eight courses a year.

But pacing the material over 18 weeks instead of eight months has meant that in a few cases, teachers approached the end of the course before covering all the material. But no serious problems resulted, as far as South Carroll math teacher Jim Torretti has heard.

"I myself covered almost everything I covered last year," Torretti said. "I could have used two more days."

Last semester's calculus class ended in January, and now Torretti has a new group of students taking it the second semester. He said he's improved the pace this time, and thinks he'll be able to cover everything by June.

"I'm already ahead of where I was the first time through," he said.

In U.S. history classes, several teachers didn't get past Richard Nixon or the Vietnam War before the semester ended, but that may have been more a product of the course's having to incorporate 100 more years, in a pilot program some teachers are using, said Jim Elsen, a social studies teacher at South Carroll High.

U.S. history in Carroll usually has covered Colonial days to pre-Civil War in seventh grade, and then the Civil War to the present in 10th grade. But in the pilot curriculum meant to align better with state standards for what students should know, 10th-grade U.S. history now covers from 1776 through the present.

'Selective abandonment'

"I think that had more of an effect than the four-mod day," Elsen said. "I don't think I did as good a job, but I had to add these new lesson plans. I got through Richard Nixon, which is about what I usually get to."

As the semester end approached, Elsen and other teachers said they looked at the time they had left and decided which things to skim or combine with other lessons.

"It's selective abandonment," Elsen said. "I used to do a whole unit on the presidents and their accomplishments."

Instead, he focused on the main events of the periods. He cut material on the labor movement.

A sense of closure

But Elsen remains one of the major proponents of the new schedule. He had wanted to make the change much earlier, after visiting high schools in Colorado and Virginia four years ago with teachers from North Carroll and Westminster high schools.

Even when periods were 45 minutes, Elsen said, "My lessons were always 60 to 70 minutes long. My standard end-of-the-day line was, 'Well, we'll get to this tomorrow,' " he said.

Now, he has time to finish his lesson, and spend a minute having students discuss what they learned.

"It's closure," he said.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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