The Academies of Shakopee High School have been in nearly-full swing since September, but next school year will mark a final step in implementing the academy curriculum model when students make the switch to a block schedule.
Right now, students have seven 45-minute classes each day, and their school year is broken up by quarters. While some elective classes are only two quarters long, many core classes are year-long.
In a block schedule, classes are approximately 85 minutes long, and there are only four classes in a school day. Because of the longer classes, core classes can be completed in two quarters instead of an entire school year, and some electives can be completed in one quarter.
“If I’m in my first block class and it’s English, I’m getting a full year’s worth of work in quarters one and two, so in January I’ll have been in that class for 18 weeks for 85 minutes (instead of 45 minutes),” Shakopee High School Principal Jeff Pawlicki explained. “One of the advantages is that when you design it that way the opportunities for earning credits increases.”
Instead of students taking a maximum of 14 credits per year, the block schedule will allow for up to 16 credits.
“Picture a four-by-four grid that has 16 rectangles in it,” Pawlicki said.
Increasing classroom time to 85 minutes can sound daunting to students and teachers alike, but Pawlicki said it creates more opportunities for students to work on assignments and projects in class where they can ask their teachers for guidance.
Ninth-grader Riley Gilkison hopes that’s the case. Gilkison said his teachers have said classes will typically be split into three 25-minute increments to break up the time. The first part of the class can be used for the lesson, the second part for practicing the work and the third for projects or group work to get students moving around.
“Some pros would be you get to spend time with the teacher to ask questions,” Gilkison said.
He conceded that 85 minutes seems “kind of long,” but if it means there’s more time to work one-on-one with the teacher and do work in class instead of at home, he’s for it.
“I’m excited for it,” he said.
Another perk of the block schedule is increased passing time between classes to give students more of a breather, from five minutes now to eight minutes, Gilkison said.
To ensure the 85-minute classes aren’t just filled with extra long lectures, high school administrators have been providing professional development opportunities for teachers to give them ideas for teaching on the block schedule.
“If I’m a student right now, and I’m in a 45-minute class, I’m picturing how that class is structured and multiplying it by two. That’s why it’s so important to do professional development,” Pawlicki said. “If we design the block the right way — in that you are creating meaningful, engaging, fun lessons and understanding your audience — I have found that students really enjoy the block schedule.”
During one of those professional development sessions, Pawlicki said the teachers talked about breaking classes into 20-minute segments, as Gilkison mentioned.
“An advantage of the block is being able to have a deeper, richer learning experience in the classroom, but it doesn’t work that way if we’re just doing traditional lecture or what I like to call ‘sit and get,’” Pawlicki said.
To prepare for the new schedule and make sure all runs smoothly when it’s rolled out next school year, the high school operated on two days of mock block schedule in March and April.
“That’ll be a good opportunity for them to feel firsthand what the block is going to be like,” Pawlicki said.
District administrators have been working toward switching to a block schedule for years because they believe it will complement the academy model.
“We were very thoughtful and purposeful (with) looking at our model and what we want for outcomes for kids when we talk about the academy model,” Pawlicki said. “We need that additional (class) time because we’re having these business partners come into the school and those experiences work better when you have more time in that specific classroom for that to happen.”