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Follow-Up: Two Hour Labs in 50 Minutes

Shannon C'de Baca

One of the messy details about science is that you learn best by doing. You cannot learn how to do surgery by watching others do it. At some point, you have to get hands-on. Doing a lab well and using it to elicit deep thinking in students takes time. Online instruction makes this so much easier.

My students can do an online or kitchen chemistry lab and discuss it for days online. If they need two hours to do the lab and get clean data, they can do that. But such an activity couldn't fit into a set 50-minute schedule. When it comes to the school day, we must recognize that what may work for language arts may not work for math or science. One size does not fit all in schedules or calendars.

We can move labs online, shift lectures to flipped video, or even schedule in larger time blocks, but the meaty question about calendars and time will be credit. If you are willing to sit for 192 days and do a modicum of work, you can get credit—but not necessarily a rich understanding of the content or skills.

That is the key. We'll get clarity about using time when we redesign the system to focus on learning rather than hours. Shifting to a competency-based system makes sense for my students and allows for the schedule and calendar to change.

And yes, some will demonstrate learning more quickly than others. Our current schedules do not support the need for different paths.

Online schools and blended classes are more flexible, but we need to stop often and examine the unintended consequences of these changes to students, families, and staff. Student learning is critical, of course, but our schools are so much more than the core content. The social aspect of school is important, too.

Ultimately, the answer may be to rethink school hours altogether. What if schools served as learning hubs for communities? Can we afford to have schools open longer each day or each year? Can we afford not to?

Shannon C'de Baca has been a science teacher for the last 34 years. She currently teaches a blended online chemistry course.

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