#Observe’them Part 2

Wow, today was the day, I put on my shoes
I packed up my bag, I gathered the “tools”
I made up my lunch, I went full of joy
I sat in the rooms, I rushed through the hallways

By the end of the day, I ….. was tired, exhausted, yet excited and wondering: WHY ARE CLASS PERIODS 75 MINUTES LONG?

My day as a student was the result of the amazing collaboration and innovation that takes places in my school, in my board (see my Part 1 blog for all the work that went into setting this day up). My schedule for today was as follows: Anthropology (College/University), Leadership (Open to all levels), Chemistry (University), Law (College/University). Each class is 75 minutes long, with 5 minute breaks and a 1 hour lunch in the middle of the day. 8:40 AM to 2:50 PM.

Period 1 was what I would like to call “food for the soul”. Mr. Peterson was a great host. The class was just finishing a mental health continuum discussion and had used the movie “A beautiful mind” and John Nash’s biography as one of the cases. There were many moments in which the students’ voices were loud and clear, while a very patient, yet guiding teacher steered us in the right direction. Reminding us all from time to time to refer to our notes, Mr. P took the class through different levels of analysis that I did not think I was capable of with no prior knowledge.

Students, myself included had to use critical thinking skills and make connections between the movie and the symptoms shared with us by Mr.P.

Personally, it was a great start of the day, getting me engaged right away. I was out of my comfort zone, but I was enjoying the connections made, the discussions, the observations other were making.

My brain however, was spent after 60 minutes; the 75 minute period started to dawn on me.I kept asking myself — why don’t we have a break now? I needed to move. A quick washroom break got my legs moving, and I forgot for the moment that I actually needed a real break.

The bell came and went and second period started. Ms. Morrison’s leadership and peer support class is BUSY and INSPIRING.

Students are true leaders, as in one class period I witnessed discussions, a presentation and Twitter challenge, another discussion on committing resources and time to 3 causes, followed by a debrief on leadership traits based on the book and movie “The pursuit of happiness”. I loved the presentation on “Pink Day” and especially their Twitter challenge:

Mrs. M has a great pulse of the class. Students were visibly comfortable and willing to share, there was a sense of trust and reliance on one another. I also observed the willingness students displayed in trying something new.

As a new student in class it was again a bit overwhelming. Luckily I received great support from students, or should I say colleagues.

Same as period 1, 60 minutes or so passed, and my brain started focused on the uncomfortable. I needed a break. I wanted to move. I needed a moment of quiet, choosing by myself what to think about. My lower back was tight, I was getting fidgety.

Well, time passed and lunch was upon us. We met in the school cafeteria and while Jamie was excited to go to his first #Observethem class, I was cherishing every minute of my lunch break. To be completely honest I wished we would have gone for a walk or a run, just to get my legs moving. The 60 minutes passed by too quickly.

Period 4 was Grade 11 University chemistry. My nerves were at an all times high. I have not studied chemistry in 24 years (I may be dating myself here). Mrs. Grzesik is one of the loveliest teachers you’ll ever meet. She made me feel at home right away. The academic tone of the classroom was quickly established and two students helped me get settled in my assigned seat.

I was at a significant disadvantage due to the established prior learning and my lack of engagement with the subject over the years. I have to say I was mesmerized(math brain in overdrive here) by the explanations and was determined to “get it”. One of the strategies that worked for me in the first two periods was very detailed, PURPOSEFUL note taking. I continued to jot down all the little hints, and details Mrs. G mentioned while scaffolding the example for us. While technology is a wonderful tool, one that I cherish and use every day, I realized how important the note taking, with pen and paper was. There was so much to write down, that students may miss if they just read the slides. It was mentally rewarding to have the notes as they came in handy towards the end of class.

Mrs. G had an experiment scheduled for us and together with my table group we got right into it.

I realized, soon after the experiment started, that my brain was no longer craving the break. I was in my comfort zone. I was engaged, mentally stimulated, eager to find out more, looking for the next step. The structure of the class also helped, giving us as students that much-needed break in the form of a lab experiment. Once the lab was completed, Mrs. G encouraged us to practice some problems related to converting empiric formulas to molecular formulas; the notes I took at the beginning of class came in very handy. I did not notice when time passed, I was in the zone. Looking around some students exhibited the same “symptoms” that I presented periods 1 and 2. It hit me: this is not their comfort zone, they too most likely hit their limit for the period from a cognitive perspective.

I kind of wished I would stay for another period of chemistry but the schedule said Law. So I said goodbye and moved along with 1500 other students to our period 5 classes.

Before I describe my period 5 experience I need to tell you how much I love reading, talking about law, politics, current events, policy making and changing. At some point in my teenage years I was set on becoming a lawyer.

Mrs. Morrow welcomed me to her busy, crowded classroom and showed me to a table group to join for the period. The topic of the day was Stereotypes and discrimination. Before delving right into it , there was a rapid fire of current events, news we heard or read over the weekend. As much as I like law, and talking about current events, my brain was done for the day. Just like students tell us, I had a hard time settling into a routine for the class. A masterful teacher, Mrs. M brought all of us into the discussion and managed to capture our attentions with so much patience I was mesmerized. I made an effort to shake off the tiredness and engage 100% in the lesson. The note taking habit kicked in and time seemed to pass much faster.

My table partner, who arrived a bit later was very supportive and guided me through the lesson notes. At the end of class he asked me: “are you a mature student coming back for a couple of credits?” . I realized the whole time he treated me as a peer. I wondered then: was I a good student, was I a good partner? Did I model good habits?

The end of the day came quickly. I was done. Mentally. Not physically.

It was an eye opening exercise to walk into a student’s shoes for one day. Some of the ideas that I took with me:

  1. Class periods are too long. Students need a mental break after 50–60 minutes. They need some physical activity in whatever form they wish to embrace: walk, run, bike, play ball….A brain break.
  2. 3–5 minutes between classes is not enough transition time. Some students travel from the south end, 3rd floor to the outdoor portable. It was impossible in the time allowed. If a washroom break is needed there is no way any student will make it in time.
  3. Classes that are our comfort zone nourish our brains and souls. Time passes quickly. The others tire us more and make it harder to be engaged and PRODUCTIVE.
  4. Students can multitask pretty well.
  5. Students come up with very interesting ideas when invited to speak, participate, debate, challenge.

Thank you to all the teachers who welcomed us in their classrooms, to the students who treated us as equals, to the organizers for putting in so many hours to come up with authentic schedules. So many ideas are going through my head right now. But I am going to call it a night and most likely hit the pillow pretty early. What a day.