April 2020: NBJH Adds Math Minutes

Junior High Adds Math Minutes to School Day

When in-person learning returns next school year, Northbrook Junior High students will be following a schedule that increases math instruction minutes.

 The change is one of the outcomes of the Math Program Review. The Math Committee determined that the rigor of math learning standards, three levels of classes, and the student-centered learning model require more time than the current 40-minute per day the junior high math schedule allows. A survey of 21 area junior highs showed that over 60% of  the schools have at least 60 minutes of math instruction per day.

 Changing a master schedule is very complex and complicated due to the interconnectedness of so many components. After comparing the schedules of 21 local junior highs, consulting with a national expert in master scheduling, and surveying staff, the administration presented four scheduling scenarios with variations at the February Board meeting. All options had pros and cons. However, three of the four schedules would have significant, negative ramifications for students and teachers in several areas.  They would have reduced time for science, social studies, and world language; eliminated teachers’ ability to jointly plan instruction; eliminated x-block; eliminated interventions for math and language arts; and/or eliminated the ability of core teachers to focus their time and energy on one grade level curriculum and set of students. 

There was only one master schedule model that kept all of these important and beneficial components of our current schedule intact. It requires that math and language arts be blocked on alternate days – 40 minutes one day and 80 minutes the next, thereby providing an average of 60 minutes per day for each subject over the course of the school year.  An additional benefit is the double block of instructional time for both content areas. 

However, this model had one major drawback:  language arts would lose 20 minutes of time per day.  This was deemed not acceptable, so the administration began exploring ways to reduce this impact. The best way to do this for the entirety of the NBJH instructional program is to make two changes.  One is to shift some language arts classroom time spent on independent reading to homework, and the second is to replace cooking and sewing classes with language arts-focused exploratory classes. 

A survey of Northfield Township school districts shows that none of the middle schools offer sewing classes, while Districts 30 and 31 offer cooking classes, but Districts 27 and 34 do not.  The decision to select cooking and sewing was made, in part, because it would be the easiest of the exploratory classes to replicate in summer school, which will be explored as an option for the future. Dr. Hewitt reviewed the possibility of eliminating the cooking and sewing classes at the March 19 board meeting, including providing notice to the affected teacher of the possible schedule change.

The new English language arts courses will be aligned to learning standards and developed over the summer. Some initial ideas that were shared as examples include debate, journalism, speech, poetry, and creative writing. 

Dr. Hewitt said these changes were deemed to be the most effective ways to increase math an average of 20 minutes per day; maintain almost everything that is advantageous about the current master schedule; and reduce the instructional impact on language arts.

The board agreed it is unfortunate to lose the cooking and sewing classes but this was the best overall solution given the need to increase math instructional time, while also limiting the impact on language arts time. The sewing classroom space will be renovated over the summer to expand the STEM lab, while the cooking space will be converted into a regular classroom.

Following the Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Larry Hewitt created a presentation to share with parents regarding the decision-making process behind the schedule change. View it below: