Why does a class last an hour?


The article called “Is snacking learning”, by Seth Godin caught my attention today. In it he discusses why we are arranging classes and learning in a set standard like 1 hour or 45 minutes and he goes on to question if this is the best way to learn. I would like to join in the conversation by pointing to what we are doing at my school with block scheduling in every subject. We are finding that although our students might seem somewhat nervous about it in the beginning, they all seem to really appreciated it after a short period of working this way. In fact if I stop by any class with visitors and ask our students the question; what is your opinion about block scheduling, they all are in favour of it. In addition to having 5 hours to figure out the curricula and dig deep into the material, I guess it is a good way to prepare the students for future studies and work.

I’m including a link to an articles about what we do in our school here and Seth’s blog below. You can also see the schedule for our year 2 students. Same colour is same subject.

what-happens-in-a-one-subject-for-the-entire-day-classroom

Why does a class last an hour? Why does a TED talk last 18 minutes? Why does an MBA take two years?

Could it be that the default lesson length has something to do with the cost of switching rooms, which makes it inefficient to have really short lessons? Or the high cost of physical space, which makes it expensive to have really long ones… Perhaps length is a function of switching costs and bureaucracy structure…

One side effect of the low switching costs and high availability of choice on the web is that people are discovering things in 600-second bursts.

What would happen if we started to do this on purpose? Learn a math lesson, understand a social history movement, learn something about human nature, five minutes have gone by…

Or what if we chose to dive in really deep, deeper than the real world would ordinarily tolerate. Five hours on a topic that might only get three minutes on a typical curriculum… or a month-long interactive seminar designed to teach something that’s almost never taught.

I don’t think learning is defined by a building or a certificate. It’s defined by a posture, a mindset and actions taken.

It’s still early days in figuring out the best way to transfer knowledge. The length of a class ought not to be set in stone. (For the very same reason that meetings at work should never last an hour).

2 comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time. I teach languages, and I dread the days when I have two subsequent periods in different languages, because although I am fluent in both English and Spanish, it takes me a while to switch from one language to the other. I often think about my students (ungdomskole) jumping from math to social sciences to Spanish, to gym and then to English. Madness! However I also wonder how a one or two subjects-per-day work specifically with languages. Wouldn’t it be a long pause between the days when they mostly work in English? I see the possibility of solving the problem with some homework: watching a video, listening to a podcast, reading something or watching a movie…I am not so optimistic with the elective languages, Spanish, German or French.

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