As a senior in high school, approaching graduation, college, and the impending doom of the so called “real world” all too quickly, the longing to revert back to my elementary school days is all too real.
Elementary school: there’s something about it, isn’t there? A warm and fond surge of nostalgia as you remember it: the smell of mud caked onto your sneakers from recess in the spring, hopping about the classroom like a frog picking up scraps of colored construction paper, drizzling enormous and unnecessary amounts of glue onto every art project, and inevitably, all over your hands, too.
Even though we had assigned seats and were ushered to and from the cafeteria in a single file line, there seemed to be this wonderful freedom in the way we spent our time, not only because we had so much of it, but because at school, that time was malleable.
I’m not really sure I ever noticed it when I was there, but there was a very peaceful and organic flow to the day. We had routine, sure. You can’t manage a room full of 30 first graders without it. But despite the sometimes chaotic energy young children bring, learning had an elegant progression. Math would bleed into science, science would glide into reading, and just like that, the subjects would change so naturally, with only a quick clean up period in between. Each day would be a little bit different. Writing might start “around” 12:30, history might end “around” 2:00.
Now, I sit on an assembly line, moving from class to class at the sound of a bell. The day starts at 7am sharp with economics class. At exactly 7:52, I make a swift, three minute transition through halls, clogged with hundreds of other students. I know the exact minute I change subjects. Each day is the same. Gym starts at exactly 7:55, calculus ends at exactly 10:46.
I wait for the sound of a bell to dictate what I’m supposed to be focused on, yet, I’m constantly asked to look forward, planning for my future and developing skills to make me an independent, capable, and bright young employee someday soon.
I think high school learning needs to live somewhere in the sea of elementary school, and the assembly line, and a quiet afternoon alone to work: a loosely structured, self managed window of time to work and learn and create.
A Day At BIG
The two halves of my day operate in stark contrast. From 7:00-10:45, I am put through the assembly line. From about 12:30-3:30, I’m put in an open pasture, almost, experiencing a mixture of set meetings and free work time.
That “open pasture” concept scares a lot of parents, and educators, and students. Basically, what BIG looks like on a student’s schedule is two or three class periods of unspecified subject content. To some, that looks like an afternoon at home watching Netflix; a complete free for all.
In reality, it’s just a student’s freedom to manage their own time, and it looks different for everyone. The purpose of your two or three hours set aside for BIG is to make progress on your projects, and learn. That happens in a vast multitude of ways. (Purple: team meetings, Orange: personal work time, Green: Partner Meetings, Yellow: collaborative work time, Pink: hands on, Blue: seminars)
How students spend their time is dictated by passion. At BIG, I have the freedom to choose what projects I work on, so for me, it would be silly to sit in the workshop doing the “science”. But, for one the many bright young scientists at BIG, writing a blog post would feel like a waste.
The Universal Solution
Quite simply, there isn’t one. There is no one structure of time that will cultivate maximum student achievement.
Of course, when you talk about a universal solution, it seems obvious, in any case, that there isn’t one. However, most high schools today operate as if there is.
Even though it deviates from the standard path, I don’t think BIG is the solution either. It’s a solution, not the solution. The mindset that allowed BIG to happen though, might be. That willingness to believe that the way things have been done, for like, ever, might not be the way to go. A growth mind set, that puts a crack in the sidewalk and lets a few flowers (and, inevitably, a few weeds, too) poke through.
I’ve been through elementary school. I’ve been put on the assembly line. I’ve been in the open pasture. Time is a part of learning, and I think the way to manipulate it in our favor is to experiment with it.