DELAVAN — A new schedule, new class philosophy and new course options at Delavan-Darien High School will offer a more challenging, more engaging and more college-like experience for students than ever before.
Starting in the fall of 2011, DDHS students will have increased class time with teachers, a less-complicated weekly schedule, and new class options that are focused on specific student interests.
“I spoke with a group of current juniors and seniors a few weeks ago about these changes,” said Principal Mark Schmitt, Ed.D. “The juniors were very enthusiastic about them. For the seniors? They said, ‘Sure, now all the good stuff comes.’”
Credits and Schedules
Gone from the course lineup are quarter-credit classes. All classes will be a half- or full-credit, Schmitt said. Half-credit classes last a semester, while full-credit classes last the entire year. Structuring credits this way allows for the articulation of more credits at area technical colleges or universities.
Freshmen, sophomores and juniors are required to take at least seven credits. Seniors must take at least six.
As for the schedule changes, Schmitt said staff wanted to move away from an alternating “A-Day,” “B-Day” schedule and replace it with one that was consistent week-to-week with more class time.
The solution was to mirror Badger High School’s “block” schedule, which has been popular with both staff and students there, Schmitt said.
The 2011-12 schedule will have eight periods, with each period meeting for 46 minutes Monday, Thursday and Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday will have “block” classes lasting 95 minutes, appropriate for labs and in-depth research. Odd-numbered periods will meet Tuesdays, with even-numbered periods meeting Wednesdays.
The combined result is more classroom and instructional time for each course, each day, which district administrators hope will lead to greater student achievement.
Teachers this year are already starting to work on the adjustment to teaching in a longer block of time.
“Longer blocks of time require the use of several strategies in order to keep student interest, engagement, and energy at high levels,” said Bill Banks, a recent presenter to the DDHS faculty who has worked with high schools throughout the state on active learning strategies.
Many of the new courses on the schedule are more narrowly defined and focused, much like a college student would see in his or her major field of study.
“Students will get a lot more choices in what they want to study,” Schmitt said “This will allow students to pursue their interests. It will be more like college in that they’ll have more choice in what they want to study.”
New courses have been added throughout most of the high school’s 14 departments. For example, DDHS will replace the broad-scope Earth Science class with three new, focused classes — Astronomy, Geology and Meteorology/Oceanography.
In English, students will have more advanced course options, with new honors courses for freshmen and sophomores, new Advanced Placement preparatory courses for juniors in literature and composition, and more focused class options such as Persuasion in Literature and Film, Contemporary Literature, Cultural Literature and Latino Literature.
“The No. 1 skill employers are looking for in today’s world is the ability to communicate, whether it’s writing or speaking,” Schmitt said. “We’ve added more components to our English Department so students can work more on polishing their verbal and non-verbal communication skills.”
Schmitt said the English Department will bring more non-fiction reading into the curriculum, and recognize the diversity in our schools.
“For our English Department, we realized several things,” Schmitt said. “One, we’ve got to give students more of a choice in what they read, so we’ll have more independent reading. Our kids are also going to be prepared for the real world by reading and writing more non-fiction, which is needed in the work environment. And, new courses such as Cultural Literature and Latino Literature will allow a way for students to develop an appreciation for the themes that have emerged from different cultures, particularly for our population of Latino students. We want to get all students more engaged with literature.”
Other new course highlights include the addition of IT Essentials: PC Hardware and Software, which allows students to study and build computers; an African Drumming course; Adventure Education, which will take advantage of new equipment made available in the Physical Education Department; Forensic Science, a look at using science to solve crimes; and many more.
New approach to learning
In 2011-12, courses at DDHS will also be taught with a new emphasis on “Authentic Intellectual Work,” which applies classroom learning to real-world applications.
Schmitt hopes DDHS will be a model high school in Wisconsin for Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW), which is being done now at many Iowa high schools.
“AIW is the chief high school initiative in Iowa, with some excellent results for student achievement.” Schmitt said. “The idea behind AIW is to have students gain a deeper understanding of a subject or topic vs. temporarily memorizing it so high marks can be achieved on a test.
With AIW, “if you’re in a math class, you’re taught to think like a mathematician. Or if you’re in social studies, it’s how historians think” Schmitt said. “There’s value to that beyond school. They’re not doing worksheets just for a grade in a grade book. They’ll be doing things that have meaning.”
“It will be a shift away from word searches, packets and worksheets, and a shift to tasks and thinking that are much more connected to the students’ world.”
Rather than memorizing the kind of rocks in a mountain, students might take a more in-depth analysis of the situation in Chile that left 33 miners trapped below ground for more than two months. They could talk to employees at a Waukesha-based company that made cameras that aided in the rescue of the miners, find out why it took so long to drill a rescue shaft, or do an online video chat with the miners or rescuers.
Another example: Students in composition courses will not write solely for their teacher, anymore. They may write for wider audiences and have their work published in national journals or on online wikis or blogs.
Learning through the Authentic Intellectual Work model adds up to one thing for students — “Students at DDHS will be much more engaged in their learning,” Schmitt said.
As this year’s seniors said, all this “good stuff” comes to DDHS in the fall of 2011.