How to hack your bell schedule, how to blow it up

The world has evolved since the 1950s and so should our bell schedules.

We are no longer preparing students to be factory workers and simply pass the US Citizenship test. It’s inequitable and often times racist to only “offer” interesting and rigorous courses to some students. It’s time to say goodbye to the boring, robotic 6-period daily schedule.

Buh bye bland bell schedules.

7 Issues with traditional schedules

  1. You can only truly fit 6 classes depending on how long they are. Most courses are required by California Ed Code, except for middle school history.
  2. Students have more than 1 interest, and they want choice.
  3. There are more than 6 competencies to cover. In the age of common core standards, it’s all about cross-curricular skill development, critical thinking, and application of knowledge.
  4. How do you get in social-emotional learning, computer science, and any intervention classes?
  5. 40-50 minutes doesn’t provide much time for deeper learning, projects, group work, or individual feedback. This is a recipe for the creation of independent learners.
  6. By the time you start, introduce anything, there are’s only 5 minutes left!
  7. Real life doesn’t happen in 45-minute increments, and it’s not isolated.

Neo, think outside the box

Better yet, blow up the box!

Blow it Up – 8 Big changes

  • Look at block scheduling and hybrid blocks
  • Add a 7th or 8th class period but spread it out over a week
  • Create a 10-day rotation
  • Start each day with an intervention period to fill in skill gaps
  • End each day with office hours where students can drop into any teachers classroom for help
  • Coordinate your schedule with a local college or community center to offer more options
  • Remove a class that doesn’t have state mandates and offer something else instead
  • Think of releasing students early to provide more time for teacher collaboration and planning (here’s what you can do with the time)

Small Hacks – LIGHT SOME SMALL FIRES

If you can’t completely overhaul your schedule, try something small.

  • How about a 0 period to allow for additional course offerings?
  • Add a “week without walls” like Leadership High School, where staff offer something fun and outdoors and students choose based on their interest.
  • Combine classes to create integrated courses and offer more electives.
  • Add an advisory period once per week to develop social-emotional learning skills.

Boundless Benefits

If you are brave and creative enough to attempt this, the sky is the limit. Students can have time for more robust science labs and art projects. Students can build bridges, program robots, and design egg drop crates. Teachers will have time to check in with more students and ensure that students are grasping the content. Project-Based Learning and outdoor education can become more accessible.

Longer periods provide time for students to work together, tapping into a collectivist approach to harness the potential of many students of color. Integrated courses can also provide the brain with more opportunities to elaborate, apply, and connect synapses.

You can even save money through shared costs of instructors. In longer periods, students can develop deeper relationships with teachers through the increased production of oxytocin. This allows for social justice applications and discussion of real-world issues. Block periods can provide more time for development of cognitive routines and provide students with “chew” time (Hammond, 2015).

It’s real in the field

At my school, we realized that we couldn’t offer students reading intervention and English language development class because they wanted to take an elective. All students deserved access to art classes. And students should get something they consider fun, and one day, science might be their most fun class, but that’s for another post. It wasn’t fair to force remediation into their only choice class. Also, we wanted to implement project-based learning, which didn’t jive with 38 or 50 minute periods. Finally, we wanted our student to have access to health and computer science, a new school board mandate.

Fire in the hole. Kaboom.

We added a 7th period for all, added reading intervention, combined lunches, and went to a modified 72-minute block schedule. It got even crazier. On 2 days per week, we decided to release students early at 1:15pm. We moved our start time up 45 minutes earlier. The debris is still settling but we are reaping the benefits. See our bell schedule here.

We actually started the previous year, by hacking, and using a 0 period for our newcomer students to take ELD. This gave some students space in their schedule to take an art class. This became a bright spot (learn more about leveraging bright spots here) to build towards a larger redesign process.

Now, our reading scores increased at triple the pace. Students in our Project Based Learning classes reported more engagement and interest in their classes. Teachers reported that they felt more prepared for their classes and were able to catch up on grading. Teachers are grading less work on the weekends. Finally, students were able to take both an elective course and an intervention course.


What schedule changes have led to results? 

What big change would you love to make?