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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Middle school block schedule by semester

Middle school block schedule by semester

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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My middle school is considering changing year-long science and social studies classes (45 min. each) into semester classes of 90 minutes. We would still need to teach the same learning targets but rearranged to fit a semester block.

I am trying to wrap my head around this so I don’t end up being the “grumpy old teacher” who is resistant to change and should think about retirement. We are told it will give us more time with students, but it still adds up to the same number of minutes of instruction… larger pie pieces, but less of them.

Has anyone every used this in a middle school setting? I’ve seen it at a high school level, but not with 11-13 year olds.

Does this have a name so I can research it more effectively?

My concerns:

A student could end up with 6th grade science 1st semester and 7th grade science 2nd semester. This would create a year-long gap between science courses. They would still be required to take the state science test.

Does doubling the content each day reduce retention? I kinda think it’s best to let the paint dry between coats to avoid the colors getting mixed.

Thanks for any feedback you can give. Sorry for the rambling… maybe I am getting old. Time to yell at those darn kids who keep walking on my grass!

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Our middle school went to daily block scheduling for math and language arts. While I think block scheduling can allow deeper dives into projects, which could be particularly interesting in science and social studies, I'm not sure this one semester of each os necessarily the way to go, especially if it doesn't mirror what the kids will get in high school.
It might be interesting to 'trade" semesters where there were once a week extended blocks, kind of like a lab period, for these classes, to work on something more in depth. I know our district is trying to figure out how to get all the specials and blocks for the core subjects in, and it's getting near impossible without considering extended the school day or the school year.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi Joe
I'm not sure that just doubling the content or length of instruction does much to change retention, but I think the block can allow for changes in instruction which *could* lead to better retention. Is it possible that you could advocate for interdisciplinary projects that would allow kids to continue working with scientific concepts in their 'off" terms?

I also wanted to share this block scheduling planning tool that we use a lot in helping teachers with the transition. There are two versions at this link- a blank and an example. Hope they help!


Joe's picture
Seventh grade science teacher from Central Wisconsin

Hey Folks,

Thanks for the suggestions and comments. I have been spending this early "Black Friday" morning searching for any school that has implemented similar changes to their middle school science program that we are considering. Here are the specifics...

* I currently teach 7th grade science in 45-minute periods for an entire year.
* We are considering moving to semester-long courses of 90 minutes.
* Using the BYOC software (Build Your Own Curriculum) we have 78 learning targets to help students master. We have worked for years to fine tune the learning targets... weeding out the redundancies and filling in gaps. The 8th grade curriculum builds on what we cover in the 7th grade. Reducing the number of learning targets is not an option.
* Other content areas have their learning targets to address also. An interdisciplinary approach would be awesome, but not a workable solution.

I am a social media Luddite. I don't use Facebook, and I don't like to see pictures of my friends' "best meal ever". That being said, I need a big favor from the more tech savvy users of this site. Can you please use whatever social media tools you have available to help me find any school that's successfully implemented a 4x4 middle school science block?

Thanks for any support you can give!

Joe's picture
Seventh grade science teacher from Central Wisconsin

Thanks for the feedback! I was not able to find anything with the link. It says the folder is empty. Maybe needs a different Share setting?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi Joe-
Not sure what happened there! Try this link:


If it still doesn't work, email me at lthomas (at) antioch (dot) edu and I'll send them as attachments.

Youki Terada's picture
Youki Terada
Senior Associate, Research Curation

Hi Joe,

Great questions! Looking at the research on block scheduling (which is heavily focused on high schools), there are definitely pros and cons to switching to 90-minute classes. A high-quality review of 58 studies on block scheduling found that while student GPA and school climate increased, performance on standardized test scores were inconsistent (http://rer.sagepub.com/content/76/1/137.short). So it seems that while students are getting better grades, the longer gap between classes may be a concern (as you stated).

For middle school, this research summary from the National Middle School Association (NMSA) may be useful: http://www.ncmle.org/research%20summaries/ressum17.html. The article promotes "flexible block scheduling" which allows for inquiry science lessons using project-based learning. Here are some ideas for PBL and technology-integrated inquiry science:

The Salisbury Middle School STEM program uses block scheduling for STEM projects: http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet.aspx?ArtMID=888&Article.... One of the main benefits to block scheduling, as this school shows, is that it provides additional time for deeper immersion.

Additional research:
Research Spotlight on Block Scheduling from the National Education Association

The Effect of Block Scheduling on Middle School Students' Mathematics Achievement

What is the effect of block scheduling on academic achievement? A systematic review

Research digest: The Effects of Longer Classes on Learning

Good luck, and let us know how things turn out!

- The research team @ Edutopia

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