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Strategic Plan

Xploration Courses Bring Choice to Middle School

Mark Blaisdell
It has been exciting to share the structure and features of our upcoming new schedule with students and parents this past month. As a member of the scheduling committee, I welcomed the opportunity to address a number of issues that exist in our current schedule. Some of these issues included the general “pace” of the day, the need for conflict-free regular extra help time, the irregular teaching blocks, and the amount of time demanded for homework each night. The structural changes we made to move to fewer but longer teaching blocks on an every other day rotation will address each of these issues. Another issue that emerged, however, required us thinking about more than structure. That issue is choice - a component of education that is receiving valuable attention in 21st century education. The current research on choice yields compelling - albeit, not very surprising - findings. For example, it is logical that increased choice within schools leads to higher levels of engagement, positive regard for learning, and self-direction.

Our middle school teachers have long understood the role of choice and motivation, and this understanding is often reflected in the freedoms students have to choose within their classes. However, up to this point, students have been limited in terms of choosing the courses they want to take. Of course, I believe strongly that the primary goal of the best middle school curricula should be designed to expose students to a wide variety of courses. I have compared the Derryfield middle school curriculum as a giant salad bar with lots of different offerings, but, with our salad bar, students must try something in every container. Our liberal arts approach then allows students both to pursue passions they may have and to discover ones that might have been missed had they not been required to experience them. I mean, who knew broccoli was actually so delicious!? The byproduct of a rich, varied, and required curriculum like ours, though, can be little room for students to make choices about what they want to study. Enter our new “Xploration” offerings!

First, let me offer a quick review of structure. Students will have courses meeting in three out of four class blocks each day of the eight-day cycle. The fourth block will be split into a twenty-five minute daily extra help session when every teacher will be available and a fifty-minute time period for students to take part in our Xploration offerings. Each Xploration offering will occupy three days in our eight-day cycle, leaving students five days of a fifty-minute study hall (in addition to their daily extra help period). We are currently in discussions with faculty, students, and parents about different offerings and will have an interest survey with the students in the spring. We do know for sure that this is where are current chorale, band, and strings offerings will now live. Other suggestions have included public speaking, investment, programming, film study/making, life fitness, digital photography, songwriting, ecology, inventors’ workshop, philanthropy, and a course to unlock creativity (just to name a few!). Each course will be offered on a pass/fail basis, and every student must sign up for at least one offering per term but not more than two.

We look forward to designing courses that will pique student interest and give them a little more freedom to design their curriculum. If you have any questions and/or input, please feel free to contact me.

Mark Blaisdell
Head of Middle School

The Derryfield School

2108 River Road, Manchester, NH 03104     p: 603.669.4524     f: 603.625.9715