Our school is proposing using a 4×4 block, so that there are 4 classes per semester, each class around 90 minutes. That would mean a full year class is done in one semester, so students can take 8 classes a year.
I visited Flagstaff High School with a contingent from our school. Here are some things I learned.
1. They require students to take math classes consecutively until they pass the AIMS (the Arizona standardized math test to graduate, first taken when the students are in 10th grade). Otherwise they could theoretically skip math classes every alternate semester.
Another school in the district did not have this policy. This raised concerns students would forget quite a bit of math over the 7-month gap, but according to the teachers the amount of forgetting over 3 months is equivalent to the amount of forgetting over 7 months. Apparently the short term memory dumps out equally either way.
2. Some math teachers seemed to be handling the block better than others, reportedly due to a lack of training. However, the population was mature enough to handle classes that were simply review-lecture-work on assignment with no variety or projects. With our population I doubt that would work as well. Some teachers reported the best thing to do was ensure that activities switched every 20 minutes, and teachers in another school in the district were given timers to use for this very purpose.
3. Students universally liked the block. 4 classes means less homework.
4. One teacher described the 90 minute time as allowing the assessment and check and conclusion to all happen in the same period (rather than having to wait for after the homework was done).
5. It’s possible to have an AP class in the fall, and apparently students retain the knowledge enough that some review sessions before the AP are enough for them to do well.
6. Their absence policy was to allow students in class tardy but to mark them absent even if they were 30 seconds late. If they reached 10 absences they went on absence probation and if they reached 13 they received no credit. At another school in the district (more like our own school’s demographics) they had to relax the rule to 5 minutes before being marked absent.