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I was a t(w)eenage (scheduling) gladitator

Monday, September 6th, 2010


Does it sound crazy to expect a 12-year old to be able to determine their requirements, decide what electives they’re going to take, fit them all into a schedule, and formulate a back-up plan (or three) in case the classes they want are full?

Does it sound even crazier to release them into an entire gym full of t(w)eenage scheduling gladitors, dashing from table to table to sign up for the classes they want?

Maybe, but it worked: at the unusual public school I attended from 6th to 12th grade, starting at the end of 7th grade, we all designed our own class schedule in an annual ritual called Arena Scheduling.

To prepare to enter the Arena, each student would plan a schedule according to their own priorities, and also prepared a few back-up schedules in case they didn’t get their first choice of classes.

After our advisors looked our plans over, we’d stand in nervy anticipation outside of the school gym, waiting for our turn to be admitted. The sooner a student was graduating, the sooner they’d be admitted into the gym to run around and write their name down for the classes they wanted.

In the gym, there was a table for each subject, a piece of paper for each course offered in that subject, and a line on that paper for each spot available in that class. When it was our turn, we’d strategically dash from table to table, securing a seat in each class we wanted, or execute our back-up plan if our first-choice classes were full.

I think each of us scheduling gladiators had a moments of panic. And probably everyone, at least once, was disappointed or had to make a tough decision.

But even in the midst of all the dashing, no one split a lip. No one came to fisticuffs with their fellow students over the last seat in a coveted class. No one failed to graduate because they had to pick their own classes and they somehow didn’t fulfill their requirements.

Not only did nothing bad happen, but this seemingly chaotic process had numerous major benefits:
We learned how to go for what we really wanted.
We learned how to make a plan and execute it.
We learned how to activate a back-up plan if we didn’t get our first choice.
We learned to advocate for our own educational goals, instead of just doing what we were told.

Arena Scheduling also had the (probably unintended) effect of contributing to a culture of passion. Instead of groaning over being assigned to a challenging class, kids schemed about how they could get into one.

It might sound chaotic, but I honestly think it works better than the alternative, which is having students’ schedules created by administrators—a task which cannot be enjoyable for the administrators either, and presumably takes weeks of brain-numbing planning.

I’ve seen students with administrator-designed schedules have their math classes scheduled for the absolute last class period, which totally didn’t work for them. I’ve seen schools were students were only able to request a different math teacher if they had already failed a class with that teacher.

In my opinion, letting students choose their own schedules is way more practical and realistic. And it empowers students to make choices that work better for everyone.

Photo credit: these great pictures of playmobil gladiators are from bloggerCosmicBaby.

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