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Language and schedule conflict

June 26, 2007 pm30 11:49 pm

Merhaba! This is supposed to be language week, but thoughtful posts will be hard, especially in the handful of languages I (pretend) to speak besides English. I can read a bit in 3 other languages, guess out the words in several related ones, fake some tourist-speak in another handful, but you can’t really fake writing. At least I can’t. Zhalko. Quelle dommage.

Plus I am very very busy. This is the end of grade/transcript season, and the early part of scheduling season. And there is lot’s to do. Hay mucho trabajo. Small school scheduling is really a very different beast than large school scheduling.

(Lot’s about small school scheduling, below the fold —>)

In a large school, the scheduler can work off the numbers. X number of teachers in a department means 5x – k classes. N students needing a certain class means N/c sections of that class (+/-). He sets the right number of sections up, spreads them through the day, lets the department chairman assign five classes to each teacher, lets the computer assign kids to the righ classes. The scale is massive. Takaja eta robota! It is very efficient.

As long as space is used properly, problems (still real problems!) are generally of a limited variety. They can occur if the course requests were not completed. Or if they were incorrect. In that case the programmer might need to close a section of one class, and open another. But a teacher leaving is just a vacancy for the Chairman to fill, not a crisis. And there are so many sections of everything that it is rare, but not impossible, that a student’s desired classes conflict.

Small schools can’t do this. If there is one section each of several electives, the potential for conflict exists. If an elective needs to be taught by one teacher, who also is lined up to teach all four sections of course XYZ, than the elective must not be at the same time as those sections, and (in NYC) they have to fit together without creating 4 consecutive periods. The schedule must be written with teachers, rooms, and students in mind. The numbers alone are not enough. It is, in fact, massively inefficient to write a small school schedule.

There are a couple of small school scheduling strategies that, in combination, are widely used. One option is to reduce options. This might mean that all 9th graders have the same schedule. With all the same classes, it is fairly easy to get them what they need. Another option is the use of ‘blocks.’ ‘Blocks’ can mean one of two things. In this case, it refers to the practice of scheduling a group of (say 25) kids with the exact same classes. Instead of writing 400 schedules, block programmers write 16. Of course, kids making up classes, or accelerated, or with something else special, these kids upset the block. And aren’t small schools designed to accommodate all of these kids? The child as individual, and all that sort of good stuff…

A less restrictive option is to offer only specific courses in specific grades, but to let the kids mix from class to class. It’s not as easy, but part of the “feel” of high school should be having different classmates in different classes (or that’s what I think).

And then there is careful handcrafting of a schedule. Specific courses, sections, teachers, times, all carefully planned out in advance. This, ideally, leads to maximum options for the kiddies, and “perfect” fit between teachers and classes, but keeping classes balanced under this option is tough.

Along with these options, small schools often run unusual time schedules. Some have A and B days, with classes meeting longer periods on alternate days. Sometimes Monday and Wednesday are A, Tuesday/Thursday are B, and Friday all the classes meet for regular periods (C). In some small schools, a class may meet at different times of day, depending on the day of the week. All of this is generally more complicated to program. Teachers can’t be programmed for too long a work stretch without a prep or lunch. And the best laid plans can get tangled up when kids’ schedules are written and two classes they need meet only at the same time.

I was talking to a programmer from another small school this morning. They block their freshmen, most of their sophomores, and handcraft a schedule for their upperclassmen. We have reduced options for the lower classmen, and handcraft for juniors and seniors, and run an unusual time schedule.

In the end, as I mentioned above, the outlay of creative effort is enormous. The result had better be worth it, something special. Otherwise, it is a massive waste of time to repeat this at hundreds of small schools across the city, when large school programming could be done much more efficiently, preserving more options for teachers and students.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jackie permalink
    June 27, 2007 am30 12:59 am 12:59 am

    Ugh – I remember those days. I used to do the scheudling for a small alternative school. I remember one of the biggest headaches was making sure the scheudle worked for each and every senior, so they could take the classes he/she needed for graduation. I don’t miss those days!

  2. June 27, 2007 am30 11:46 am 11:46 am

    What’s a small school? The school I went to in Singapore had 2,000 students, K-12; when I was in 8th grade, there were around 400 students at the middle school, but the principal could schedule everyone with a computer.

  3. June 27, 2007 pm30 3:42 pm 3:42 pm

    400 would be small for a high school or middle school. If you stayed with the same class all day, there really is not a scheduling hassle. However, if each kid has an individual schedule, creating the master schedule for the school might be a challenge (match teachers to courses to classrooms to times – this must be done before creating student schedules).

    Once I have my master written, I schedule all the students with a computer. At this point, pretty much all of us do.

    • April 13, 2009 am30 1:54 am 1:54 am

      By “schedule them with a computer” do you mean you guys use ESIS or something else? I’ve been looking into writing a simple scheduler for our school, and I’m interested in how you’ve done it. Thanks for the post – it’s helpful to get an insight into how you approach the beast.

      • April 13, 2009 am30 6:16 am 6:16 am

        There are several phases:
        1. Student course requests must be completed. Often times these are entirely done by pattern (has algebra, gets geometry. has spanish I, gets spanish II). Other times, there are decisions to be made: AP courses, electives, language choice. This can be done by kids, by counselors, by admins, or by a combination. It needs to result in the creation of a file, and that file needs to be counted (how many sections of each course)
        2. The master schedule (which courses, when, rooms, teachers) needs to be built. This can be done by letting a computer crunch the numbers of sections of each course, and push out a schedule. It is typical, I think, for the result NOT to be done by teacher. Or the master can be written by hand. It would have to be entered into a database or spreadsheet, and uploaded.
        3. The requests are matched with the master to create student schedules. Our schedule maintenance software has a “scheduling engine” which does this, and redoes it, and fudges and fiddles to balance things out.

        In my case, I complete 1 by hand (use @if statements and @countif statements in excel, and individual elective request forms with the students, including back-ups.

        I complete 2 by hand. For my school, I know in advance who is teaching what, how many sections, etc. I also know which kids have requested what. If there is a conflict that stops kids from taking what could reasonably be interpreted to be a reasonable combination of classes without reasonable alternate, I rewrite the schedule. It is a boutique-y, handcrafted job.

        With 1 and 2 completed in Excel, I upload and let our scheduling engine complete step 3. Then I go in and tinker more.

        Did I come close to answering your question? We should go to e-mail if you need more detail.


  1. Novaya metla… « JD2718
  2. Done scheduling « JD2718

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