BLUE EARTH - The days of a bell ringing at 8:30 a.m. to signal the start of the school day are gone.
Now students at Blue Earth Area High School can customize their schedules with options such as zero-hour classes and flip classes.
"It's what we would call a hybrid class, partially in class and partially online," says Gary Holmseth, business teacher.
In a traditional classroom, a teacher lectures a class and they do homework, well, at home, explains math teacher Tom Plocker. A flip classroom is the opposite: a teacher makes a video that kids watch at home or whenever, then the kids come to class to do their homework.
Plocker teaches pre-calculus for juniors and seniors in a flip classroom; Doug Storbeck teaches intermediate algebra for freshmen; and Mark Franta teaches physical science and physics.
It solves a lot of problems, Plocker said. Kids who have trouble understanding assignments at home often seek help from their parents, who may not understand the advanced math. Working with other students might not help either.
"The flip classroom addresses a majority of those issues," Plocker said. "It gives us more freedom to truly work with students in class. I've heard of parents watching the videos with their kids; that enables the parents to have a handle on the material and a better feel for what kinds of topics are covered in the class."
Cassie Thompson, a senior, is taking a flip class in accounting.
"I like it because I can do all of my homework in the classroom," she said. That gives her more free time at home since homework takes a lot longer than the eight minutes it takes to watch the video.
She believes the video helps her understand the instruction better too.
"It's not like the teacher talking [in class]," Thompson said. "I can go back as many times as I want to see it."
It also helps her get her work done, no matter how busy her life gets.
"All our assignments are online. We have access to a whole week's worth of assignments," she said. "We can go as fast as we want."
Another hybrid class is the zero-hour classroom.
"A zero-hour class is a class that takes place before first hour," said Holmseth, who teaches accounting this way.
The zero-hour class can be utilized by students who have a conflict in their schedules but still want to study a subject.
Blue Earth Area is set up with four blocks in a school day; each block runs 85 minutes, Holmseth explained. Some classes, such as music, are divided into "skinnies," with the first half of the block being band and the second half choir.
Students in both band and choir can take accounting by watching the videos when doing so fits into their schedules and "coming in for 45 minutes before first block on Tuesdays and Thursdays to take tests and get help," Holmseth said.
Students in only one music course can take a study hall for the other half block or they can "take accounting for half a block and go online for what they miss," he said.
Walker Pearson, a junior, takes accounting in zero-hour, coming in at 7:40 a.m. two days per week.
"I like that we get to go at our own pace," he said. "You feel responsible, not the teacher telling you to do it tonight or tomorrow night. You do it how you want to."
He also likes having that recorded video.
"It's easier if you don't understand something to rewind it," Pearson said, "instead of spending the whole class with your hand up, wasting the whole class' time asking the teacher to explain it."
Taking a hybrid class helps the kids with scheduling and getting enough credits.
"What music kids get is the music credit and full credit for accounting," Holmseth said. "If they couldn't find a class in say fourth block, by taking this class zero-hour, you wouldn't have to take one fourth block."
Pearson uses his zero-hour class to free up time.
"I still get my maximum four classes," he said, "but I still get a study hall."
Those options are what it's all about, Holmseth said.
"It offers more classes to more kids in a variety of ways," he said.
That doesn't mean it's an easier way to teach.
"We're having to record these videos," Plocker said, "and overcome technical glitches to get them online."
"It definitely has been a lot more work for me, but it's good for kids," Holmseth said.
It benefits the kids in the long run, he said.
"One thing that really helps is so many kids are college-bound," Holmseth said. "It allows them to take an online class before they go to college. Every kid will experience at least one class online in their college years. This allows them that experience before they even reach college.
"High school education is going that way," Holmseth said. "At least five states in the country - Minnesota isn't one - require kids to take an online class in their high school career before they graduate.
"It's the way education seems to be tilting," he said. "You want to get onboard with it, instead of waiting and watching it. It's been challenging and fun."