Double-period Science

April 2001

From: Terry Doran - President of the Berkeley School Board
Re: Double Period Science at Berkeley High School

Several months ago the Science Department of Berkeley High School started a conversation about keeping double periods for science. I responded that, at this time, the School Board had no intention of changing the science program and, in fact, students are now signing up for double period science for the 2001-2002 school year.

I did raise some educational issues related to the present way Berkeley High School is structured, in that students spend twice as much time in lab science classes than they spend in ALL their other classes each semester.

I received many letters in response and I want to first thank all of you for your interest, concern for the well-being of BHS, and your thoughtful comments. There was almost unanimous support for the quality of science instruction at BHS and the desirability ( necessity?) of science classes to be longer ( each class period ) than our present single period allows. I agree completely.

So I would now like to pose the question of science instruction at BHS and the overall quality of the BHS education program in another way: "How can we reconcile the desire for long science classes with the benefits that would occur if ALL classes met the same amount of time each semester?"

I would go one step further and say: " how do we also equalize the workload for our teachers, while still offering science in large time blocks?" Right now science teachers see about 90 students a day, a reasonable amount, while the average student load, per day, for ALL other teachers is 150 students. How can we continue to justify this inequity? Many schools have maintained quality science programs AND solved these educational issues. I believe there are several models out there that would work well at BHS.

I also believe NOW is the time to start exploring these options. If enough people agree, as I do, that BHS would be a better educational institution if ALL classes met for the same amount of time, each semester, and ALL teachers had the same student load each day, we do have time, starting now, to carefully and wisely change BHS for the 2002-2003 school year. We may also have no further to look for one possible model than King Middle School? You can reach me: tdoran at

Feb 2001

At the Berkeley HS Open House last week we learned that the school is considering doing away with the two period science classes. Apparently, this would save the school money. According to the teachers, it also means that they cannot teach the two period lab classes necessary to give them a fundamental understanding of the topics and prepare them for college. If you are interested in preserving this option at Berkeley HS, contact the principal and the school board. It would be unfortunate if only the kids in private school were able to get an adequate grounding in science. Fred

Feb 2001

From: Terry Doran, President of the Berkeley School Board

Dear interested members of the Berkeley community,

The Berkeley High School Science department, recently, sent out a letter to parents urging them to contact School Board members to support double period science classes. The Science Department stated, in their letter home, that the School Board was discussing the possibility of eliminating double period science classes at BHS because of the financial difficulties facing the school district next year. I would like to set the record straight.

Neither the Berkeley School Board, as a whole, nor any individual School Board member, has indicated that they would want to eliminate double period science classes at Berkeley High School because of financial reasons.

The Science Department, at Berkeley High School, misunderstood statements I made at a recent School Board meeting and thought that was what I was saying. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am committed to a quality science department at Berkeley High School. Our students deserve nothing less. HOWEVER, what constitutes a quality science program, and how does ANY department structure at Berkeley High School impact the overall quality of education at the school, are some of the questions I have raised over the years.

I am the only board member who has questioned double period science classes, always in the context of looking at how to offer the best possible overall education for our children.

For example, Berkeley High School is the only high school I know of, in the entire State of California, that requires students to spend twice as much time each week, in science, than any other course they take, in order to receive lab science credit.

My question, therefore, to the science department, and to Berkeley High School; how do all the other schools in California, including the most prestigious, provide a quality science education to their students within the same timeframe as they do for math, English, History, and all their other courses?

Another question I have asked; what would be the benefit, or loss, to our educational program at Berkeley High School, if we could provide a quality science program to our students within the same amount of time allotted each week to math, English, History? How many more courses, honors or AP English, math, History, could a student take if this were the case? Could students take more electives if they didn't have to take science twice as long as other courses? would fewer students feel the pressure to have a "science oriented curriculum" when with more time in their schedule for other courses they could concentrate their studies in the humanities, if they so desired, and still satisfy all science requirements to the UC systems?

I have raised these questions, and will continue to raise these questions, in my desire to improve the educational programs at Berkeley High School. The bottom line, if any changes were to take place in the science program at BHS, it would take at least a year of planning to institute, a year from this June when decisions will be made for the next school year.

Thank you all again for your sincere desire to keep BHS the best that it can be, and I look forward to working together with you to continue our quest to improve the educational system for all our children.

Terry Doran, President of the Berkeley School Board

I want to second all of the thoughts raised by Terry Doran concerning double period science classes. I'm not yet convinced of either approach to the issue, but based on the experience of my older son, I am starting to lean towards single period science classes (except for the AP classes).

My older son is a senior and is currently planning on going to medical school after college, though he did not take the AP science classes. My feeling, and his as well, is that the double period science classes were not a good use of class time.

In chemistry the double period was utilized occasionally for labs, but the full time period was only used well less than a third of the time. In biology and physics the teachers rarely had enough material to fill 2 periods, and when they did then the next day was an "off" day. I know, for instance, that in biology they watched non-academic movies, such as "Austin Powers" on numerous occasions.

I think it would be a challenge to fit the full curriculum within the framework of a single period class (especially since BHS class periods are on the short side). However, I think the trade off of so much "wasted" time may not be worthwhile. When I was in high school we had double periods for chemistry and physics twice a week and had study hall, "health" (social living? ethnic studies?), driver education, etc. on the other days. I think the AP sciences should probably have double periods.


Why does science class get a double period but the other classes don't? Why aren't all classes double period? Anon.

Re: Double period science at Berkeley High and Terry Doran's statement about how "other public schools do it." There are a number of public schools in the Bay Area on this side of the tunnel, over in Contra Costa county, and on the penisula that have double periods for EVERY class and block scheduling. Every class isn't offered every day. But, all classes are offered 5 times a week. It seems to work for other districts. Something to consider. Carol

I can only speak from my own observations of my child's experience at BHS, but it seems that for her AP chemistry class a double period is essential. The amount of time spent going over assignments, class lectures, and discussion time easily fills the periods. In addition, on lab days the majority of the student's class time to set up, get the lab to run properly, clean up, and ask questions. On any day there does not seem to be a great deal of time left over to do anything more, much less watch videos.

I think we need to remember that when the current schedule was agreed to there was a great outcry as to its short length. Teachers, students, and parents all complained in this forum that the classes weren't long enough, so imagine having to do everything required in a lab science class during one period. The quality of the class will surely suffer. I think that rather than throw out something that works well for one group of students by saying that it is not equitable, we should find out what makes it work and duplicate the effort for all kids.


April 2000

It seems to me that there is a giant elephant in the middle of the room that no one is willing to talk about. And that is double period science.

As you may know, Berkeley Unified School District is drastically cutting back elective options for Berkeley High School students. In order to respond to a budget shortfall, they have made it more difficult for students to take many of the classes that have made BHS fascinating and unique. At a time when UC has added the requirement of two years of arts, BUSD has put out new rules that make fine arts and performing arts classes ever more difficult to fit into students' schedules.

Of course, we can and should blame the state for this ridiculous situation. In the greatest economic boom of US history, in the largest budget surplus in state history, we are seeing school districts everywhere cut back and squeezed, even by our liberal Gray Davis.

Besides pressuring the state to let go of some of that nine billion dollar surplus, what are we to do? Of course Berkeley High is one of the most attractive public schools because of the broad range of electives and because of such additions as double period science. Most school districts, with the same state money, do without such elaborate options and without double period science. Before we drop the arts electives, perhaps someone should rise to question double period science.

Ask yourself: Are students learning more at Berkeley High in science than those who are taking single period science at most other high schools in the state. A review of the literature (test scores, college achievement) a few years ago said no, the knowledge gained was essentially the same. Do college admission people think it is just terrific that we have double period science and favor BHS applicants as a result? Ask Rory Bled, I believe the answer is, on the whole, no. Do BHS science classes do more engaged and elaborate laboratory experiments than other high schools - as they ought to with all that time? Not really.

If you have a student in science, ask him or her: how many times do they watch South Park or other random movies? How much down time and dead time is there? Don't get me wrong. I think there should be bloc scheduling. It has proven to be great in science, math, English, and history. But why have we privileged science and are they using the time well?

The reason double period science is a shibboleth is that it is a favorite of what turns out to be the more privileged parents. They don't want to hear any of the questions. But we have to admit that this is a way that more privileged students are getting more resources from the school, in spite of our protestations of a desire for equity. After all, students in Integrated Science are only getting a single period class. That is more teacher pay, more scarce district resources, going primarily to the most wealthy.

Take some time to think: if we are cutting programs, sometimes drastically, can double period science not even get on the table as a subject of discussion?


I think double period science is great. I don't see how they could have covered all the material for the AP test without that extra time. No movies, no goofing off time that I heard about. Just a lot of information. I would hate to lose double period science. I think whether the kids are privileged are not is of little importance. I'm sure that all the kids use up resources.

At the same time, I really think the arts also need more support also. The new UC system requirement for art means that more kids will be taking more art. I hate to think that we need to take from science to give to art.


I am a science teacher myself so I may be biased(!) but teaching one period science is a travesty and BHS is to be commended for sticking with double periods. Science has to be a hands on experience. The students need to have a concrete experience with a concept before it is discussed theoretically. It is extremly difficult to set up, carry out and discuss a lab in 50 minutes. I always have to make very difficult choices about which labs we do. There is no time to carry out less structured labs or go much further even with the basic lab in which new concepts are introduced. I think the better question ought to be "why isn't integrated science a double period lab?"


It is interesting how negative the writer (Anonymous) is about double period science classes without actually backing up any of his or her assertions. I would love to get a reference to the review of the literature that showed you learned as much per year in science in a class that met 45 minutes a day compared to a class that met 90 minutes a day. Could you give us the reference? Also, is that your opinion, or Rory Bled's, that college admission officers do not favor more time in science classes?

I wonder if your child just had a bad teacher for science. Your beliefs do not match my son's experiences in science classes at Berkeley High. My son felt that all the time in chemistry and biology class was well utilized and he can't imagine how he could have learned as much in half the time. Indeed he feels it would have been a struggle to master chemistry in any less time in class. He also feels that it is impossible to carry out a lab in a 45 minute period. To him, that short of a lab would be a joke.

Only once in his 2 years of science at Berkeley High did a teacher ever show a movie. Apparently South Park was shown one year on Spirit Day.

Why does the writer assume that only "privileged" students are taking the regular double period science classes? Many students aspire to go to college and many hope to be accepted into the UC system. Some of these students want to learn as much as they can. Many are poor and see this as the means to success. Why do you ignore the existence of this group of students and pretend that only the wealthy are taking the regular science classes? Have you ever visited a science class at Berkeley High and seen the range of students there? No one forces students to take Integrated Science. Double period science classes are open to all.

It's fine to question the cost of any item in the BUSD budget. But I'd think the author's arguments would get a better audience if they were actually backed up by references or data and if they reflected a better understanding of the variety of students who take a variety of classes at Berkeley High.

P.S. The new UC requirement is for one year of art classes, not two.


What I said about double-period science was that the BHS articulation agreement with the UC system (the "a to g" requirements) recognizes our science classes as year-long courses, without noting whether they are one or two periods. I have indicated in the school profile which accompanies all transcripts sent to colleges that we are one of the few schools in California to offer double-period science. Rory Bled

My child experienced months of subsitute teacher's, movies, and wasted time. This was due to an administrative glitch, not the fact that it was a double period. When the chemistry teacher, Miss Haber, went out on maternity leave the school did not have her replacement lined up. Miss Haber is a great teacher, she was enthusiastic, willing to spend the time individuals needed with specific concepts, and returned calls. She gave plenty of notice about her departure so it's unclear why there was no one to step in when she left. Miss Gable is now the regular teacher for the class and she is also excellent.

Ask students who have completed a double period science class what they remember best, most will describe one of the labs or experiments that could not be done in 45 minutes. This hands on experience is doing what education should do, teaching complex concepts in a fun, visual way. Frances JBell

I strongly favor the opportunity provided in the double period science classes.We have experience with two children at BHS and that covers both AP BIO and AP CHEM. These classes would be very difficult to complete in time for the testing without the additional time. My daughter does not believe that they could no anything meaningful in lab during a single period. She also points out that Integrated Science is taken by 9th graders interested in a 4th year of science. It is the only offering to that grade level. I might add that when I was in high school (long ago!) we had single period 3 times per week and double period twice a week for lab work. My daughter says she has never been shown a frivolous movie in AP chem. I think Berkeley High has to meet the needs of all students on the spectrum. It is important to provide academic challenge to students at all levels of achievement. Unfortunately, my daughter finds challenge in far too few of her classes. AP Chem keeps her hopping!