It’s been a rough patch of winter in New England, with school closing for 2+ days at a time after getting feet of snow dumped on us. While there are plenty of reasons to argue that schools don’t need to be closed the day AFTER a storm, a more important argument is why is the school closed just because the building is?
Online learning technologies allow many students at all grade levels to take classes or even get entire degrees from the comfort of their own homes. And even for curriculum still centered on in-class instruction, there are flipped classrooms and other tactics being employed across the nation. With a little creativity and preparation, schools can leverage these same technologies to turn “school is cancelled” declarations into “Learn from Home” Day announcements.
What might a LFH day look like? There are a lot of options. Ideally, students are able to follow their regular daily schedule. They get on their computers and engage in videoconferencing with their teachers for each period, with assignments and lessons being delivered virtually as if the students were actually in their classroom seats.
Obviously some tweaks would be required for certain classes; science labs might need to be postponed, art projects might need to be shifted from pottery to drawing, gym class might be “do some crunches” or “go shovel some snow,” but the core classes could still take place largely unchanged.
Of course, the above ideal scenario requires schools to have some pretty good online learning systems in place. But schools could also use freely available tools to achieve many of the same things. Blogs, Skype, screen-sharing software, free conference call providers… you could cobble together a virtual classroom pretty easily.
But to make this work, the schools, teachers, students and parents need to do a little of planning and get everyone to buy in. Most importantly, students (and maybe some teachers) must shake off the idea that a snow day is an unexpected vacation day and is just a change in setting. But when the alternative is extra days of school in June or July, they could probably get on board.
There is also the assumption that students will have access to their own computer/device and have Internet access. While this may be a challenge in some urban or poor rural school districts, it should not be a stretch for private schools and suburban schools, many of which already give their students laptops or tablets. And the savings of turning snow days into LFH days might make those purchases of $200 Chromebooks for each student a lot more logical.
But even when an online classroom experience isn’t a practical reality, there are other tactics that can be employed. When a snowstorm is in the forecast, assign a set of “snow day” assignments (book reports, math packets, science experiments, educational movies or YouTube videos with follow-up questions) that students can largely complete on their own, and then make sure that teachers are available by phone or email throughout the day if there are any questions.
So, let’s shovel off the old school thinking that a snow day means a lost day and bring some innovative thinking to the table. Extreme weather is the new normal, so we might as well be prepared for it. And for those worried that your kids might be deprived of sledding or snowmen building on LFH days, that’s what recess is for!