By Andrew Hawk
My senior year in high school, the area of Ohio in which I lived received a large amount of ice and snow, resulting in my school being closed for nine consecutive school days. While scenarios like this may sound great to students, it can cause havoc for lesson planning, collecting grades, and student regression.
If you happen to live in a state that experiences the many joys of winter, then you are no stranger to snow days. When snow accumulates to the point that traveling by roads becomes dangerous, schools close their doors until conditions are safe again. An unexpected break is appealing to staff and students alike, but both will pay the price of the instant gratification when their schools are still in session during the typically nice weather of May and June. Laws regarding make-up days vary from state to state. When I was a student in Ohio, we could miss up to five days. Any snow days beyond that were tacked on to the end of the school year. In Indiana, where I teach now, we make up every day we miss. One way schools can keep students safe and prevent having to extend the school year is to utilize digital learning on snow days. Here are some ideas.
Hold Classroom Discussions
Change doesn’t come easy for many people. Students often view a snow day as an unexpected treat. This being so, do not expect students to be pleased when you replace their normal snow day plans with digital learning. To increase student buy-in, hold discussions about the digital learning plan prior to the actual snow days. The places I know of that utilize digital learning do so in place of making up snow days at the end of the year. This is a big selling point to students. I tell my students I would rather do my best on these learning activities and then be free to enjoy the nicer weather later. Most students agree.
Communicate with Parents
Expect at least a portion of the parents at your school to push back against digital learning. They will use a variety of reasons to try to shoot down this idea. I recommend developing a detailed list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and sending it home on the first day of school. Plan a town hall-style meeting for parents to voice potential concerns. Include the date and time of this meeting with the FAQ sheet. The majority of skeptics will be satisfied by the end of this process.
Plan for Students’ Technology Usage
Chances are good that home technology needs will vary greatly from district to district. If your school already provides one-to-one technological devices—that is, every student is given a device to use for the year—access to devices will not be a serious problem for you. However, many schools do not do this. Even those that do need to consider if their students have access to the internet at home. Have students complete a technology survey and plan accordingly to meet their needs.
The majority of students will have access to a cell phone, regardless of age. If this is your only option, plan ways for students to access learning opportunities using this technology. While cell phones do not necessarily have word processing or spreadsheet programs, there are many educational apps you can use.
Provide Training for Teachers
Digital learning on snow days takes the place of regular instruction. Don’t make it a day full of busywork that bores students to sleep. Given the wide range of ages of teachers in America and the rapid growth of technology, teachers’ ability to use technology to create learning experiences will vary greatly. While the majority of teachers can use technology themselves, this does not mean they are ready to plan lessons for digital learning days. It is only fair for administrators to provide a workshop to help teachers understand expectations for using digital learning and how to reach them. These workshops could even be developed by members of the teaching staff who have mastered digital learning.
Give Teachers Time to Plan
Teachers and administrators will need to come together to decide what a digital learning day will look like. Will students simply be completing a series of assignments? Will teachers deliver mini-lessons using a website such as YouTube? If the internet is going to be part of your digital learning, then there are many possibilities. No matter the route your school takes, teachers will need extra time if extra planning is involved. I recommend a half day for each grading quarter that may have a snow day. During this half day, teachers can look at their long-term plans and come up with a series of digital learning lessons that focus on the topics they will be teaching. These plans can be tweaked as needed, but at least you will not be starting from scratch if a snow day takes place.
Design an Assistance System
The real problem with learning taking place outside of the classroom is that students don’t have instant access to their teachers. Find some way to be available to help students if they get stuck or do not understand a concept. You can use websites like Skype to communicate with students.
Ask for Feedback
For digital learning to work, students need to find it engaging. After each of your first couple of digital learning snow days, ask students for feedback on the experience. Reflect on their comments and make adjustments if necessary.
Improve as Technology Improves
There is no top of the mountain when it comes to technology. As technology continues to push the limits further and further, digital learning experiences should also improve. Teachers will need to continue to stay up to date with technological advances and make sure that their teaching strategies reflect the changing times.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.