There is not a child in the world who does not love to wake up for school only to hear that school has been canceled because of snow. However, snow days may become a thing of the past if it is up to many states’ school boards. In the southwest Minnesota town of Windom, as well as other towns across the state, school districts will be performing a test run of what is being called “virtual snow days.” In other schools across the state, the technology is already being implemented, says Erin Trester of the Grand Forks Herald.
“We’ll be doing a test run on Monday,” said Jake Tietje, Windom’s middle and high school principal. “During that time, the students will be in school, but they’ll just do a walk-through of what a virtual snow day would look like. It’ll also give us a chance to work out any kinks in the program.”
The establishment of the snow day policy has taken extensive research and planning and, finally, Windom modeled its virtual snow day after one being used at St. Cloud Cathedral, which has similar technology to Windom’s schools. The program for elementary students is to take home bingo-type cards which are used to encourage children to exercise and engage in other physical and mental activities. For grades 4 – 12, iPads are used along with a a program called Schoolology. Teachers can post assignments on the program, students open the assignment with an app called Good Notes. Students can use text boxes to ask questions and can use their fingers to write on their iPad. High school students can post comments and interact with teachers. Teachers are also incorporating Twitter into virtual snow days. Jake Tietje, Windom’s middle and high school principal said:
“I’ve asked our teachers to be as creative as they can with this and make the lessons interactive. We haven’t heard any complaints so far — but we’ll see how (Dec.) the 22nd [test run day] goes — but so far it’s been received positively.”
In Indiana, Lafayette School Corp. is one of 29 districts which have been approved by the Indiana Department of Education to implement the virtual snow day program. The Lafayette Journal & Courier‘s Haley Dover reports that the idea came about last year when record snowfall caused the loss of several days of classroom instruction, forcing students and staff to spend Saturdays in the classrooms or make up days at the end of the school year. The required number of school days for Indiana is 180.
“We have not made a decision even though we have the approval to do it,” he said. “There would be numerous announcements to parents, staff member input and the board would have to approve it,” said Superintendent Les Huddle.
Northwestern Consolidated Schools of Shelby County, Indiana officials believe that students should not miss out on learning because of inclement weather, reports Anne Kelly for WRTV. The district has applied for E-learning with the Department of Education and has even begun to train teachers and students to be prepared for the program if, in fact, the district is accepted.
“No matter what they do any day, it’s going to be reading, writing and responding. They’ll have direct feedback from me…It’s never fluff, it’s never fill-in stuff — whatever they’re being given is something that they need to know,” Marshall said.
Lessons for virtual school days are pre-planned, each teacher is required to have online office hours, and must have a Google drive website on which lesson plans are posted. There are still some who are not convinced that virtual learning is effective enough to replace a full school day, while proponents of the idea, like Superintendent Shane Robbins, say entire schools are operating virtually, which, in his opinion, is the same thing.
Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Batesville Community School Corp., in an IndyStar op-ed piece explains that last winter his schools has 13 school days canceled due to bad weather. Roberts believes that like any important change to a district’s policies, virtual learning on a school day should be decided upon and implemented slowly, in order to benefit teachers, students, and parents.
Teachers need to be a part of the decision. They may need to share ideas and thoughts with their fellow-teachers.They need to develop a virtual curriculum for students which will be valuable and integrated.
There are technical issues to be addressed, says Roberts. All students will need access to internet connection. Suggestions for parents who have younger children on how to manage their children who are attending virtual school will need to be made. And, technological infrastructure, bandwidth, IT network, increased traffic to servers and any other frustrations that might come into play when students begin their virtual learning need to be considered and addressed before the program begins. Roberts is grateful for the possibility and looks forward to using the opportunity the district has approved, but he is going to gather information, observe, train, and wait until the time is right for his district to begin this new program.