Virtual School on a Snow Day

Should my school, which is a 1-to-1 laptop school with over 90% of the students on high speed internet connections at home, consider calling a virtual school day when the weather keeps us home? (Note: my school isn’t actually considering it, I’m just wondering aloud here.)

I say yes but it needs to be formalized and supported with the right tools.

Fact: snow day work is a thing

Expectation to check class websites.

Expectation to check class websites.

If schools with the technology infrastructure and access among students assign snow day work, isn’t school effectively in session? And if we’re in session, why not count it as a day of school? My school does the former (work) but not the latter (call it school). Here’s the email my school sent out Tuesday announcing our snow day for Wednesday:

The expectation from my employer is that if a class was scheduled for a snow day, then the teachers will send out that work online. Yeah, I get that not all the kids will do the work, not all the teachers were planning independent work, and you can’t exactly hold a lecture or discussion online. (I don’t buy all these arguments, they’re just the ones the teachers will throw out there.)

Snow day work.

Snow day work.

I argue you can do anything online that you would’ve done in class — if you have the right tools available and the will to make it so. My assignment yesterday looked like this.

I’ll grant you that the online assignments aren’t as high fidelity as the in person work and some kids will lose power or internet.

Fact: makeup days are poorly attended

Here in Atlanta, we’ve already missed six days due to weather this semester. As the school looks toward the best ways to make up this missed class time, the natural inclination is to either tack days on after Memorial Day, our usual end to the school year OR to convert school holidays to school days.

My school’s already done the latter — this coming Monday, Presidents’ Day — has been converted from teacher workday to school day. Because of the last-minute nature of conversions, many students already had trips planned and will be granted an excused absence. All else being equal, do you think the number of kids who can’t access your online content during a snow day exceeds the number of your kids who can’t be at a makeup day?

We’re not terribly inclined to do the former, tacking days on at the end of the year. Mostly because it’s too late — that’s after AP exams, so does the AP student zero good.

My sources on poor attendance rates on makeup days? Charlotte schools know attendance will be low on makeup days and the same is true in Indianapolis.

Fact: electronic make up days are a (new) thing

This article from Huffington Post is my favorite discussing the trend of electronic snow days: Virtual Snow Days? Schools Experiment With Online Lessons During Bad Weather. My school has the infrastructure in place for electronic snow days. Not everyone is so fortunate, so this isn’t a solution for schools everywhere. Maybe, just maybe, it could be a solution here and now at my school.

Fact: online teaching tools exist

I see two tough obstacles to writing a snow day lesson: 1) it’s inevitably last minute work and 2) online learning is different from face to face learning.

My own lesson yesterday on reading python code consists of a hastily thrown-together video I posted to YouTube and a series of questions that roughly paralleled my plans for the face-to-face class.

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Here is the toolset I’d want to hold a real school day online:

  • A way to hold live classes: Google+ Hangouts, a BigMarker class community or some other videoconferencing tool.
  • A way to write on the computer: math and science teachers especially need to write by hand to teach, so I recommend a tablet, Doceri, and a stylus. Barring that, I’d want a whiteboard and markers at home.

And the institutional support I need to make it happen:

  • Parental education & support: Are we really gonna do this? Let the parents know that even though it’s a snow day we’re still holding school.
  • A schedule: Will classes hold live sessions at their normal times? I’d love a two hour delay on all classes on snow days so kids can sleep in and/or play in the snow.
  • Students have necessary software and accounts: Our computers are managed by IT,  so we installed all the software and tested it in class before the weather got awful.

My concern is that most teachers won’t be comfortable using these tools yet I need most teachers onboard before we could call it an electronic make up day, so how do I get them there? I’m prepared to teach my colleagues an easy web conferencing tool like BigMarker, encourage them to take home a whiteboard and markers, and hold class as usual in a live meeting over the web.

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9 thoughts on “Virtual School on a Snow Day

  1. I like it Megan. I’m at MVPS and we did hold Google Hangouts. I had one daily for each of my classes that would have normally met that day. Today, I used the Live version of Hangouts so it was recorded, that way students who missed could watch later. I wish I would have done that the other days. We didn’t meet at normal times, but I prefer that, along with the push back of 2 hours. Also, I think a 30 minute meet is sufficient.

    For white boarding, I just shared my desktop and worked in Smart Notebook. I also have Doceri and could have used that. There is both Cacoo and Scoot & Doodle in Google Hangouts, but I find them difficult and not as rich. The plus with them is I’m not going back and forth between my desktop and the Hangout.

    We haven’t been told yet if our virtual learning will count as “real” days or if we will have extra days. Monday is still a holiday.

    • That’s awesome!

      Seems to me that if you’re holding class, no matter how ineffectually, those should count as school days. But then, no one pays me the big bucks.

      How do you write in your Smart Notebook? I used a Bamboo tablet at one time and was decent with it. These days, I’m using Doceri. It’s good but still not as simple as a marker on a whiteboard.

      How do you get past the 10 person limit for a Google Hangout? My classes aren’t a whole lot bigger than that, but I’d like to fit em all in at once.

      • I would agree w/ counting them as school days. Also, I don’t get the big bucks and typically my opinion isn’t asked! ha!

        I have a Wacom Tablet that I use to write in Smart Notebook. It’s an older one, but it works well enough for the situation. I really want my iPad and stylus to function the same way as my Wacom Tablet, and with Doceri it does. But it still seems silly to need that work around.

        Google Hangouts now have a 15 person limit, I believe. For the first 2 snow days, I held 2 sessions per class and had students sign up using signupgenius.com. I limited each sign up so we didn’t go over the max for Google Hangouts. For day 3, I did Google Hangout Live and did 1 session per class. Students can be in the Hangout, or they can just watch it and use the Q&A feature to ask questions. It gets recorded and is posted to YouTube automatically. I then posted the YouTube video to my Haiku (class website) so anyone who missed the day 3 session could watch later. It also shows on my Google Plus page so the students who have me in one of their circles can grab it from that page.

        Here is an example of one of my Geometry Honors classes. Not super exciting, we were all wiped by day 3, but it got the job done! You can see how I go from chatting with them to sharing my desktop to look at Haiku, a Google Form, and Smart Notebook. Nothing much happens until about 2-3 minutes in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BngBKBJyERw

  2. I work at a small, private school, and most of our students are one-to-one (as in, I see individuals twice a week in my office).

    Our policy is that if school is cancelled, teachers must email students an assignment, since we can’t make up that many individual appointments. Often, assignments include writing bits, video lecture or clips, and so on. But I have few students who actually do the work.

    • For schools where kids have the tech to get assignments at home (and that’s the only group of schools/teachers I’m speaking to with this post), seems to me there should be some accountability on the students’ part to complete work.

      One of my Twitter friends said, “If we don’t have enough students do the snow day assignment we have to make up the day. One would think that was incentive enough.” Dude, I love that plan because the kids will hold each other accountable!

      Still, if we’re gonna send work home on snow days, we need to know the kids can/will do it. Something to think about.

  3. Never considered the idea of an electronic snow day before, but for 1:1 schools it makes a lot of sense.

    “My concern is that most teachers won’t be comfortable using these tools yet I need most teachers onboard before we could call it an electronic make up day, so how do I get them there?”

    That’s a tough one. I might first create a survey to find out what teachers currently know about the technology–you may be pleasantly surprised–as well as to find out what specific concerns they have that you may not be aware of, i.e. some teachers may not have high speed internet at home. Based on the results, I would focus training on taking baby steps and setting group goals, perhaps a first step as small and simple as every teacher records a video of their reading the day’s snow day assignment. Focusing extra one-on-one attention on the extreme technophobes could help reduce anxiety for those staff. But above all, be patient with what may be a very slow implementation process at your school.

    Glenn Laniewski
    Blog:
    autismplusmath
    Latest post:
    Math teachers, start baking your Pi Day pies early

    http://autismplusmath.blogspot.com/2014/02/math-teachers-start-baking-your-pi-day.html

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