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
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.)
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.
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.
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.