I need to be upfront at the beginning of this post. I do not have answers or solutions. I have questions—and lots of them. By the end of this reflection, I doubt I will have answered my questions. Rather, I need your insights. Please comment and email your perspectives and experiences. My blog is about learning after all.
So what are my questions? They are about the virtual learning on snow days. In mid-January 2016, the eastern portion of the United States experienced a massive snowstorm that left many school systems closed for upwards of a week. Luckily, we were on the southern end of the storm and were only out of school for two days. However, those two days hit right during the middle of the year and only three weeks after returning from winter break. Teachers know how crucial this time is. Students are showing growth and many formative assessments indicate directions for the 2nd half of the school year. But this is winter after all, and El Nino or not, winter storms cut into learning.
School districts across the United States are embracing technology and finding ways to lessen the impact of school closings. Many districts have begun to institute snow-learning days at home through “virtual school days” and snow day packets. My questions relate to using online resources to continue learning outside of school.
Is it beneficial? Truthfully, I cannot believe I am asking this question. Yes, it’s beneficial. Further exploratory learning, allowing students to be masters of their learning in a virtual setting, flipping the classroom, and online classrooms are trends that I believe are not only improving education but also teaching lifelong skills of collaboration and critical thinking. Students are learning about life in the “real world”. After all, I continue my work on snow days by sitting at the kitchen counter planning lessons, creating book lists, and participating in Twitter chats to just name a few. (As an aside, I want to give a quick shout out to #ncsnowchat for awesome pop-up professional development on snow days.) But for students who are excited about their snow day, are we taking away the “joy” of snow days to put focus on nonstop schooling? Is that a bad thing or another way we are improving as a society embracing curiosity, exploration, and home:school connected learning?
So, if we embrace snow day “e-learning”, how do we proceed? Many districts have taken to Twitter as a means. Within my previous district, Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, many librarians have effectively utilized Twitter to sponsor snow day Twitter chats, virtual librarian access, and encouraging reading from their e-book collections. During this past snow storm, APS teachers participated in a #APSchats focused on how teachers have continued students’ virtual learning during their extended snow days. This is certainly one way to go. But can this be measured and are students able to show progress when participation is voluntary?
What about the great economic divide? Who does virtual learning positively impact and are students most in need of continued growth able to participate in virtual learning. I’ve only begun a cursory search—this is a topic that could be and is well studied—but I found a 2013report showing that in 2011, roughly 70% of the U.S. homes have Internet access with the Asian and Non-Hispanic White households having the greatest Internet access. Only 58.3 and 56.9 of Hispanic and Black households respectively have Internet access. Simple Internet searches reflect positive aspects to household Internet access. So if we are offering virtual school on snow days those benefiting are the ones who already have benefit from Internet access. Are we furthering the space between the have and have-nots?
What if we provide the technology? In North Carolina, Transylvania County School System has given all 6th-12th graders laptops. Teachers have set up continuous work, even on snow days. The thought is school is still “in session” although at home therefore no make up days needed. Teachers hold online hours when they are available through email, phone, and other means to help students with their work. This is amazing! Much like the online professional development teachers participate, students are learning from a truly blended environment.
Snow days are great even if I complain about not wanting snow or a day out of school. Encouraging virtual education is one of my passions. Then, why am I pondering this virtual snow day trend? Shouldn’t I be showcasing its boldness and need? Maybe I am doing just that.
What about you? What are your thoughts and experiences? What resources are available to support this trend?