The new school year is in full swing. Students have settled into their classes, teachers have gotten to know their students by now, and the routine has been established for a great school year. Each day does get a little cooler, and we have just turned the page on summer and entered fall. Teachers and administrators are happy the weather is amenable for learning; however, in the back of their minds is the four-letter word that most educators dread – snow!
When we have a particularly bad winter, snow can disrupt the academic flow for days or even weeks. This leaves many school districts reeling with not only how to connect the educational dots once kids return to class but also the need to make up instructional days. This can either mean taking away from traditional vacation times such as Winter Break or Spring Break or adding days to the school calendar in June; the prospect of which disrupts teachers and families’ vacation plans and causes anxiety for all.
In Pennsylvania students, teachers, and administrators can rest a little easier this year thanks to a new Flexible Instructional Days Program that should become popular in other areas where heavy snowfall can be a factor. According to the posting on the Pennsylvania Department of Education web site, Flexible Instructional Days allow schools the opportunity to “use non-traditional educational delivery methods on regularly scheduled school days” in situations such as snow days when the brick and mortar school will be closed.
You may question why no one has thought of this sooner (schools in Ohio and Michigan started using a similar program last year), but the idea that school will be open even though the building is closed is a brilliant way to maintain the flow of instruction and prevent the loss of educational calendar days. The method of doing this is simple – “to use digital technology when students are prevented from physically being in the classroom.”
Obviously, there are some things that need to be worked out such as the students having an available device at home that will be connected to the school network. School-issued iPads are very simple solutions, but there are also have to be plans in place to deal with an extended power outage in a specific area. The e-learning school day will be somewhat different at home, but I imagine that teachers and students will have to sign-in as a form of attendance being taken, and a semblance of a school day will be in place as class schedules will be accomplished electronically. Teachers will get an opportunity to maintain their lesson planning and students will continue the learning process.
Having long been a proponent of more e-learning in schools, I believe that this is a good practice that can eventually be implemented on a more consistent basis even when school buildings are open for business. The blended learning concept (or flipping the classroom if you prefer) is one I have long advocated as the way to go in terms of providing students a truly rigorous and deep education as prescribed by the The Common Core State Standards.
In this educational milieu students get a lesson to review at their own pace at home (that can even be individualized to differentiate instruction as necessary). When they go back to school the next day the teacher can not only go more deeply into the homework assignment, but also raise the level of discourse to something that would not be possible if the students had to receive the same online lesson in class, which very often means a descent into the dreaded lecturing format as a means of delivery of information.
As it stands, Pennsylvania’s schools have a solid plan in place for the upcoming winter that all the weather prognosticators (as well as the venerable Farmer’s Almanac) are predicting will be a brutally cold and snowy one. This means that when bad weather closes a school, kids won’t be lounging around the house all day watching TV or listening to their iPods, and schools will not be losing instructional days that disrupt school calendars and everyone’s personal lives.
It is incumbent upon schools to start meeting the instructional needs of their students in the 21st century anyway, and that includes embracing e-learning as not some new fad but the future reality. An investment in devices that will bring the classroom into the home and connect the home to the school are necessary and compelling for snow days and every other day of the school year, so school districts should begin implementing that immediately.
E-learning is here to stay, and the flexible instructional days concept is an idea whose time has come, and hopefully other states will get with the program before their students are all stuck at home watching the snowfall with the prospect of being in school until the middle of July dancing in their heads. As far as I know, no student, teacher, or administrator wants that.
Photo credits: education week, rfsvision.com, teacherthought.com
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