It’s Time to Eradicate the Snow Day

I am one frustrated mother.

No, seriously, I’m a mom who is frustrated.  This winter has been brutal in our locale, and so far, my son has had at least seven snow days off from school – if not more.  I lost count, to be honest.  My son has also commented many times that this stop-start approach to education has wreaked havoc on his and his friends’ abilities to retain what they have learned.  When they go back to school, they feel like they are starting all over again.  Unfortunately, teachers have limited time to actually re-teach what has been forgotten.  I really wonder how much the kids have actually learned this winter.

The superintendent has had to call with updates to the calendar twice now.  He has had to take away spring recess from the students to make up the time they have missed because of the white stuff.  For more synonyms for the word ‘snow,’ look below or read this blog post: http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/varia/snow.html.  The words are a mix of real and fake and the ‘definitions’ are funny in some cases.

snowwords

 

I say I have had enough.  It is time for a change to the current system, time to use the technology we have to ensure that kids are getting the education they deserve, and that teachers are feeling they are the most effective they can be.  This can’t be easy on any of the stakeholders involved in education.  Why not do something to make it easier?

There is a solution.  It’s time to eradicate the snow day.  You read that right.  I’m not saying to make the kids tromp through the snow to school, uphill both ways, without boots.  (I hope you got the reference there to what folks say when the younger generation seems to have it easier than they do.  “When I was a kid, I used to have to…!”)  I’m saying that we need to make it a “work from home” day.

How could that be done?

Use a Learning Management System

There are plenty of good learning management systems out there.  Some are free, like Moodle; others require a subscription.  This would require some planning, of course, but it is possible to replicate the lessons taught in the classroom in courses in the learning management system.  Some teachers might find it easier, even, to plan and structure their courses consistently using an LMS.  They would be able to remind students that all the material they need, for example, is on the LMS.  If they are out of school for some reason, they do not have to wait to return to school to get their assignments.  If they go on vacation during the school year (for example, those students whose parents planned a spring getaway this year with non-refundable tickets), then they can access the LMS to retrieve and submit assignments or take assessments.  Even if the teachers used the LMS only for snow day resources, it would serve its purpose well.

The snow days we’ve had were predicted well in advance, except for one or two.  When teachers are alerted to upcoming weather problems, they can easily upload materials to the learning management system and tell their students that they are there.  Additionally, many of these systems have plugins available for web conferencing sessions.  If the district invests in WebEx or Adobe Connect, for example, plugins are available to allow teachers to set up sessions and to allow students to join them.  Another alternative is to set up a Google Hangout session and announce it through a link or a message in the LMS course.

Conference Calls

For those who do not have Internet access but do have a telephone, teachers should have copies of the material they will need and should give them a conference call number to access at a certain time (such as when they would normally have class with that teacher).  They can review what has been done so far, get answers to their questions, etc.  Districts can obtain conference calling services from a huge number of providers.

Plan in Advance, Reap the Rewards

The reward for all the snow-day planning and preparation?  A school calendar that remains on track, students who remain on track with their learning, and teachers who feel they are doing the best they can to reach their students.  The time saved by not traveling into school that day can be spent doing this:

The Slope Is Open!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update: PA is going to pilot a Flex Day system.  Yes!

https://twitter.com/hmaccorkle/status/514876586961539073

The Content of Their Character

Today we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it seemed a good time to reflect on words he said that inspired much of the nation to push toward equality for all people, regardless of their circumstances, outward appearance, social standing, cultural heritage, and so forth.  He died too soon, of course (he was 39 years old), and probably could have made much more progress had he lived.  If I were a social studies teacher, I might come up with an assignment that asks, “What would MLK have done if he were alive on April 5, 1968?

[pullquote]I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[/pullquote]As an English teacher, I’m focused on words.  His most famous speech is the “I Have a Dream” speech, the text of which you can find here.  Imagine my surprise when I heard from my students that they were heartily sick of this speech, as much as they were sick of the Gettysburg Address.  For them, the dream remains unfulfilled.  Sure, they say, they aren’t outwardly discriminated against.  They don’t have to use separate bathrooms and water fountains.  They don’t have to ride in the back of the bus.  They can go to school with white children.  They can even have relationships with whomever they choose.  Yet, the dream remains unfulfilled, they say.  Outwardly, they are not discriminated against, but there is still that hostility among white people that they feel, that instinctive habit among them to judge them “by the color of their skin,” not “by the content of their character.”

I found that interesting and disheartening at the same time.  In graduate school, we went through an exercise that exposed our prejudices.  For many of us, it was a dismaying experience.  We never realized that we held prejudices against certain cultural or ethnic groups.  It was the first step toward eliminating those prejudices.  Many of us were going into urban education; we needed to get rid of those “demons,” or it would hamper our ability to be effective -not just as teachers, but as human beings.  Having grown up in an urban environment myself, I had already done a lot of work to exorcise those demons.  Did my students still feel that I judged them on the basis of their outward appearance?

Fortunately, they said they did not. They said they never would have admitted to being sick of the speech if they thought for a minute that I was harboring that hostility.

The conversation ended with me saying, “I don’t really care what you look like.  I care about how you act toward others, about your work ethic, and about your progress as a person.”  In other words, I truly care about the content of their character.  What makes the “I Have a Dream” speech so powerful today is that it still resonates with many and it generates conversations such as the one I had with my students, even if that conversation was “rocky” at the start.  In the end, it brought us to a new place.  It’s a conversation I will never forget.

Do the Traditional Grade Levels Still Work for Today’s Students?

In my last post, I asked a few questions related to standards-based and competency-based education. The second question was “Do the traditional grade levels still apply in our century?”

Rather than answer the question outright, I thought I would just pose some more questions.

  1. When we group children by age, are we doing a disservice to them by not exposing them to social groupings they would encounter in the real world, which are comprised of people of all ages?
  2. Does social promotion really help a child, or is it just a way to move a child through the system without regard for his or her academic progress and readiness to learn?
  3. If we did adopt a competency-based education framework for our school(s), would we have to leave behind the notion of grades, especially in the secondary schools? Would that work?
  4. Would it be better to offer classes based on competency, such as what they would offer in college, at the secondary level? In other words, rather than take “Ninth Grade English,” why not offer “Composition 101” to all students?
  5. [pullquote]If we changed to SBE or CBE, would our secondary education count for more than a stepping stone to college? Would those who do not have a college degree become more “employable,” and not need to go to college to get a good job?[/pullquote]Does it really matter if a child graduates high school at 17, 18, 19, or 20 as long as he or she graduates and can demonstrate mastery of the standards and competencies prescribed by that district? What does it tell us about the curriculum if it is rigorous enough that students are not graduating “on time”?
  6. If we changed to SBE or CBE, would our secondary education count for more than a stepping stone to college? Would those who do not have a college degree become more “employable,” and not need to go to college to get a good job?
  7. Would CBE allow teachers to really focus on a select set of competencies for each course instead of a wide array of standards?
  8. Would extending the school year make sense if we moved toward CBE?

Those are the questions I have come up with on this New Year’s morning. On that note, I want to wish everyone who reads this a very happy new year.

Flip PDF: Try It Today!

I’m trying out Flip PDF and I really like it.

[flipbook id=”1″]

All you have to do is create a regular PDF file, import it into the application, apply a template (if you want), then publish it.  Publishing options include a plugin for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, which is what I used for the book embedded above.  One can also publish to html, upload to a server, email to a friend, or use as a screen saver.

I believe the flip book could really engage learners of all ages, but especially our younger learners who will like the page turning effects!

Try it for yourself.  You can download a functional trial here, just like I did: http://flipbuilder.com/flip-pdf/.

 

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