Snow days melt away as schools warm up to e-learning

Snow Days

Ahh, the joy of snow days. Sledding, hot cocoa, a warm fire… and school?


The weather outside may be frightful, but the school-free, lazy snow day could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to online learning tools that give schools innovative ways to keep kids' minds and bodies busy.

Vortex, Shmortex

The polar vortex that brought record cold temperatures and snowfalls to states from Illinois to Virginia, all of New England, and as far south as Georgia and Alabama also brought record numbers of snow days. In some states, by the mid-point in the school year, five or more days had already been cancelled for snow. And while one snow day here and there is a gift, too many can hinder learning, not to mention the havoc they wreak on working parents struggling to keep their kids occupied.

And for teachers charged with getting students successfully through standardized testing, time is precious. A study published by the Journal of Education Finance and Policy in 2008 reported that accumulating snow days can negatively impact performance on reading and math assessments, especially at the elementary level.

E-Learning in Action

In Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, two district high schools got proactive. Although logging in wasn't a requirement, teachers developed thorough plans for snow-day work, and the majority of students took advantage of the opportunity. One English teacher directed students to a YouTube video of spoken-word poetry and a corresponding online discussion. A calculus teacher asked students to watch a videotaped lecture posted online, a physics class conducted an online lab, and a gym teacher even got in on the act, asking students to check heart rates at rest and again after shoveling snow for 15 minutes.

Ohio recently enacted a law that enables districts who max out on what they call "calamity days" to use up to three e-learning days. Teachers must post lessons and assignments online for students to complete during the snow day, and students are given two weeks to complete them. Teachers in the state have used a variety of online options, including posting videos or podcasts of themselves teaching lessons and working math problems, many of which can be accessed with iPods or smartphones. The entire Grandville School District is connected to Moodle, a course-management system, as well as Google Apps for Education; students in grades 4-12 receive Chromebooks, and kids in K-3 will be receiving iPads this year, all of which enable them to access online coursework.

Schools in Illinois are embracing the advantages of e-learning as well. Faced with a snow day, Naperville history students formed online discussion groups in order to prepare for group presentations. The Deerfield School District 109 used Twitter to share links to educational websites and apps, while a P.E. teacher posted a seven-minute workout. And in Park Ridge, two AP biology teachers video-streamed presentations and asked students to sign up for video chats on Google Hangout.

In Atlanta, where schools were closed for numerous days due to snowfall that incapacitated the city, many teachers took it upon themselves to come up with alternatives. One elementary teacher in Cumming asked students to take pictures around their houses and upload them to the school website, while other educators around the area uploaded video-recorded lessons, distributed online quizzes, or used Google Hangouts for live discussions. DeKalb County Schools even sent a list of educational links along with its notices of school closures leading to math or English lessons, from basic to advanced.

Additional Benefits

While e-learning opportunities make powering through a snow day possible, they also provide options for students who are too sick to attend class or live far from local schools. Additionally, schools like Gibault Catholic High in Waterloo, Illinois, which uses an internal course-management system to post assignments and videos online, are finding that these alternatives can help them save money.

"Because we're not making up the days in May, that's five days we're not sending out buses to pick up students," explains Principal Hart. "We're not paying maintenance and janitorial staff those days; heating is much lower than normal; and we're not using all those supplies, like soap and toilet paper, that we would on a normal day."

"Snow Day? That's Great. Now Log In. Get to Class," New York Times, Feb. 13, 2014, Al Baker, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/nyregion/snow-day-thats-great-now-log-in-get-to-class.html?_r=1
"Snow Days Turn Into E-Learning Days for Some Schools," Education Week, Jan. 31, 2014, Alyssa Morones, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/01/31/20snow.h33.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+EducationWeekELearning+%28Education+Week%3A+E-Learning%29
"A new antidote for snow days: 'e-learning days'," USA Today, Feb. 9, 2014, Talia Richman, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/09/online-learning-reduces-impact-snow-days/5190259/
"At some schools, snow day is no day offline," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 2, 2014, Sally Ho and Duaa Eldeib, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-02/news/ct-snow-day-telecommuting-met-20140202_1_snow-days-school-cancellations-students/2
"Illinois School Drops Snow Days for E-Learning Days," CBS St. Louis, Jan. 14, 2014, http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2014/01/14/illinois-school-drops-snow-days-for-e-learning-days/
"Closing schools and opening laptops: A New Jersey school pioneers virtual snow day," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 13, 2014, Maureen Downey, http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/get-schooled/2014/feb/13/closing-schools-and-opening-laptops-new-jersey-sch/