The End of the Snow Day is Nigh

It seems strange to be writing a post about the end of the snow day while digging out from 2 more inches of snow after missing school this past Thursday and Friday to an epic snow storm on the eastern seaboard of the United States, with 2 snow days the week before, and 2-4 more inches of snow expected in my neck of the woods for this Monday night into Tuesday. Ughhhhh! No, climate change will not mean the end of snow in my part of the world. If anything, climatologists are predicting storms to become more extreme in the future. The snow day is alive and well.

However, through the widespread adoption of interactive technology, the snow day no longer has to be a missed school day. For example, the Pascack Valley School District was in the news this week after it petitioned the State of NJ to treat its snow days as virtual school days. You can read more about it here and here.

Many Yeshiva Day Schools have begun offering a lineup of Shiurim to transform the snow day into a Torah day. Some of these can be conducted as live classrooms using apps like Google Hangouts which is great because of its Google integration but only allows up to 10 users at a time. Here is a link to directions to get started with Hangouts on any computer or using the iPad app. There are many other video conferencing apps. One that I have started using with a great deal of succces is, an app which allows up to 25 consecutive users in its free version.

Live shiurim lend a level of excitement and interaction and are indispensible when conducting classes requiring real-time student feedback like virtual reviews for upcoming exams. However, they do require students to all get on at the same time which during a snow day when kids are out shoveling, some to raise money for Tzedaka (see this posting from Frisch Real School), is not always possible. For this reason, prerecorded Flipped Classroom Dvray Torah and Shiurim can be a better option. You can watch snow day videos recorded using Showme, Educreations, and Explain Everything by clicking here, here, and here.

The learning should not stop with the teacher. You can elicit student feedback by having them share their learning with you from the warmth of their home. One math teacher did such an excercise this past week when she was away chaperoning students on YUMUN. You can read about it on the Frisch Math blog here. This can be the perfect snow day assignment. Have your students create their own Showmes or Educreations as they sip their warm hot chocolate and watch the snow fall.

Finally, one can conduct virtual classrooms using learning managment systems like Edmodo or Schoology. Edmodo allows students to share and interact in small groups while Schoology even allows you to take attendance for this virtual class. Google Drive can also be an excellent method to get every student "on the same page" to colloborate in real-time.

One caveat is in order. When I posted about some snow day learning opportunities on Facebook, it led to an interesting discussion which you can view below.

Is something lost by transforming snow days into learning days?

I find 3 compelling reasons to get rid of the snow day.

1) Snow Torah shiurim send the message that there is no break from learning Torah. I remember when I was in the elementary grades and they used to have contests over Bein Hazmanim for Torah learning. Obviously, this cannot be implemented on the high school level and I am not even sure if it should. Our kids need a break sometimes from formal learning and to be given outlets to learn valuable lessons through nature or the interaction with peers. At the same time, the message that some time should always be scheduled every day for learning, even listening to a five minute Dvar Torah, is a powerful one.

2) Virtual school days are good preparation for higher education and the workforce. Most of my friends who are not in chinuch also did not go to work this past Thursday and Friday. They worked from home. Obviously, this was a different type of work, more self-paced with breaks for shoveling, taking care of kids etc. But in many industries working from home is commonplace. This can have negative effects. It blurs the line between home and work and often requires people to do work related tasks even while on vacation. At the same time, it allows people to no longer be tied to their office. Creating time for virtual school days can help train our students to become more self-directed learners who can be productive even when there is no teacher looking over their shoulders.

3) Sheer desperation. We really cannot afford to miss all of these learning days so anything that can help to solve this problem, which might only grow larger as we experience more drastic climate change, can be a positive development for our schools.

What do you think? Do you bemoan the end of carefree snow days or welcome the new horizons that technology offers to create virtual learning opportunities? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments to this posting.