A Snow Day Doesn’t Have to Mean a Day Off

If your school is anything like mine, or practically the entire Midwest, you’ve had a string of snow days. In fact not only has the polar vortex canceled school this week but also at the start of the year a little over two weeks ago. Students sit next to the phone, waiting, wishing for the call to come through, ‘Due to the dangerous low temperatures and sever wind chill, all schools in the district will be closed tomorrow.’

As a student I longed to hear these words over the phone, but now as an educator I have come to dread them. There are few things as detrimental to the educational process than an unplanned day off from school. When we return from winter break we look forward to several weeks of uninterrupted learning. Solid classroom time to engage with our students, time to develop skills and answer essential questions. Often lesson are planned where the payoff, the education epiphany, comes after a carefully sequenced week of teaching. Sure the content can be taught when segmented, but the deep level understanding comes when everything fits together.

So what is a teacher to do when school is canceled due to extreme weather and students are at home with nothing to do? Carry on with the lesson.

Many of my students were aware of the school cancelation long before the official phone call came through to their parents. The wonders of technology, namely the Internet and twitter made sure students were informed of the districts decision. The retweets and favorites spread faster than any connect ed robo-call could hope to do. Why not use this same technology to our educational advantage?

While professional development often focuses on ways to use technology to engage students in the classroom, I think technology can be just as useful to engage students outside of the classroom.  Just as a tweet from the district office can inform students of a school cancelation, a tweet from a teacher can remind students to visit the online classroom/website for the day’s lesson.

If done properly, a class website can do so much more than share biographical information on a teacher or the assigned reading. A class website can be an extension of the classroom itself. Teachers can post lectures or videos. Students can participate in discussion boards or other controlled chats. Teachers may even consider doing a flipped classroom, where the learning takes place online at home and then once school is back in session the class can engage in guide practice.

-Google Docs can allow student to collaborate on a research paper or group power point presentation.

-Twitter with a class specific #hashtag can allow students to discuss a novel.

-YouTube allows students to watch videos that will supplement and enhance learning that took place in class or that will be taking place upon their return.

-Wordpress can allow a teacher to do anything from post notes to assign homework or give a test.

You see with technology a snow day doesn’t have to mean a day off.

Of course this can’t be developed overnight. Teachers need time to properly develop a content rich website and students need time to grow accustomed to checking the site. But if you regularly use technology in your classroom, and your students are aware of how to utilize the resource, a class website or twitter account can be a great way to continue the educational process even in the face of an unplanned snow day.

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