Digital snow days gain steam as schools seek to melt learning loss
Under its digital snow days program, Random Lake School District in Wisconsin had parents pick up digital devices on Sunday — in case their children didn't take them home for the weekend — after deciding to cancel school on Monday ahead of a forecast winter storm, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
The digital snow day program has been in the works for about three years, with Facebook pages and learning apps allowing students to connect with their teacher online while continuing to work on their regular curriculum at home. Rather than having students do busy work, teachers deliver their regularly planned lessons online.
By continuing education despite the weather, students were able to stay on track, with tasks included posting selfies of themselves reading their books or playing in the snow and then writing a story about it. The district had about 80% participation and now won’t have to add a snow makeup day at the end of the school year.
Last week, dangerously low temperatures caused by a polar vortex forced thousands of schools to close. Thanks to digital technology, some districts were able to continue teaching despite the winter blast. In Chicago, schools were closed from three days to a week, but many districts similarly turned snow days into digital or e-learning days. Thanks to that model, students were able to complete school work from home and stay on track.
In Illinois, however, legislation may require students to actually be in the classroom in order for the school day to be counted, and e-learning days would not count as a school day.
As promising as e-learning days seem to be, the plan could also create an inequitable learning environment. For example, not all families have reliable internet access. Some parents must leave home to go to work despite the weather. Younger students in particular may also need the help of an adult to monitor the learning. Even parents who telecommute may not have the time to walk their 2nd-grader through a math assignment.
There is some debate on how much of an impact snow days have on students’ success. A study done by Harvard University found snow days had no impact on student test scores. However, a similar study published in the Journal of Education Finance and Policy found that excessive snow days did have a negative effect, especially at the elementary level.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel One Wisconsin school district's answer to a big storm is 'digital snow day'