With the impending snowpocalypse of 2015 well on its way, I wanted to take a few moments to write about one of those innovations in education that doesn’t get enough attention but results in a whole lot of positives and very few negatives. I’m talking of course about digital snow days, and I had the pleasure of being recognized alongside one of the pioneers of this innovation, Dr. Barry Bachenheimer, at the 20 to Watch celebration last year. I of course had 20 questions for him, which I’m sure was annoying, but he certainly humored them and fielded each one with aplomb.
The concept is simple: with digital learning districts, the need to physically be in school is far lower, and almost unnecessary, for learning to occur. In order to alleviate the burden that snow days place on schools and their schedules, some districts, including Dr. Bachenheimer’s Pascack Valley Regional, are filing to replace snow days with virtual learning days, and not having to add additional days onto the school year after a snowy season. The obvious payoff here is that schools no longer have to negotiate the sometimes hazardous path of schedule shakeups, but there are many, perhaps more important, not so obvious benefits.
Being a teenager is tough, because everyone is telling you to grow up, and you don’t want to. Most teenagers have one responsibility, which is going to school, and they don’t tend to desire more. It’s thus important that we teach responsibility within the school environment, because students don’t have another way to obtain this crucial learning. Unfortunately, for most people, this amounts to “do your homework by this date,” or “study for the test on this date”. Digital snow days put a much more authentic frame, in that students need to complete their day’s work on their own time, and submit it in order to be credited with attending school for the day. This is a unique way to teach responsibility that’s not available in most other circumstances.
Technical Play Time
For districts implementing virtual days, digital learning is a part of their fabric. One aspect to digital learning that most people don’t emphasize enough is the concept of technical play time. As with any skill, students (and teachers) must be given time to experiment, play, and learn in an unstructured environment for true mastery to develop. Students are extremely good at this in an unproductive environment, but when they’re given this time in the context of completing a certain project or assignment, they will likely come up with new ways to approach their work, explore new tools with which to complete it, and maybe even suggest new ways to conduct projects that would improve them. Digital learning days provide this time, albeit indirectly.
Publicity & Community Building
Let’s face it; schools always need to get better at this. By incorporating something like digital snow days, it’s a great way to get parents more involved with their kids’ education. In many schools, there’s at least one parent at home with a child during a snow day, which means at least one parent will at least be supervising their child’s learning activities for the day. This is not a bad thing: maybe inconvenient for some parents, however it also provides a true window into what a classroom is doing, which doesn’t normally happen.