Monday, January 27, 2014

'Weather' or Not To Continue the Learning

I'm sorry. I've got a weakness for puns.

For those of you in other parts of the country, you may not be aware of the extreme cold that has overtaken the upper midwest this January. With the announcement just a couple of hours ago, tomorrow will mark the 5th day that the majority of Minnesota schools have cancelled class due to dangerously cold temperatures (one of these days was mandated for the entire state by governor Mark Dayton). Before you sigh and role your eyes too much, temperatures on cancellation days have hovered around -20 air temps and/or -40 wind chills. Not safe for the thousands of students around our state who walk to school or stand outside at bus stops, and certainly not the kind of weather that makes bus mechanics reliable.

So here we are -- plenty of winter left, and already 5 days of school cancelled. This type of consistent closure is unprecedented, and has left many who work in education a bit frustrated about the lack of continuity. That said, the weather is beyond our control, and so we deal with it as we need to. 

However, snow days and cold days are not a foreign concept in Minnesota. Each winter seems to herald at least one of these weather related closures every season. One thing that we haven't always had is the ubiquitous technology and communication outlets that can keep classrooms and teachers connected, regardless of their convening within a physical building. Schools with take home 1:1 technology can rely on this possibility even more so, where access is far more equitable than it might otherwise be.

Check out a couple of messages schools have snuck onto news websites to coincide with their cancellations notices (thanks to my colleague Jen for pointing them out):

Just seconds ago, I received an email from a teacher. She shared that she emailed all students and parents with suggestions on how students can maintain or progress in their math curriculum from home. It included late work, app and website practice, and exploration opportunities posted to her website. She put together a few screencasts with her extra time at home. 

Just moments before that, I received another email from a curriculum lead asking her colleagues to read up on a problem they've been trying to work on, and come ready to share reflections and ideas at their meeting on Wednesday.

Many of our teachers are sending emails or posting to LMS/websites to keep kids connected, thinking, and in the loop. 

Weather or not...can't the learning continue?

Let's take it a step further. What if simply expecting the learning to be continuous on cancellation days wasn't just a 'next best option,' but rather looked at as an opportunity? Couldn't you glean a few advantages that might come about if kids were asked to work on their math skills, read, create, explore, build, or do all types of learning from the comfort of their couch and pajamas versus what might occur within our schools? We could take these apparent stops in continuity, and leverage them as at home days of self direction and exploration. I admit, student age, accessibility, parent availability, and a host of other variables come into play, but the ideas got kicking around in my head, and they certainly made me wonder.

I have no idea how far this idea could be extrapolated, but if the Polar Vortex is an impetus for creative thinking, maybe it's not such a bad thing after all (says the girl typing a blog post in her pajamas on the couch). 

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