Staying Connected Through Snow Days

Living in Huron County, Ontario offers many advantages – great agricultural land and lovely beaches, to name a few.  However, due to the strong and cold northwest winds blowing over the relatively warmer waters of Lake Huron, we get hit hard with whiteout snow conditions.  Buses are cancelled and schools and roads are closed.  While the first few “Snow Days” are exciting, the novelty soon wears off.  Fortunately, some students willingly take advantage of being connected with various web 2.0 tools to keep up with previously assigned tasks.  How do we respond to those who won’t or can’t?

All students in my class have access to internet at home and their own Google Apps account which includes email.  During these snow days, several students have stayed connected to me and their peers through email, and posting comments on the class wiki and Idea Hive blog.  They were clearly concerned about their upcoming Christmas concert and assignment.

Before the snow hit, I had assigned the students a science research project.  After discussing the outline and “sharing” all relevant documents online, they spent two periods in class working the research.  Students created Google docs which were shared with me.  On our first snow day, I sent an email to the students and their parents, encouraging students to work on the project so I could post feedback on their documents.  As expected, during the snow days that immediately followed, there was little activity in their docs.  When we got back to school after snow day #3, we had a discussion about expectations if the stormy weather returned.  Students knew they were to continue working independently from home, and I would provide feedback in their docs along the way.

By snow day #5, about a third of the class had taken hold of the task, and were near completion.  The rest of the students had done little or were M.I.A. I continued to send emails to all students, providing next steps and posting feedback to those moving forward.  Today, as we move into snow day #6, I can see there will not be any more class time available for this assignment due to other fundraising and Christmas concert activities that must be completed in the next two day.  In January, we have to move on to a new science unit.  The students were made aware of these facts through another email.  What is the fairest way to deal with those who will have completed the assignment versus those who either chose not to read their emails and work, or, perhaps couldn’t?

Through this messed up schedule, my Idea Hive teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, and his students in Snow Lake, Manitoba, patiently wait for our return. Clarence generously listened and made suggestions on how to fairly address my concerns regarding the science assignment.   While the advantage of having technology is that students can still work, it doesn’t mean they will.  It’s also impossible to know if their internet connections are even working.  Ultimately, it’s up to the students to complete the assignment, so they’ll have the extra time over Christmas break to do so.

Even though we can extend support to our students through web 2.0 tools when school closes, factors such as initiative, independence and questionable internet connections are a reality.  On a positive note, Google Apps and blogs are excellent tools that have enabled me to provide feedback and have some enjoyable “chats” with my students during the last six snow days.

It is kind of ironic that while Clarence and his students are the ones from the great white north, with “remote access“, I’m the one not able to drive out my laneway.  How fortunate I am to have the ear and support from my “close” teaching partner, only 2 700 km away!