By the end of January, La Crescent-Hokah School District had three snow days.
Two could be re-categorized as back-to-back ice days, and the third was a school board gamble to make up for an error on the school’s calendar in early January. It is only a guess as to how many more snow days this school year will see.
In preparation for next year’s winter, La Crescent-Hokah Superintendent Kevin Cardille has put together a plan for the future years’ potentially excessive snow days: requiring students to work online, rather than losing an entire day of learning.
“At my last district, they were already doing this one year before I came here,” he said. “We already have Lancer Learning HD; electronic learning. It’s an expansion of what we are already doing in the district.”
La Crescent-Hokah Secondary School Principal Steve Smith also sees the sense in a transition to online learning days on those snowy winter days.
“We already do it a little bit with the spring testing,” he said. “When the juniors take their ACT, for the last two years we have been doing online learning days. The staff has already had experience at doing it and their online lessons fit with the flow of the curriculum.”
La Crescent-Hokah is not the only district implementing online learning days in general. Many districts across the state have started to not only use blended learning—electronic learning inside and outside the classroom—on scheduled days but on WILD, or weather-induced learning days, as well.
This is the first year in the district’s history that every student between fifth and 12th grade has an electronic learning device. This could vary from a Google Chromebook, to a student-owned laptop or iPad. Classes vary by how they use the device; it is up to the discretion of the teacher.
The blended learning transition has been a three- to four-year project.
Some teachers just email assignments to students and expect it emailed back; others used software like Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology and D2L. The software not only sends mass alerts to the students when there is an assignment but allows collaboration between students through communication on the software.
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“This isn’t coming from a worry that the students will get behind,” Cardille said. “This is something to keep them going. This could be an opportunity to practice Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments review or ACT prep, or work on something useful, or just different. I wouldn’t expect seven hours of work; it may take them two or three hours of work.”
Cardille hopes that a teacher workshop later in the year will help teachers’ create a plan for the next year’s snow days. For older students, they may be sent a scanned article with 10 questions to answer. If they are in an art class, the students may have to identify and critique different forms of artwork.
“The elementary level will be a little more difficult,” he said. “For one, they don’t have their own equipment. At the summer workshop day, we can plan what to do. Work sheets and practice sheets can go in snow day folders that at the next fall conferences, K-four, will be given out.”
The goal is that the packets will be grade level appropriate. Like the older grades, the material may not match exactly what the student is learning at the time but will still be a part of the grade level learning plan.
Younger grades may be asked to read for an hour or fill out worksheets.
“When I make that phone call, I can say, ‘K-4 do snow day packet number one,’” Cardille said. “I’m out running around the district boundaries at 4:30 a.m. checking on the weather, (but) we may know the night before and I can call at 7 p.m.…Our goal is to make this manageable.”
La Crescent-Hokah Elementary School Principal Jay Woller likes the potential for continuity in learning.
“There’s merit there,” he said. “It is definitely worth exploring with parent input, staff input. We have only discussed it briefly with the staff. This is a partnership with whomever may be the caregiver, and on a snow day it may be different. We will have to look into having a conversation as a community.”
Although students may see the blended learning on WILD as a threat to their perfect snow day, Cardille assures that not every snow day will be an online learning day.
“If we have two snow days in a row, the first day may be WILD. But, the second day may just be a snow day,” he said.