Could tech help eliminate snow days in Minnesota schools?
MOORHEAD - A proposal to allow Minnesota schools to use technology to keep classes in session even when blizzards hit and buses can't run is intriguing to local school officials, as long as it doesn't become mandatory.A bill in the state House of...
MOORHEAD - A proposal to allow Minnesota schools to use technology to keep classes in session even when blizzards hit and buses can't run is intriguing to local school officials, as long as it doesn't become mandatory.
A bill in the state House of Representatives would let school districts use "e-learning" to avoid canceling school for winter weather or other reasons.
"I do believe it is the wave of the future," Moorhead schools Superintendent Lynne Kovash said Monday, March. 6.
Kovash said House File 1421 could be a good option for schools, as long as it isn't mandatory. But if it becomes a requirement, schools would need funding for teacher training and technology, she said.
School districts that like the plan generally offer one-to-one computing, with each student issued a computer or internet-connected device, Kovash said.
In Moorhead's public schools, there is one-to-one computing at Horizon Middle School, while high school students bring their own devices, she said.
"We have to be careful because we have students that don't have access to the internet and don't have computers at home," Kovash said.
Bryan Thygeson, superintendent for Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's public schools, said the bill shouldn't affect most school districts because their calendars usually include enough instruction hours to make it a rarity that they need to make up snow days. Plus, when schools are closed many days due to natural disasters, the state has never taken away money, he said.
"When you have those issues, people have to reflect on what families and communities are going through," Thygeson said.
House File 1421 allows school districts and charter schools to plan for up to five days of online instruction during a school year due to bad weather. The bill says the e-learning day must offer full access to online instruction from each teacher, but it leaves the use of e-learning up to individual districts.
The bill requires districts that opt for e-learning days to provide accommodations for students without Internet access at home and devices for families that don't have them. The plan must also be workable for students with disabilities.
Kovash said there are pluses. E-learning is changing teaching, as instructors move from being deliverers of information, to facilitators of learning. Making up schoolwork online can prevent gaps in instruction and school years can end on time.
But, she worries e-learning could make calling off school too commonplace, affecting learning and the ability of families to find child care on short notice.
Moorhead School District averages one or two snow days a year, she said. A notable exception was 2008-09, when the district had 11 days off for snow and flood fighting, she said.
"It's an interesting proposal," Kovash said. "It causes us to think about teachers, teaching and learning."
Crookston Public Schools Superintendent Chris Bates said an important consideration should be whether e-learning days are as valuable as regular school days.
"If you were going in for an appendicitis tomorrow, do you want a doctor that's operated on people or one that's done it on a computer?" he said.
Bates said he believes the model would be suited better for some subjects than others, comparing e-learning days to "flipped classrooms," in which students watch a video lesson at home, such as math, and do classwork based on the lesson the next day with the teacher's help.
"Some things I think would be more challenging than others to make meaningful, but certainly math classes, I could see it working really well for them," Bates said.