Friday, January 27, 2017

Success with our first blizzard bag

Three years ago a committee of teachers and administrators sat and planned a blizzard bag program to address weather related issues. Instead of making up a snow day at the end of the year, the thinking was that we would create worthwhile and effective online learning that could be completed from home on a day where it wasn't safe to go to school. In New Hampshire the Department of Education allows districts to apply for permission to conduct remote instruction during inclement events. Our plan was that the first snow day would remain a snow day, but then subsequent snow days might become blizzard bag days. We wouldn't have one on a Monday, since we couldn't touch base with our students ahead of time, nor would we have one after a holiday or vacation week.

For grades K-3, teachers created physical bags with folders and activities that went home. For grades 4 through 12, staff created a blizzard bag infrastructure within their courses on Schoology, and when the moment came these assignments, discussions, or other activities would be made visible so students could complete them on the day of if they had power at their home, or on the following day if they didn't have Internet or power. Staff would spend time before the day creating material. On the day of a blizzard bag they would supervise their classes and answer student questions. On the day after they would grade students' products and take attendance. Para-professionals and others in the school would be participating in professional development through discussions on Schoology.

Our plan called for students and staff to complete everything within 24 hours. We needed 80% participation from students throughout the district, and 80% participation from staff as well. It was approved by the Department of Education in 2014, and the 2014-2015 school year we had several snow days. Unfortunately, all of which were on Mondays or after a vacation. When we met that spring we decided to tweak our blizzard bag program. We kept the first snow day as a day off for staff and students, but we removed the restriction on Mondays and days after a vacation. Now we would experience a blizzard bag as soon as the second snow day struck.

But as everyone who lives in Northern New England knows, in 2015-2016 the snow did not come. We had a few delays and early releases, but spent the whole year looking at a plan that was gathering dust. For a second year in a row, we did not have a blizzard bag day.

In 2016-2017, we hoped we would finally get there. We had several close calls in December and early January, and we notified students and staff that a blizzard bag day was a possibility. But all of these ended up being 2 hour delays instead of snow days. So when the weather changed over last weekend with snow, freezing rain and rain all in the forecast from Monday night to Tuesday afternoon, we knew a blizzard bag day had arrived. We notified students on Monday, and the call was made Tuesday morning. Students and staff completed activities throughout the day.

By the time the day was done and we had tallied attendance, we achieved the following results:

  • Elementary School 92% 
  • High School: 84% 
  • Middle Level: 87%
  • Staff Attendance: 99%
So our first blizzard bag in three years was a success. We're looking forward to doing it again.

We learned many things from our first blizzard bag. When we created our plan three years ago we did not have an enrichment / recovery period. We also did not have double blocks on a rotating basis, which created some problems with taking timely attendance. Finally, our number of directed studies has increased significantly over the years, so we had to discount those numbers in our attendance calculations.. Another element we had not considered was requiring electronic submissions for students at the high school, even if that meant taking a picture of their work to upload and then submitting their actual work the following day. Overall, staff reported a great experience with their blizzard bags. We are surveying parents and students and will report our findings.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age

On February 6, 2017, the Moultonborough School District is thrilled to welcome Alan November, an educational leader who advocates specific steps in how to transform teaching and learning by using technology. Schools have put the emphasis on adding technology in the classroom, but in the end if teachers and students have not adapted to the new realities of an environment pervasive with devices and connectivity, then they are not accomplishing their mission of delivering a quality education. November argues that it's not about technology, it's about student engagement and ownership in their learning.

In this thought-provoking book, Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age, November argues that school has short-changed students under the current model. The learning belongs to students, and not to teachers, and November presents the Digital Learning Farm, a model that shifts educational control towards students, empowering them to make decisions and to guide their own learning. The Digital Learning Farm model allows students to develop and own their learning through the use of four different roles: the tutorial designer, the scribe, the researcher, and the global communicator.

In essence, the tutorial designer creates movies that explain a problem to others, be that a math question, or a how to video. These are then posted to the web so that everyone can benefit from what is being taught. The scribe records the notes and events that happen in the classroom. Every day, a different student takes notes. These notes are reviewed by the teacher and the class and are posted on a blog or wiki so they can be accessed by everyone in the class. The researcher investigates questions that arise during class by finding answers and resources online. Finally, the global communicator reaches out to other people online who can help with the topics or subjects at hand.

These four roles really tie together the transformational 6 that Alan November mentions in a recent article entitled Walk Through for Innovation: Six Questions for Transformed Learning. In this article, he states that if your lesson or assessment answers no to all of these questions, then technology has not been successfully integrated in your classroom and you are doing a disservice to your students. This book, while preceding these questions, does a great job of demonstrating how all of them can be addressed by adopting the Digital Learning Farm model. Ultimately, students must own their learning to be really successful, and educators and even students should demand access to an education model similar to what November proposes to enhance both their interest in school and their desire to better perform as students.

Thus, on February 6th, the entire staff of Moultonborough School District, as well as students will be working together to examine these six questions and take steps to begin the transformation that is necessary for our students to succeed in today's world and own their learning. In the same article, November talks about being technology rich and innovation poor. We believe ourselves to be technology rich, and innovation middle class. We do many things right, but we can always improve. This professional development day will help us get better at connecting our students to the world and making their learning even more relevant. We will start the day with a keynote by Alan November at 8:15 am. We invite members of the public to join us for this exciting keynote.