Giving students access to learning – even on a snow day!

Jan 29, 2019 | For the Classroom, Hapara Champions

Snow day instruction with Hapara
Beth Gallegos


Tristan Nuyens 

Math Teacher | Hapara Champion

In Canada, the weather in September feels a whole lot different than it does in January or February. Classrooms have a different feeling to them as well: at the start of the school year it seems like there is so much time to get everything done, to cover all of the learning expectations for the year or semester. As educators, we know all too well that it doesn’t take long for that feeling of “abundance of time” to quickly evaporate. Part way through the year, it already feels like a mad dash to cover everything left in the curriculum. We often can’t afford to lose even one instructional day, and then in the winter months along comes the ‘Snow Day’.

Many northern school districts will experience inclement weather days, or “snow days”, where school buses are cancelled and school may be closed for days at a time. Even the best laid unit plans can be totally derailed when a snow day hits.

It is challenging to miss out on teaching days given the amount of curriculum content we have to cover. The number of snow days that happen each year fluctuates, but no matter what, those lost days have a huge impact on getting through the class material, leaving us feeling that there is not enough time to accomplish it all. The solution to this is of course a digital one.

Snow days are still learning days

In the first days of the school year, we let our classes know that the expectation on an unexpected snow day is that students should log into their school Gmail accounts and check for an email from their math teacher about the lesson for that day (as a teacher with Hapara, you can easily send this email to your class from the Class Info Tab). If the weather network is predicting a heavy snowfall or some freezing rain in the coming days, then we remind students ahead of time to check their Hapara Workspace for the learning expectations for that day’s lesson. Forget about missing a full instructional day, sometimes it’s like our class doesn’t even miss a beat!

An example Workspace for snow day instruction

Workspace is a good tool for organizing the various elements of any particular topic. It makes room for posting a clear learning goal (something like: “I will be able to calculate the missing interior angles of all polygons”) as well as learning resources. The content of the lesson can be delivered in a number of ways online, many of which will provide a digital learning experience that continues the momentum for student engagement with the material.  

Sometimes, when there is a brand new concept that needs to be taught, the teacher will create a short video explanation, or find a similar link on Youtube, where they can share the appropriate links with the students. Other teachers have run a live screen-capture chat with an almost full class of students on the popular video-game streaming website Twitch. And others still will decide to do an ‘App-Smash’ and get students to film themselves and explain their thinking using a program called Flipgrid. Most of the time, we will just have the prepared notes for the lesson, with examples and explanations all included.

Staying in touch with students who are away

The idea is that students will be at home all day with not much else to do anyway, so they can certainly spare an hour or two to investigate the content of their math lesson, and then work on some of their own questions and problems to solve. In Workspace, teachers can assign an Evidence task as an exit-card or a “Did You Get It?” mini-quiz. Often we will provide the solutions so that the students can check their own results and make sure that they are on track.

If students have a question or require a clarification about something specific, they are sometimes encouraged to email the teacher directly, before the school day ends – but some teachers have created a Google Doc for their whole class that students can all edit and post their questions there, for everyone to see. So often if one student has a question, then there are several others that had the exact same question — this way everyone can benefit from the answer.

Using Hapara with G Suite and a variety of other apps has helped our school board and especially my math department move the students into a blended-learning environment in a way that has been quite seamless for students, while also helping teachers decrease their anxiety of lost time due to inclement weather. As educators we always need to be flexible, and leveraging digital is one great way to make sure that the deep learning continues, even on a snow day!

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