Snows Days and the Case for K-12 Blended Classes

I’ve been sitting at the house since Wednesday.  The polar winds swept down across the region and 3 days of -20 to -30 degree temperatures motivated just about every district in the area to keep the kids off the streets and bus stops, safe and warm in their homes.  I’m all for that.  Its great.  It was the right thing to do for reasons only educators in the 21st century understand.  (I’ve explained it to people who went to school in the mid – later 20th century, and they get it now.) Expect for one thing… students are missing out on education.

Now, in the 20th century, before standardized testing,  teacher accountability for academic growth, and the never-ending excuses politicians make for “hating all things public education”, missing a few days of school merely meant students missed a few days of classes.  Now, in the 21st century, where all the above are the biggest thing in the minds of anyone involved in education, 3 days at home with no learning going on is an academic nightmare.  You’d think in this day and age of technology at our fingertips, the notion of just having class in your pj’s would be easy, right?

This is where blended classes, also known as hybrid classes come in. If you’ve ever taken a college level class where at Hybrid-Zone-1jpgleast part of the work is down outside the classroom, via your computer, you’re familiar with blended learning. Different from a full online learning experience, blended takes the best parts of sitting face to face in a classroom with using technology as an extension of the classroom experience. This has become a big part of the college learning experience, and it works well for most courses. Now its slowly, but surely filtering down to the K-12 setting.

Some districts in the United States have begun the process of incorporating blended learning into their curriculum and instruction.  These districts already have some sort of hybrid learning environment in their schools that may include flipped learning, LMS activities, and other sorts of technology in the classrooms.  They are now offering additional classes outside the regular schedule for students, such as a  la carte classes and virtual courses.

This is where blended learning meets snow day.  Many of the districts that have blended learning classes now don’t blink an eye when everything shuts down.  Teachers contact students, giving times and instructions for online interactions with them, or each other. Students get assignments completed, teachers can grade assignments completed and nary a beat is missed in the education process.

I’ve begun blending my classes, some assignments are done outside of the classroom setting with students collaborating to complete tasks.  Yet, something keeps me from going to the next level with my group.  The digital divide. Not everyone has access to technology outside the school building. So, although I mentioned the possibility of giving them something to do if we ended up home part of the week, the reality is, I knew there was very little possibility anyone would be able to get anything done. Even one of the students who was all for getting work done, sobbed, because her phone was turned off and she didn’t know when she’d get it turned back on.Thus my frustration on snow days.  That’s my frustration with everything… period.

Blended classes are the wave of the future; an extension of the classroom where students never miss a beat and are able to expand their learning. It works. Except when it doesn’t.  That darned digital divide.  That’s another topic for another day, though, right?


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