Flurry of eLearning days provide opportunity for edits to snow day workload

Published 7:13 pm Friday, April 26, 2019

After a winter of snow days that reached into the double digits, Albert Lea Area Schools and its families are looking back at what worked — and what did not — about eLearning.

Due to weather, Albert Lea Area Schools had 11 days off school, several of which were concentrated in late January during severe winter weather that shut down schools and roads across the state. The most recent eLearning day was April 11.

Of those days, Albert Lea Area Schools Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Jo Dorman said 10 were designated eLearning days. While the state only allows five to be counted as instructional days, the district and its teachers agreed to continue eLearning days with the desire that students continued learning while at home.

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With as many inclement weather days as schools had this year, Dorman said the district was happy it had eLearning days in place to avoid a lot of missed instruction.

But the eLearning days were also, at times, a learning process for the district as well, she said.

Elementary students complete a bingo board created by teachers and specialists at each grade level. What can students do at home that aligns to work they are already doing in the classroom?

Voluntary prekindergarten students are also sent home with bingo cards, though those are not created at the district level, Dorman said.

The district did receive questions on certain bingo squares, including one that asked students to do a chore around the home. Dorman said the square was added with the input of a physical education teacher, who needed to get children’s heart rates up on a day when it may be too treacherous for students to play outside.

Some parent feedback was positive on this portion of the card because it connects to things students can do at home to become more responsible, Dorman said.

“Our intent is not to make it overwhelming for parents — more a support for parents,” she said of eLearning bingo cards.

For science, students can collect snow and make a hypothesis on how long it takes to melt. This reflects the scientific method, Dorman said.

“‘Just pull your standards,’” Dorman said she told teachers during the bingo cards’ creation.

But further feedback has made the district edit some squares, including one that asks students to give someone a compliment. This square is intended to be an empathy-related square chipped in by school counselors.

But the activity did not take time, and people did not like that.

“It has some learning behind it, but OK, we got it,” Dorman said.

The district also spoke with day care providers for feedback, which worked into next year’s set of bingo cards, Dorman said.

Feedback from this year’s eLearning experience has already affected what secondary students’ eLearning days look like.

For middle and high school students, eLearning is aided by a district Chromebook given to every student between sixth and 12th grade. If students do not have internet at their homes, they can check out mobile hotspots from their school’s media center. So far, the district has had enough for its students, Dorman said.

Middle schoolers can access Google Classrooms, a platform where teachers can put notes, attach readings and include videos for their students to access remotely. The learning platform used by the high school, Schoology, also allows students to continue classwork from home. Students make use of these tools throughout the year, Dorman said, and not only on snow days.

But when eLearning days first started, Dorman said students were doing more work at home than they did in the classroom.

“We found that we were giving kids more work that, to get it all done, it probably would have taken them 10 or 11 hours in a day,” she said.

Amy Miller, a district parent with a voluntary pre-kindergartener, a third grader and an eighth grader, said eLearning was a struggle for her oldest child, especially with how the weather caused eLearning days to be grouped together. She saw the days as tougher for students who need additional support during class time — and then at home on eLearning days.

“In my household, I’m not there to help them,” she said. “I have to go to work.”

She also noticed the amount of work he was doing on eLearning days.

“It tends to be a pretty large load, I think, for these kids to carry themselves,” she said.

Students also mentioned an inconsistency between eLearning expectations between teachers. During one school board meeting in February, student school board member Maggie Moller said some eLearning assignments were either not class-related or did not feel productive.

“We need to continue to look at the secondary level — what is that work looking like?” Dorman said. “… It shouldn’t seem like busywork. It should be aligned to what they’re already doing.”

Miller also noticed due dates are not streamlined district-wide: elementary schools have one week to turn in their bingo boards, while secondary students have two weeks to complete assignments given on eLearning days.

“It makes it really difficult, especially if you have children in different schools, to, like, keep that differentiated,” Miller said.

She also said she did not see the educational aspect of her elementary student’s work.

“The bingo sheets that they bring home don’t really pertain to any type of learning for them,” she said.

According to Dorman, most students do complete their eLearning work the day of.

“I’m not against eLearning days, because I think that what they’re trying to do, I think it’s a really great idea,” Miller said. “I just think that they need to fine-tune it a little bit.”

Parent Val Fox, who has a 12-year-old at Southwest Middle School, would like the eLearning days to continue as is. Though she also noted her student seemed to have more homework on eLearning days, it was still a good amount for her student. Elearning gives her student something to do on a snow day, and Fox would rather have eLearning than makeup days for a longer year, she said.

Still, Dorman and Miller agree the best option for students is classroom time. She said she hopes this year was an anomaly when it comes to weather.

“Of course, the best learning for students is to be in school with their teachers,” Dorman said.


About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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