technology integration

Blizzard Bags

This has certainly been an interesting winter.  Boston has had 78.1″ of snow this season and this winter is poised to go on record as one of the top five snowiest winters.  With snow in the forecast two times within the next five days, I’m guessing we’ll make it to the top five!

While the first couple of snow days were pure bliss, the snow days are adding up and I find myself less thrilled with the prospect of being in school until the last moments of June.  Hence, my fascination with Blizzard Bags!

You may have heard of this practice recently highlighted on CBS:

blizzard_bag_clip

Some schools in New Hampshire have been adopting Blizzard Bags to make up for snow days.  Students engage in online course work (25 minutes per class) from home on snow days.  If 80% of the students complete the work, the Blizzard Bag experience counts as a school day.  In Massachusetts, the Burlington and Wayland Public Schools have been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education to implement a similar model to make up snow days this year.

This makes sense to me for a few reasons:

  • If Blizzard Bags are assigned for completion on a snow day, momentum is not lost. Being in school 2 -3 days a week during three recent weeks that included snow days has definitely impacted learning.  Imagine if students came back to school having already read, watched, practiced and/or discussed content that kept them focused on the curriculum?
  • We have the technology tools to easily facilitate Blizzard Bag learning (Discovery Education, Aspen, Google Drive, Google Classroom, Canvas).
  • There is nothing like an old-fashioned snow day to stay in your pj’s all day and read a good book, or to get out for some sledding and snow play.  Burlington’s approach to the Blizzard Bag is to plan projects and learning experiences that do not need to be completed by the end of  a given snow day.  Rather, utilizing existing web tools  the project timelines, updates, and assignment resources will be made available to students online.  Student completion of these projects will amount to one school day.
  • Blizzard Bags provide flexibility, one New Hampshire superintendent indicated that some days are just snow days, while others are Blizzard Bag days.  Wouldn’t it be nice to use the five snow days allotted on the school calendar and make up the rest with Blizzard Bags?

There are also challenges to this model:

  • What if students do not have access to the technology that allows them to engage with Blizzard Bag content?
  • What if students lose power at home and are not able to complete Blizzard Bags for a next day due date?
  • What if 75% of students complete Blizzard Bags, falling short of the 80% required for the day to count as a makeup day? What happens to the students who did do the work and now need to physically attend a makeup day?
  • When does teacher training and support take place to help develop meaningful and engaging Blizzard Bag content online?
  • The name, Blizzard Bag – it is catchy, but most snow days aren’t blizzards and there is no bag going home!  How about Storm Sites? Interest Icicles?  Snow School? Ask some elementary kids learning about alliteration and I’m sure they could brainstorm something catchy and representative of the model!

Ultimately, Blizzard Bags are great food for thought!  The model pushes us to think outside of the box, to take advantage of the ways in which technology can facilitate learning beyond the four walls of our schools.