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Column: District 518 ready for digital learning days

Worthington Middle School Tech Lead Teachers

WORTHINGTON — So far we’ve had nine snow days, and it’s only March. We have not had a full week of school since Jan. 22. That interrupted learning helps no one. Please don’t misunderstand. We appreciate the district making tough choices to cancel school, call it late or release early. Those decisions keep our students safe, which is priority. But what are schools to do when Mother Nature throws us another storm? We’ve already lost holiday breaks and now begin to add make-up days in June. Being a 1:1 iPad school district can solve many of these issues. And just like many schools surrounding Worthington, we can begin utilizing digital learning days when it’s not safe to have students on the roads.

Digital learning days have been accepted by the state of Minnesota (statute 120A.414) as replacement days for school cancellations due to weather or other hazardous situations. The state allows up to five days per school calendar to be used as digital learning days in which teachers will post online lessons/activities for their students, who are then responsible for checking assignments from the safety of their homes.

There are three major key components to our digital learning days. First, parents, students and teachers will be notified by the district Shout Point calling system, posts on local media pages and updates in Schoology that school cancellations due to weather will be a digital learning day. Once this notice is given, teachers are then responsible for posting lesson plans/activities into Schoology courses by 10 a.m. These lessons will be a culmination of 20-30 minutes of work per class. They can be a Playposit video where students watch an instructional video and answer questions to gage content understanding, an online reading assignment and discussion thread, MCA material review, online collaboration with Google Docs or Slides, virtual labs and other online activities. Teachers will be available throughout the day to answer student questions via email or phone. Students can call teachers’ classroom phone, leave a message, and teachers will get back to them. The point of all digital learning activities is to continue student learning whenever possible.

Students have a different responsibility. Once they are notified District 518 is using a Digital Learning day, students will know to check their Schoology courses. It is their responsibility to read/watch the materials and complete assignments. If students have questions, they are to email their teachers through Schoology. This will be counted as an attendance day. If students do not check their online course or complete the work within two days, they will be marked absent.  Giving students two days to complete the work leaves plenty of time for them to be successful.

As parents, remind your children to check online courses for posted materials. Encourage them to email questions or call the schools for help. Teachers are available during the day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will be checking email at most twice an hour-once at the top of the hour and again at the half hour. Look for teachers’ directions on how students can contact them. This should be given to the students ahead of time and/or posted on the online course instructions.  Parents should expect anywhere from 20-30 minutes of work per class, and it should be completed on time.

With a winter like the one we are having, digital learning days offer an opportunity to extend learning at home. While the best place for our students is in our classrooms engaging with us and collaborating with peers, their safety is far more important. We are lucky to have iPads that allow us to reach our students outside of the classroom. This opportunity encourages us to teach our students 21st century skills they need to be successful. By engaging in online learning, students gain an understanding of collaboration, critical thinking skills to problem-solve, be creative and learn how to communicate effectively. The benefits outweigh the doubt. Digital learning gives teachers an opportunity to continue student learning, help prepare students for the MCAs, keeps our students in a routine, teaches all of us responsibility — and we are ready. Both teachers and students have been asking to try this. Middle schoolers, young and old, enjoy a challenge. We have had enough experience with the technology to meet the expectations of a digital learning day, and we are excited to move forward.

This article is the product of a collaboration between Jeff Luke, Rebecca McGaughey, Micaela Massey, Tori Baumgartner, Alyssa Hietbrink and Spencer Wieneke.