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Snow days! And, Technology!

Randall F. Clemens

Originally posted at

Snow days are magical events, for students and teachers. The days preceding them burst with energy and anticipation. The magic starts with murmurs. One student says to another, “Did you hear it’s supposed to snow on Thursday?” As the snowstorm strengthens, students start rearranging plans and due dates. They think, “Let’s see. If we get a foot of snow on Thursday, that buys us at least four more days to write the essay about Hamlet.” Students are not alone. On Wednesday afternoon, teachers stare longingly out windows as the first flakes fall. “Is it too late” they wonder, “for the district to announce a two hour early dismissal?” They dream of a weekend without grading papers, a weekend with two days of guilt-free Netflix binge watching.

As someone who experienced snow days as a student and teacher, I can tell you: They are magical events.

Snowzilla, the massive blizzard that attacked the east coast, has reminded some of the opportunities of technology to attenuate the negative effects of missed school days. Last week, the author of an article in The Washington Post wrote, “[E]ducators have real concerns about the academic impact of the closures, which can slow progress and leave struggling students even further behind.” Technology to the rescue!

I love the prospect of technology to facilitate extended learning opportunities. In fact, I wrote about it six years ago when Snowmageddon rocked DC. I’m a bit like a broken drum in that way. We know the best learning experiences are engaging, relevant, and experiential. Technology has the ability to magnify learning both in and out of school.

Indeed, districts have implemented a number of tech-focused reforms to facilitate out-of-school learning for students, from preschool to high school. Some are stopgap solutions like online announcements and assignments in lieu of traditional seat time. Others are more integrated measures such as flipped classrooms. With the latter example, extended learning opportunities are not a response to inclement weather; they exemplify a philosophy that views learning as an ongoing and integrated event.

But, here’s the rub: Six years ago, when I campaigned for digitally connected snow days, the possibilities were still somewhat unfamiliar. Since then, technologies like iPhones and course websites have become commonplace. So too has the assumption that all students have access to technologies and the requisite literacies to access and use them. They don’t.

Technology is alluring. Over and over, policymakers have championed well-intentioned reforms that, once implemented, have had unintended, negative consequences. We cannot assume that all students have regular access to technology; students and families have the necessary skills to use technology; or, schools have the resources to maximize its potential.

Snow days are magical. Learning is magical. I’m still excited for the possibilities. Let’s make sure they are available to all students.