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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Snow Days and Blizzard Bags

Snow Days and Blizzard Bags

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We're all at home today- my husband, kids and I- because Winter Storm Hercules has shut everything down across at least 6 states. Living in New England, snow days are part and parcel of our winter life- but they're not what they used to be. Some schools in our region have started using "Blizzard Bags" (totes filled with activities and lessons prepared in the fall or winter in an effort to regain lost instructional time (and maybe prevent a school year that runs through the end of June). My husband and I are still working- even though our schools are officially closed today- so why shouldn't our kids? (You can read more about the whole Blizzard Bag concept- and how it's working- in this piece from New Hampshire Public Radio- http://tinyurl.com/k7kkqf8 )

I get the logic and it makes sense, I guess, but I'm still glad that my kids spent the day sledding, reading, (okay, and playing Minecraft) instead of slogging through worksheets or watching video lectures online.

What about you? If you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to live in blizzard country, how will you use your snow day(s)? How do you think the kids should use them?

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Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

So I have to ask you all....blizzard bags came up in one of my Twitter convos this week with a mom who's child has a blizzard bag. Her issue...she didn't understand how to teach her child how to do the work. So my question is, what is done to prepare families for these "bags"? Is there any "prep" work? Or is it a "do your best with what you know"?

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Great question, to me, there can be no assumption of anything beyond self-guided work, meaning either reviewing of material or things students can learn/explore on their own...but I have no experience with them directly, hopefully someone with actual knowledge can comment!

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think the Blizzard Bag/Snow Work should be, ideally, something sort of fun and age appropriate. Because the work is in case school is down, its really hard to have things together that will be aligned with a unit or lesson plan. While I think we should definitely communicate with parents on how to help with the work assigned, shouldn't the work be geared towards PBL on some level?
For 3rd grade and above in elementary, it can be as simple as weather related fun writing prompts: "Suppose you are Jack Frost/Elsa from Frozen and can construct your own ice palace. What would it look like? What are the features you would design? Can you draw pictures of your Ice Palace/clubhouse? What would you do to preserve it when the sun comes out?"
This sort of open ended project is topical, asks for imagination and design thinking, and can be differentiated for level. And it's a bit of fun as well.
You could incorporate math into a project like this in terms of estimating areas needed for certain tasks, etc. And it's timeless, meaning it's in addition to regular lessons, but could help integrate things learned in science, math, history, etc if structured well.
As long as kids have electricity, they can also do research online.

Designing good supplementary projects are also more likely to get done, if everyone knows their purpose, than mere boring worksheets. And the kids can then present their designs when you return to school- which could help those easing back into school days that are a bit bumpy for everyone.
I like this sort of PBL and cross subject integration, something that sometimes gets lost in the push/pull of a normal school day, for just these sort of bonus times- what do you think?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi Gwen!
I don't think there are any shared expectations for how Blizzard Bags work- at least not between schools. That being said, I think the work should either be practice of previously learned content (reading, writing, etc) or enrichment. It also seems like kids shouldn't be expected to learn anything new unless self-directed learning is a pedagogy in use in the school. We can't expect parents or caregivers to teach content they don't know, right? (Methinks there are many bugs to be worked out with the existing systems if they're going to succeed.)

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

I agree with you Laura. It would be crazy to expect parents to be able to teach a lesson but....I sat through an interesting session this week on building family engagement through STEAM, and this school in Long Beach held sessions for parents on Friday morning that walked them through many of the lessons that the students would later be doing. So parents built a rocket, conducted electricity with fruit and more. The school then sent parents home with a packet of simple kitchen science activities that families could do at home together. I'd think this approach could apply to blizzard bags.

Kristen Fouss's picture
Kristen Fouss
Digital Learning Specialist

I can see this issue from two different points of view.

First, as a high school teacher, I would expect the kids to work on snow days whether we have a formalized Blizzard Bag or not (and luckily, we do). We've had 7 days out of school this year and many teachers are scrambling to get through material that needs to be done before AP or state testing. Days added at the end of the year won't help with that! A lot of teachers at my school made screencasts if material was going to be new for students and were expected to be available via email or Skype on our designated Blizzard Bag day if students had questions.

My own elementary-aged children have also been through a Blizzard Bag day. The work that the teachers posted for them to do was age-appropriate and took a small portion of their day; the kids had plenty of time to go outside and play in the snow (if it hadn't been so darned cold!). I'm fully supportive of using their snow days in this manner.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I agree- there should be expectations of working during snow days, but there is also some leeway needed for extraordinary circumstances such as the days without power due to the ice storms here in PA- no electric, no real reliable internet connection. That however, tends to be the rare exception, and home bound snow days more the rule.
I think having teachers in upper grades taking the time to do screencasts and keep things rolling is a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Great points! Do you think that some of the issues are connected to how we decide what "counts" as school? For example, if what counts is seat time-the number of minutes or days in school-then we have to do something that make sure every kid is spending the same number of minutes on the task. If what matters is attainment of competency, as it is here in New Hampshire, then it's more about giving kids opportunities to gain practice towards those competencies. Technology makes it easier to do both, I agree, but it is more necessary in the case of the former than the latter.

I don't know that there's any universal answer, but as we stare down the face of yet another storm coming next week, I sure would like an answer that keeps us from going to school until the beginning of July.

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