Planning for ‘snow days’

About 5 years ago I was supporting an institution – who due to their geographic location, would have numerous days each year affected by snow. As an organisation they were determined to stay open as much as possible (otherwise they would go entire weeks without provision), and so they planned for ‘snow days’. These were a mixture of subject specific student paced activities that could be taught at any point during the calendar year, and then generic sessions teaching things like study skills, careers sessions etc. The idea was that if on a snowy day, half the teachers and a quarter of the students couldn’t get in, they could simple use these planned activities to provide education to the learners with the resources (teachers that had made it in). They even had a member of staff (who lived within walking distance) whose duty on such a day was to co-ordinate which students would get which activities to ensure they didn’t have wasted repetition. This model worked really well, the staff and students were used to it, and accepted it, and because the sessions had been planned in advance (and once planned are valid for future years) – they were quality sessions, not something thrown together at the last minute just to fill time.

Snow covered roadAbout 3 years ago, I was contacted by a college to provide training for some of their teachers. The idea being to improve their skills at creating ‘online’ learning activities that are self paced and can be run with minimal tutor interaction for that particular activity. The way that I ran the session, was to create online versions of the ‘snow days’. I had one attendee from each subject area, so the first challenge was to identify a part of the curriculum that can be taught in isolation to other parts, and most importantly at any time of the year between late November and the end of March. Once that topic was identified, it is then building the learning activities for that topic, usually in the form of 5 stages as following:

  1. Providing them with some content – e.g. links to websites, videos, or files.
  2. Asking them a set of challenging questions around that content, to help focus the learners on the key points, and to think critically about the content. Depending on the subject, these may be closed questions that can be tested with a quiz where the computer gives instant feedback, or open questions where students either discuss with their peers via some form of forum activity, or more individual questions, where the student either brings answers to a future classroom activity.
  3. Designing an activity in which the learners will use the information from the above, to do something creative. This could be designing a poster to explain the concept, writing a press release from the eyes of a certain person, creating a mind map of the key information, etc.
  4. Designing a ‘stretch and challenge’ activity – e.g. something optional that the more able students can do if they want, but are not obliged to. In simple terms, this is usually a challenging, discussion provoking question posted into a forum.
  5. Assimilating the above into an area on the VLE in a way that is self explanatory, can be hidden until required (and then un-hidden easily).

The idea here, is if the organisation has a ‘snow day’ or similar (flooding, swine flu etc.), they have something already planned, which is easy to administer, can be completed by both the students that have manager to get in, and for some of those that haven’t, and if the weather is such that it hasn’t been required during the year, the teacher can just run this anyway at a convenient time for them.

I have run similar training sessions with other providers since (including schools, and a University), and they have proved to be very successful – not just training staff in a different way of teaching, but at the end of the day they have a tangible product (a planned ‘snow day’), and for one organisation in particular, this was picked up favourably by a future Ofsted inspection.

If any organisations are interested in me running such training days for them, then please get in touch via – I have already had 2 communications this morning, from teachers at organisations that will today be using the activities planned in these training sessions.

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2 thoughts on “Planning for ‘snow days’

  1. I think this positive approach to ‘snow days’ is brilliant, Dave. What strikes me about your five stages is that they are, in fact, an excellent framework for all sorts of programmes of learning, even when the weather is fine! I am currently a student of an advanced jazz piano course at Morley College and the way we learn during and between our weekly classes is very close to your model – including effective use of Moodle to support the F2F sessions.

    I remember talking to a colleague a few years ago who was, quite rightly, appalled that her son’s school had made no effort at all to use it’s technology resources to provide learning opportunities when the school was closed for several consecutive days because of bad weather. But I have a theory as to why schools, in particular, are reluctant to do this. If they were to provide effective modules of learning (along the lines of your five stages) that could be undertaken without physically attending the institution, then this might challenge the notion that young people need to attend school five days a week for every week of the school year. For me the really exciting thing about Internet technology is that for the first time in human history the individual learner should be able to have real freedom in terms of how, when and where they learn. Their modes and patterns of learning need no longer be controlled by the need to conform to institutional diktat. But it will be difficult for those who are paid high salaries to manage schools to accept this change. Hence the need – perhaps at some subconscious level – for them to shun any initiative that might weaken the inflexible, full-time, command and control model of schooling.

  2. When the first college initially contacted me to run training, they wanted me to deliver pedagogical sound training on creating self managed learning activities, but they wanted me to disguise this as something else (as they were concerned that teachers wouldn’t engage in something they may perceive as putting them out of a job) – hence we focused on this being for ‘snow-days’ which was less threatening for some – and it did have the advantage of focusing on the need to isolate the topic and make it self standing.

    Yesterday my kids schools were both open (much to their disappointment) even though most in area were closed (even more to my kids disappointment) – and I had thought the same as you, why is it the schools cannot deliver their learning remotely for one day. I also was supposed to be at a Governors meeting at one of the schools, which had to be postponed – again could this have been held via a web conferencing solution? But of course, there are some (not many) families who genuinely don’t have adequate devices at home, and if I look at my situation, although I have a range of different devices at home, I wouldn’t have enough for all 3 kids, plus me and wife (who both work from home) to all be online at the same time.

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