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Snow Days

How Should We Make Up Lost Time On Learning?

The headline reads: Boston in midst of snowiest 30 days on record!

Schools in eastern Massachusetts have experienced an inordinate number of snow days– ten in my school by mid-February– and students have been losing valuable learning time. Students not only lose time but they lose the momentum of learning; interruptions in schedule means that the instructor must review and repeat before continuing with the lesson.
If schools take the traditional route of tacking days onto the end of the school year, children will be in school until the last day of June. For some this may not be a problem, but there are many reasons for not taking this standard approach.

  • High school seniors have a graduation date that allows them to get out earlier and do not make up missed days, thus they lose those education hours. Ten snow days results in a 27% loss of learning time for seniors taking a semester course.
  • Other high-schoolers “check out” and lose focus during June and after the seniors graduate. One student phrases this as “At my school, we stop learning new material for the most part around midway through May”, and while I disagree about his statement it has been my experience that the students lose focus at the end of May.
  • Many families have pre-set plans for their summer and will take their children out of school to keep their schedule.
  • There are many scheduled exams that students must take and lost snow day hours are added AFTER the exam date will not help them at all. AP exams are the first two weeks in May.  The ELA MCAS exam is March 25th and 26th, the math MCAS is May 12th and 13th, and the science MCAS exam is June 2nd, all of which a student must pass to obtain a high school diploma.
  • Teachers must take summer courses to maintain their certifications and many courses begin at the end of June.
  • Many teachers work a summer job to help support the family.

21st Century education moves beyond standard practices and asks students to be creative, innovative, collaborative, and think outside the box. We should too. Instead of tacking school days onto the end of the year, which will not help students with their state and national exams, or asking students to make up the days on Saturdays or April vacation, which would result in a very low attendance particularly at the high school level, schools should incorporate creative and flexible methods for retrieving the learning time for students. Here are some off-the-top-of-the-head ideas and I’m sure there are many others:

  • ELearning! Children are already consuming information through their smartphones, iPads, and laptops, let’s take advantage of that. Online supplemental work could be either independent and on the student’s schedule or it could be scheduled with the teacher present on the other end. Seat time is recorded by the log-in and actions of the student. The examples are endless.  Delphi school in Indiana requires students to log on during snow days. Farmington district in Minnesota uses their “Schoolology” digital platform, and Pentucket Regional School District could use their “Schoolloop” digital platform.
  • Relevant work packets sent home with students that they can do on their own schedule and will count as a given set of hours when turned in. Other states, like New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Ohio have “blizzard bags”, which Burlington and Wayland schools have taken up.  This link goes to Contoocook Valley regional schools as an example of one way a blizzard bag could work.
  • Extend the school day one day per week by two hours, adding time to all subjects.
  • Move teacher professional development out of the student’s education time to Saturdays or the end of the year.

Teachers, administrators, and unions need to work cooperatively together to make this school year meaningful and authentic. To get to the job of educating children, let’st stop making excuses for why something CAN’T be done and look at how it CAN be done.

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This past month chemistry students have been learning how to convert between grams, molecules, and moles, so each day the bell-ringer/do-now/QOD assignment was a calculation of molecules of something familiar: chalk, candle wax burned, nicotine, aluminum foil, etc. I believe that each day’s practice helped solidify their understanding of the concept. So one day I asked how many molecules in a snow flake. Since we had to start with a mass, and I did not have time to determine the mass of a single snowflake, I turned to the internet and found Archimedes Notebook: How much does a snowflake weigh?  Thus, I gave the students the following information

Most snowflakes weigh from 0.001 to 0.003 grams, with a heavy snowflake coming in at 0.02 grams. Choose a mass within that range and calculate the number of molecules of water in the snowflake.

Thus, different students came up with different numbers of molecules, giving us a range of data.  Note:

The largest snowflake ever seen was 8 by 12 inches and was reported to have fallen in Bratsk, Siberia in 1971.

Most students elected to use the average of the lower two numbers, and calculated as follows:

mol snowflake

That is a lot of molecules. Adding or subtracting just one molecule of water would result in a unique snowflake. And considering that water is a polar molecule, the hydrogen bonding arrangement possibilities is mind boggling.

Then we have to consider factors that affect how a snowflake develops. NOAA gives this simplified explanation, which still is not the entire story:

A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals – the six arms of the snowflake.

…The intricate shape of a single arm of the snowflake is determined by the atmospheric conditions experienced by entire ice crystal as it falls. A crystal might begin to grow arms in one manner, and then minutes or even seconds later, slight changes in the surrounding temperature or humidity causes the crystal to grow in another way.  ~ NOAA

From snowcrystals.com we get a bit more information:

Snowflake Morphology

Snowflake Morphology

We see that thin plates and stars grow around -2 C (28 F), while columns and slender needles appear near -5 C (23 F). Plates and stars again form near -15 C (5 F), and a combination of plates and columns are made around -30 C (-22 F).  Furthermore, we see from the diagram that snow crystals tend to form simpler shapes when the humidity (supersaturation) is low, while more complex shapes at higher humidities. The most extreme shapes — long needles around -5 C and large, thin plates around -15 C — form when the humidity is especially high.

PBS tried to get a definitive answer to this question “So is it really true that no two snowflakes are alike?” from physicists Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology and avid snowflake photographer, and John Hallett, director of the Ice Physics Laboratory at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., and got the following response:

“It’s like shuffling a deck and getting the exact same shuffle for 52 cards,” Libbrecht said. “You could shuffle every second for the entire life of the universe, and you wouldn’t come close to getting two of the same.”

So, there you have it. While not impossible, it is highly unlikely given that there are a trillion, trillion, trillion (a 1 with 36 zeros!) different types of snowflakes.

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