Digital Days to replace snow days at schools? Mixed blessing

I have to admit that as I listened to this story on MPR in the car yesterday, my favorite 14 year old exclaimed that – nobody wants that! I pointed out that everyone loves the first snow day but we’re up to 7-8 days of snow and cold days at our house. Come summer, people, including students and teachers, are going to be ruing the day they didn’t go digital.

Minnesota Public Radio reports on schools that are shifting snow days to digital days…

Robbinsdale is among a growing number of Minnesota school districts embracing e-learning on days when the weather makes it too dangerous for students to get to school. It’s easier than ever thanks to improving technology — and a change in state law.

In a season where snow and cold weather have forced Minnesota schools to cancel as many as nine school days this year, the digital-days allowance has let Robbinsdale stick pretty closely to its original schedule and avoid extending classes into spring break, holidays or staff training time.

Jenkins said Robbinsdale began moving toward e-learning days a few years ago after hearing of a successful model built by the Farmington public schools.

In Robbinsdale, e-learning has some fans. Robbinsdale Middle School eighth-grader Tommy Resja said he’s had a pretty good experience with lessons at home when the weather’s bad.

And recognizes that there are places that this won’t work…

School officials, though, know it doesn’t work for everyone. The model assumes students have access to the internet at home, which is not a given even in a digital age. It can also be a challenge for teachers to write lesson plans for kids who may need more hands-on attention.

“It does take a lot of time to plan good e-learning modules, particularly for younger learners who may still be learning to navigate the technology, who are developing readers,” said Melissa Davey, who teaches French and English as a second language at Robbinsdale Middle School and had to prep a digital lesson at home recently while caring for her toddler.

“We’re looking at what can students do independently on their own or in a limited English proficiency household,” she said. “That is a very significant challenge.”

Little Falls Community Schools, a rural district in central Minnesota between St. Cloud and Brainerd, has experimented with e-learning and flexible learning days, but the district has put its focus this year on other instructional priorities, said Wade Mathers, principal at Little Falls Community Middle School.

My daughter claims that her Charter school in St Paul won’t be moving to digital days and that in fact the teachers don’t assign homework that requires broadband access ever, in deference to students who don’t have access. That being said I can tell you she uses broadband for her homework daily. SO even if it’s not required, it is an incredible benefit for those who have it.

ACT highlights technology-based, learning disparities between rural/urban students

A recent paper from ACT reports…

High school students in rural parts of the U.S. face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning — access that students in more populated parts of the country and policymakers may take for granted, according to surveys of students who took the national ACT® test. However, ACT’s experts also suggest stakeholders can take important steps that can help every student succeed, no matter where he or she lives.

The report, “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities ,” found that rural students were less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access was “great” (36 percent vs. 46 percent).

Similarly, rural students were almost twice as likely as non-rural students to state that their internet access was “unpredictable” (16 percent vs. 9 percent). At school, however, there were no substantive differences in reported internet quality between rural and non-rural students.

Rural and non-rural students also had differing access to devices both at school and at home. Notably, rural students reported somewhat less access to a laptop or desktop computer at home compared to non-rural students (82 percent vs. 87 percent).

Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their course-taking success and their ability to participate in online courses and other opportunities for personalized learning.

It outlines the inequity in rural/urban access to education resources brought on by broadband and technology disparities. Something worth consideration for policymakers, community leaders and educators.

The ACT also makes recommendations…

1. Improve access to technology both at school and home.

The Federal E-Rate program must continue to fund access to affordable broadband internet to rural areas and completely close the gap between schools with broadband access and those without

2. Increase opportunities for rigorous course taking.

Students must have access to and be encouraged to take a minimum core curriculum of four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The survey found that students in rural areas were less likely than non-rural students to complete (or plan to complete) the ACT-recommended core curriculum (76 percent vs. 81 percent).

3. Expand opportunities for personalized learning.

Students need the opportunity to receive personalized, student-centered learning. In the case of the rural students in the survey, personalized learning could help provide greater access to advanced coursework.

Minnesota ranks top state to raise a family

This news was too good not to share. WalletHub was just named Minnesota the best place to raise a family. No surprise to me with three girls! To be fair they don’t mention broadband or internet but reading through their categories, it was easy for me to see the impact broadband would have on each:

Family Fun – OK we only ranked 13. I have a family blog that alone should rank us higher than that. (To be fair, we were more obviously fun when the girls were little.) But especially when the girls were little, broadband helped us find fun. I scanned local calendars for fun things on a regular basis – from Winter Carnivals to art openings to pumpkin carvings. You name it, if we had an afternoon off, we could find fun. Also we used the internet to see things we’d never go see. Question about the Sphinx? We’ll look it up. For some families, gaming may be an issue or feature – and Paul Bunyan has shown us how fun and profitable that can be with their annual Gaming Contest. Not for us – but it has been a ticket into finding unusual activities.

Health & Safety – Access to remote healthcare – be it doctor emails or actual video visits has been a game changer, especially as a parent. And I’m a parent in a city. I can’t imagine the time savings not bundling up kids for every sneeze when the doctor is 10 miles away. Also portals make it easy to manage regular visits and payments. Telehealth use increased seven-fold in Minnesota between 2010-2015, and use continues to grow. But it also helps with healthier lifestyles. Many of us use devices (fitbits and others) to maintain healthy habits. And of course using the internet for quick fixes for getting out splinters or getting gum out of hair is a day saver too.

Education and Child Care – My kids have used broadband for assignments starting almost in kindergarten. In Kindergarten we used it to extend learning. But by second grade one was using Khan Academy for extra math support. They have all created and uploaded videos for class assignments. All have been required to access, complete and turn in assignments online. The youngest has created (on her own) online quizlets to help her with mock trial. Broadband is all but required for basic education but it is key for extending a student’s reach beyond formal education. (Last year, Blandin hosted a webinar on broadband and the homework gap.)

Affordability – Studies show that homes with broadband see an annual economic benefit between $1,850 and $10,500. And home buyers will pay seven percent more for a home with gigabit service; people wouldn’t pay that if they didn’t think there was a return on investment in education, healthcare or fun for their families.

Digital Learning Day 2019 is Feb 28

On February 28, 2019, teachers and students from around the country will participate in this nationwide celebration highlighting great teaching and demonstrating how technology can improve student outcomes. There is a map that highlights projects that are happening in the US.

Here’s more info on the event from the website…

With so many new types of digital devices, educational software and mobile apps continuously developed, it’s hard to keep up with the latest and greatest advancements in educational technology. In some classrooms and out-of-school programs across the country, educators are doing some pretty amazing things with technology. Yet, these pockets of innovation are confined to a small number of schools and communities. Digital Learning Day was started as a way to actively spread innovative practices and ensure that all youth have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.

Started in 2012, Digital Learning Day has provided a powerful venue for education leaders to highlight great teaching practice and showcase innovative teachers, leaders, and instructional technology programs that are improving student outcomes. This grassroots effort blossomed into a massive nationwide celebration as teachers realized that Digital Learning Day is not about technology, it’s about learning. It’s not about laying off teachers for laptops, it’s about enhancing the role of the teacher in America’s classrooms. Digital Learning Day promotes the effective use of modern day tools afforded to every other industry to improve the learning experience in K-12 public schools

Local students need after-school broadband access – connect them with local business

Many schools set up a computer-for-each-kid program only to realize that not every kid has broadband access at home. That level playing field just got un-leleved again. When that happened at Wintercrest Community Schools they tried an innovative approach, as reported by EdSurge

As she (Susie Meade, the superintendent of Winterset Community Schools) began thinking about ways to help Winterset students get home internet access, Meade recalled hearing about a district that had tapped local businesses to allow students to come in after school hours and use their Wi-Fi for free. “And I thought, ‘Well, we could do that,’” she says.

Nestled in a small, rural town about 25 miles southwest of Des Moines, Winterset Community Schools serves about 1,700 K-12 students. The town itself, with about 5,000 residents, frequently congregates in a “vibrant” downtown area, which is only about three blocks from the local K-12 schools, Meade says.

The people in Winterset are highly invested in and supportive of the local school district, she adds. That’s due, in part, because Winterset is a close-knit community. But it also has something to do with the proximity of the town square to the schools and what Meade describes as a setting and charm “fit for a Norman Rockwell painting.”

The project got off the ground very quickly. It was so easy, Meade says, that it was almost strange.

First, she called the Madison County Chamber of Commerce to clear the idea. With their support, Meade went to town—literally. She spent a day knocking on doors of local businesses, asking if they’d be willing to host students who just needed to finish their homework with an internet connection.

Not a single person turned her down, she says. More than a dozen businesses—coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, libraries and grocery stores, to name a few—opened their doors to students.

New Toolkit to Answer Your Library’s Tech Questions

There’s a new toolkit to help rural and tribal librarians work with technology. It includes things like:

  • Technology Inventory
  • Types of broadband services and activities they support
  • Technical staff and support required
  • Broadband funding (E-rate and more)
  • Best practices – including training, acceptable use policies and filtering
  • Technology planning templates

Some parts are pretty library-specific but many could spur conversations with other community institutions or communities in general. You can learn more from this handy video…

ISSA Team of Bemidji Wins 2018 GigaZone Gaming Championship

I love this event!

Over 3,500 attended the 3rd annual GigaZone Gaming Championship on Saturday, October 20 at the Sanford Center George W. Neilson Convention Center. The event featured free gaming on various console and arcade games, numerous tournaments, virtual reality, door prizes, and more.

This one of a kind regional gaming event showcases Paul Bunyan Communications’ IT and web development team which custom built and integrated much of the online technology and leverages the speed of the GigaZone one of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the country. The entire event was run off a single residential GigaZone Internet connection.

ISSA Team from Bemidji won the 3rd annual GigaZone Gaming Championship and $1,500 defeating the Iron Range Legends who won $900 for second place.  The Shinob Squad took third place and $450.  A total of 32 of northern Minnesota’s best Overwatch teams competed on the esports stadium style stage in the GigaZone Championship Arena.

In addition to the Overwatch Community 3v3 Tournament, there was several other open tournaments including Fortnite, Rocket League, Mario Kart 8, Madden 19, Super Smash Bros. (4), Super Smash Bros. Melee, Magic the Gathering Booster Drafts, Tron, Bust A Move, Galaga, and Asteroids.  Admission was free and there were a lot of door prizes given away including grand prize winners Michael Railsback of Bemidji who won an Xbox One X and Jesse Waldo of Detroit Lakes who won a PS4 Pro.

“There is a large gaming community in our area and GigaZone Gaming Championship not only showcases some of the region’s best gamers but it gives everyone a chance to get in on the action!  It was awesome to see so many people from right here and all over come together!” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members.  The GigaZone provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience and the GigaZone Gaming Championship showcases just that,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Digital Services Supervisor.

“There is no other gaming event like it anywhere I’ve seen. It’s unique to our area and we are very proud of our team for making it happen. We’re already looking forward to next year.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

This Paul Bunyan Communications event includes the talents of many local partners including NLFX, Accidently Cool Games, Northern Amusement, the Sanford Center as well support from several regional and national partners.

For more information on the GigaZone Gaming Championship visit www.gigazonegaming.com

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,100 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services including the GigaZone, digital and high definition television services, digital voice services, Residential and Business IT services, and is also northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center.