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John Carroll institutes 'cyber days' in place of snow days

National Weather Service

The John Carroll School campus might be closed for snow days, but that doesn't mean students aren't in class, albeit safe at home in their pajamas and with their laptops.

Officials at the independent Catholic high school instituted "cyber days" – to take the place of snow days – in mid-February when the Bel Air campus was closed for the ninth and 10th inclement weather days.

"There was more snow coming so we went to the cyber day format, and we will stay with that because it has worked so well," Principal Madelyn Ball said Monday.

Students checked their teachers' websites for the day's lessons and completed assignments when the campus was closed Feb. 13 and 14 after more than a foot of snow fell on Bel Air.

The principal noted the students were "not very happy," but the first cyber days were very helpful for the teachers.

"The teachers were very happy that learning continued and when the kids came back to class; it wasn't like we were starting fresh after a break," Ball said.

Ball said John Carroll has a "1:1" ratio of laptop computers to students, which allows each of the school's 670 students to see their teachers' sites.

Those sites can also be accessed from non-school computers, smartphones or tablets. Teachers must have the day's work posted by 10 a.m., Ball said.

"The only hiccup in the whole operation is if there is a power outage," the principal said.

Ball said school officials "have to be understanding" if a student loses power and give them extra time to complete the assignment.

Thousands of utility customers in Harford and Cecil counties lost power when an ice storm hit in early February.

John Carroll parents must provide a note or e-mail documenting the power outage, according to a press release on cyber days posted on the school website.

School officials are watching the skies again this week, as there is a 50 percent chance of snow Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service website.

Instructional days

Ball said four inclement weather days are typically built into the school calendar.

John Carroll has used its four snow days; three of the other four have been made up by holding classes during President's Day and two days set aside for professional development.

The last day will be made up by adding an extra class period to the school day for seven days.

"I refuse to add days at the end of the year because it doesn't help AP classes or senior classes in any way, so I have to be respectful of instructional time," Ball said.

She said seniors finish their classes about two weeks before the rest of the students, and students in Advanced Placement courses need instructional time now as they prepare for AP exams in the spring.

Teacher's perspective

The technological tools used by teachers in 2014 have made it possible for teachers at John Carroll to keep to their schedules even when the campus is closed.

Science teacher Jessica Limmer, a 2000 graduate of John Carroll, maintains pages through http://www.edmodo.com for students in her honors and standard physics classes.

Students, teachers, parents and administrators can access class pages on Edmodo if they have the correct codes – a user name and password is required to enter the site.

Limmer described it as "an educational Facebook." She can post homework assignments and students can leave comments and she can respond, as well as an individual student's classmates.

Students can also communicate with her by e-mail.

Limmer said she gives out hard copies of the assignments to students in case they cannot get to the class website.

Science students can even visit the University of Colorado's PhET (Physics Education Technology) website, at https://phet.colorado.edu, to take part in simulations of laboratory experiments if the weather keeps them out of the science lab.

"If I can't have them physically come in and use materials hands-on at least they're getting something from the simulations," Limmer explained.

The site is open to students in other disciplines, such as mathematics and biology, according to the site.

Limmer said she even brings in other aspects of the John Carroll curriculum for cyber days. She had her standard physics students write a short story based on problems they were learning in class.

Limmer said she had been concerned about whether her students could remain on schedule as the number of snow days increased.

She said a cyber day "keeps me from having that weight on my shoulders."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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