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Articles: Virtual

No more snow days? Online instruction is replacing snow days in a growing number of school districts.

Sledding hills across the country may be a bit quieter this winter as snowstorms no longer mean a break from schoolwork for some students. An increasing number of districts are using e-learning to keep class in session during bad weather and to meet the required number of instruction days without having to add makeups to the calendar.

School systems in at least 10 states used up the year’s snow days by mid-February

The winter of record cold and heavy snow nationwide is finally over, but its impact persists even as students begin the countdown to summer break. Districts in several states are turning to online learning to make up for missed class time.

Students participating in the virtual field trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden watched horticulturalists demonstrate tree removal and the environmental impact of an invasive beetle.

Students from around the world have been traveling virtually to the White House, the Antarctic and the International Space Station thanks to a Google+ program that helps classrooms confined by budget cuts explore the world outside of school.

At the Chino Valley (Calif.) USD, Ruben S. Ayala Senior High School’s concert percussion ensemble uses digital displays from ViewSonic to enhance their performances. The vivid colors and crisp images that the displays project help make Ayala Senior High consistently one of the top teams in competitions. The ensemble can hang the signage with a crane 13 feet in the air, or use them as a stage and perform on top of them.

Schools are using digital signs more widely to convey information to students, faculty, and visitors. From emergency alerts to event schedules to touch screens to more creative uses—like backdrops for marching bands—digital signs are replacing posters that can clutter up a school, and are making communication more attractive, interactive, and efficient.

The evolution of digital signage

Open content, electronic textbooks, personalized learning, cloud technology and learning analytics are emerging technologies that K12 administrators will integrate into schools over the next few years, according to the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report on tech trends.

In addition, the report, which was released in June, predicts that within five years schools will be using even more far-out technology, including virtual labs, wearable technology, 3D printers and “augmented reality.”

Saikaly and his team make their way up Mount Everest.

Adventure filmmaker Elia Saikaly was approaching the top of Mount Everest Friday when he took some time out of the climb to speak to a high school classroom in Canada about his journey.

Students talked via Skype to Saikaly at his base at the mountain’s Camp 2, about 22,500 feet above sea level. They asked him about adjusting to the cold climate, his diet (lots of eggs, meat and potatoes), how to train for such a feat (plenty of exercise and hiking trips), and what keeps him motivated (hot showers, strawberries, and his family).

A student at the Beech Hill School in the Otis (Maine) School Department learns chemistry in a hands-on science lab over Skype.

Four students in Maine had the unique chance to study organisms on their shoreline this past year to help contribute research to a new chemical bond discovery that Vanderbilt University researchers made three years ago.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis observes students and educators participating in the Open Campus PA program.

This past school year has been a little less hectic for busy juniors and seniors at Hempfield High School, thanks to a new, unique online course-sharing initiative.

The Hempfield School District is in a suburban-rural community outside Lancaster, Pa., and is one of three local districts that have implemented Open Campus PA, a program that unites its high school with the nearby Penn Manor and Manheim Township districts’ high schools. The goal is to share teachers and selected online courses, allowing participating students to take online classes on their own time.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 91 percent of adult internet users in the United States rely on search engines to find information, and 78 percent get news online. Similarly, among teenagers, where smartphone adoption increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive, one in four is a “cell-mostly” user who accesses the web through a cell phone. Online resources continue to shape every aspect of our lives, and are enriching, extending, and transforming schools.

To prevent high school students from dropping out, many districts nationwide are giving them the chance to recover credits via online classes, such as through Aventa Learning, Edgenuity, Pearson, and Plato, and seeing results.

“One of the biggest benefits is it provides schedule flexibility for the student,” says Gregg Levin, senior vice president of school solutions for K12, Inc., which offers online credit recovery courses through Aventa Learning. “This empowers them to learn with interactivity and multimedia, and more closely mirrors what they do outside the classroom.”

More than 50% of teachers say that almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only 18% say students have access to the tools they need at home.

The Pew Research Center survey of over 2,400 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers also found that 84% of teachers believe today’s technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts.

myCreate iPad App
The myCreate app is based on Stop-Action Movie (SAM) Animation software. Students can edit videos by slowing down or speeding up the delivery of frames, duplicating frames to lengthen scenes and adding music or audio recordings to their videos. Completed videos can be saved to personal albums and/or shared with family members and friends via Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, or HapYak.

Despite my time being cut short at TCEA 2013, thanks to a huge winter storm slamming into the Northeast where I live, I was still able to learn about a variety of new products for the K12 world. Many products come together to form a modern, 21st century classroom: hardware, software, mobile applications, even furniture, which were all showcased at TCEA.

Cloud computing is growing in districts nationwide, with 42% of K12 schools implementing or maintaining cloud networks, which use the internet to store data. This is up from 27% in 2011, according to a 2013 report from technology solutions provider CDW-G. And 76% of IT professionals in K12 schools acknowledged that their use of the cloud at home has influenced their recommendations at work about moving to the cloud.

A class at Jamestown Elementary in Arlington, Va. after presenting their favorite apps during Discovery Education’s webinar celebrating Digital Learning Day.

On Feb. 6, over 25,000 teachers and millions of students in all 50 states participated in the second annual Digital Learning Day, a national campaign promoting digital learning and shining a spotlight on successful classroom technology initiatives. Though the event lasted one day, educators are encouraged to engage with technology year round, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization that hosted the event.