“Snow Day!” Those words excite students and teachers alike when winter blues threaten to drain enthusiasm from classrooms.
“When we feel more like hibernating, a snow day offers an unexpected gift of time,” said Ena Shelley, dean of the Butler University College of Education. “It’s a refreshing break from daily routines that can help us through the mid-school-year doldrums.”
But, teachers don’t have to wait for a blizzard to rejuvenate classroom moods and transform learning, Shelley said. Instead, plan an “SDoaSD” — a “Snow Day on a School Day” — for you and your learners.
First, ask your students to help you list things you love about snow days. Maybe it’s the slower pace, the chance to stay in your “comfy clothes,” opportunities to play in the cold and then warm up with hot chocolate.
Next, decide how to infuse ideas on your snow day list into classroom experiences.
An SDoaSD for elementary students might include
A Winter “Read-In.” Students and teachers create cozy blanket tents or nests of pillows to read in. Read by flashlight and dress in pajamas. “These comforting touches might help a reluctant reader have a transferable experience that they will want to re-create at home,” Shelley said.
“Snow Science” Lessons. Venture outside and ask students to notice seasonal changes in animal habitats, or create observational drawings of the environment. Explore why trucks put salt on icy roads by having students study the freezing point of salt water versus regular water.
Warm-Up Writing. After an outdoor class, make hot chocolate to sip as everyone (teacher, too) curls up with a journal to write about what they’ve learned.
Middle and secondary students need to feel the excitement of learning, too. Try these SDoaSD ideas for older students:
Backward Day. Escape tedium by flipping the class schedule. Teach your last period subject first. “Science tells us that we engage our brains better when we do something out of our routine — imagine the thinking you have to do to go through your daily schedule in reverse,” Shelley said.
Indoor Snowball Fight. To reinforce a class period’s lesson, have students write a lesson-related question that they know the answer to on a piece of paper and crumple the paper into a “snowball.” They throw the snowballs at each other, and each picks up a new one. They must read the new question aloud and answer correctly before they can leave class, turning quick writes and exit slips into a whole new experience.
Winter in the Olden Days. Take history class outdoors, where students can reflect on and simulate our forefathers’ winter experiences. Thinking about how historic figures survived cold weather without running water, furnaces or electric devices makes textbook lessons come to life.
Why should teachers disrupt the routines they’ve carefully honed since the first day of school to observe a Snow Day on a School Day?
“Because we owe it to ourselves and our students to connect joy to learning and to the work of school,” Shelley said. “Learning that feels rote and predictable does not perpetuate students’ desire to engage in acquiring knowledge. So, let’s put the routines aside, be joyful in our work, and create learning moments that are also memories by declaring our classrooms officially on a ‘Snow Day!’ “
Dean of the Butler College of Education since 2005, Ena Shelley, Ed.D., has taught teacher preparation for early childhood education for 30 years. President-elect of the Indiana Association for Colleges for Teacher Education, she has served on numerous national and state educational advisory boards, focusing on kindergarten readiness, professional teaching standards and the Reggio Emilia education approach.
Butler Assistant Dean of Education Angela Lupton contributed to this article. Lupton serves an instructor of elementary education and has more than 20 years experience an elementary classroom teacher, middle school nonprofit director, consultant and teacher educator. Her professional interests include applications for Asset-Based Thinking in education, teacher leadership and the dynamics of the clinical experience in teacher preparation .
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