Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Technology to the Rescue

One of the problems facing school administrators is preparing for the regular flu season along with the N1A1 swine flue. Questions that administrators ponder are when do we close the schools and for how long? What happens if a number of teachers get the flue? How many substitute teachers will we need. If we close some schools how do we make up those days (state law requires public education for so many days a year--be there snow, earthquakes, flu, etc.) Most school districts have some sort of plan ready to go and perhaps in your district you may have already received a letter stating if and when such a plan will go into effect.

These school closures are a big problem to parents....particularly those that are the sole bread winner in the family. How do you get your children to day care, even where shall I leave my child? Do I take sick leave to care for my kids? PITA decision time for parents. I also note that Michigan's Department of Social Welfare has warned one mother about her voluntarily watching some of her neighbor's kids before school until they get on the bus. Apparently they think she is acting as a day care center and needs to get a license. The problems we get into for our kids, eh?

I note that one private school has a plan that if child gets the flu to have them stay at home but to continue to interact with the class via the internet. The school has developed a interactive web site that allows the children to continue along with the instruction in the class. I don't know much about it and will attempt to find out and let you know. Maybe they are using one of my favorite software internet programs called Blackboard which I used at my university before I retired. A great program.

I like this technological answer to a problem but unfortunately it would not work in some of the public schools as it mandates that the child has a computer at home. Not all kids do. But there is another problem that this technology doesn't address--at least for me when I get the flu I really don't want to sit in front of a computer screen. Kids who are sick are not in a learning mode. They just need to be put to bed and let sleep help restore their health.

But by and large I see web sites as a means to improve parent/teacher communications whether the child is sick or healthy. It does mean someone is going to have to keep the web site up to date. I find going to a web site that is totally out of date and behind times almost insulting to say the least. There is one business that I check regularly and I think they must up date their site once a year.

Okay, so here is my plan. I'm on a roll. Each school should have one format for telling parents (and students) what is happening in each class, what assignments are due, what subjects are being presented, what dates are available for parent/teacher conferences, and so on. The format needs to be the same so that parents get use to looking for information in the same spot as their child(s) proceeds through the school. Then each school should have one person (volunteer, administrative intern, or paid position) who is continually up grading each class site. I like the administrative intern idea as it would give that principal to be much insight as to what is happening in that school. Plus it would also give him/her some needed technology skills. Hey, the principal could also have his/her own web site (in the same format perhaps) to tell about new things happening in the school.

The downside to all this is that not all children have computers at home. There are a number of excellent studies where kids got to check out a computer to take home for a period of time--not just overnight. Most of the findings were positive--very little breakage or problems. One of the results was that the kids taught their parents how to use the computer and find things. Cool! Sort of like early research on Sesame Street television where the researchers noted that the children did learn to read BUT so did the parent. A twofer. Mom's were watching along with their child and were learning to read.

I applaud those districts that are getting ready for the flu season even if it does not materialize. And I also like the private school east of Seattle that already has a web site system in place for sick children. I want to know more. Long live technology.

A negative closure, however. I read lately that the Education Secretary is about to propose longer school days and a longer school year. You can count on me to comment about this in the near future--like tomorrow. Don't the feds read the research? Damn!

So if your school has a web site to tell you what is happening in your child's school--if you can be sure to thank a teacher for all they do. You'll make that teacher smile a bit more.

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