For Some Schools, Learning Doesn't Stop On Snow Days : All Tech Considered Even when the weather turns nasty, students in Delphi, Ind., have been expected to log on to classes from home. Results are mixed so far; participation rates seem to drop the longer school is out.

For Some Schools, Learning Doesn't Stop On Snow Days

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today we're going to hear about how technology is changing the classroom. Right now tens of thousands of students attend full-time virtual schools. We'll have more on that in a minute. But first, some traditional brick-and-mortar schools are also requiring e-learning on snow days. That's right. The kids can leave that sled in the garage and forget about building a snowman and get to class from home on the computer. Stan Jastrzebski of member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Ind., has been checking this out.

STAN JASTRZEBSKI, BYLINE: The students in Brian Tonsoni's senior economics class at Delphi Community High School are no strangers to technology. Everybody has an Internet-connected laptop or smartphone in front of them as they work on business plans.

HANNAH NAPIER: We made a company, and so we're selling scarves.

JASTRZEBSKI: That's Hannah Napier, whose group has come up with a slogan as edgy as her high-tech classroom, says team member Abby Price.

ABBY PRICE: Don't be an ascot. Get a scarf.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIAN TONSONI: You're pushing the envelope.

JASTRZEBSKI: That's Tonsoni who's taught at Delphi for nine years. He likes the fact that his lessons, many of which he's translated to podcasts, are usable even if the weather gets in the way.

TONSONI: This group, we had great participation. We got into a 30-minute discussion on winners and losers in the economic system of America on a snow day from my recliner.

JASTRZEBSKI: Student Isaac Miller says he and his classmates are so plugged in outside of school that e-learning doesn't feel that different, though he admits it also doesn't work for every class.

ISAAC MILLER: It's really tough in, like, a math class - for the high-level math classes because some of that stuff you can't just learn by yourself. You have to have the teacher there. You have to be in the classroom.

JASTRZEBSKI: Each student in Delphi schools either owns a computer or is provided one by the district. There's a pile of laptops in the corner of Tonsoni's room waiting to be taken home if it appears the next day's weather will be bad. Superintendent Ralph Walker says it's a way to ensure students don't fall behind in their studies. And there's another upside. E-learning helps some shy students.

RALPH WALKER: I think it takes away maybe that embarrassment that somebody - you're going to ask a bad question or somebody's going to laugh at you because you've asked the question.

JASTRZEBSKI: But Walker admits there is a point of diminishing returns, which he noticed during a recent string of snow days.

WALKER: You know, the first day we had about a hundred percent of the kids involved in e-learning. Well, then after the fourth day, we were down to about 55 percent of the children.

JASTRZEBSKI: On the fifth snow day, Walker gave kids and teachers a free pass - no e-learning today. For the roughly 15 percent of kids in the district who don't have access to the internet, Delphi schools try to provide assignments on paper in anticipation of a snow day. But there's also the issue of troubleshooting each student's tech, says teacher Brian Tonsoni.

TONSONI: One snow day, a student said I can't open up your podcast - your audio podcast on my iPhone. So I was troubleshooting and I ended up having to make a video podcast instead that could play on iPhones because I want every possible device available.

JASTRZEBSKI: It's clear Tonsoni's seniors like the modern approach to learning both because it caters to the way they already consume information and it means they don't have to make up as many days as they wait for summer vacation. For NPR News, I'm Stan Jastrzebski West Lafayette, Ind.

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