By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — How cool would it be to be able to have a cup of cocoa and a snack on your desk while you lean back in a cushioned chair and do assignments with a video or a webinar on the computer? Even better, wearing your pajamas or favorite sweat pants? And best of all, not having to make up extra snow days. How cool would it all be?
Students at St. Therese School in Parkville thought it was pretty cool. Take Parker Campbell for example. The second grader wore his red footie pajamas all day, while he followed his direction sheets for Virtual Day, clicked on links to listen to his teacher Christine Hild; watched a Math movie about counting money, and visited web sites for reading and social studies and music. His sister Peyton logged onto an assignment on Discovery Education’s website called The Coordinate Plane. The sixth grader viewed the lesson and then completed a related assignment in her math book. Their mother, Theresa Campbell, a teacher herself, moved around the house, pointing out things on the living room laptop screen to Parker and quizzing him occasionally, then checking on how Peyton was doing on the computer in the den downstairs. She was watching an Earth Day webinar; an interactive lesson on polar bears, environmental resources and how to construct a terra-aqua column, a cross between a terrarium and an aquarium.
“This is really cool,” Peyton said. “I’ll do Math and Religion online. Then we have a map of Hades online for the book we’re reading, The Lightning Thief. I have to explore the Underworld using icons and then create my own map. I’ll turn the map in in class next week. Let’s see, oh, after the Earth Day webinar, I’ll watch a video for social studies on the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages and do an assignment — eight facts on notebook paper which I’ll bring to class. I get to watch a video on YouTube for P.E. and run a half mile and mom has to time me.”
Cameron Mottet took over her dad’s home office and busied herself with Fraction Friday online, working on division of fractions and mixed numbers. One of the problems the seventh grader had to solve involved the number of pillowcases that could be made out of 2 – yards of material if each pillowcase required 1/5 yard of fabric. She also drew a landscape and Picasso-inspired self-portrait online, watched videos for several classes and participated in a dialogue for Language Arts.
Cameron liked Virtual Day. “I can work at my own speed,” she said “and while there are distractions here at home like Facebook and online games, it’s quiet and my friends aren’t here so I’m getting a lot done.”
Jane Mottet, Cameron’s mother, said, “It’s a great option. It won’t replace the classroom but it’s a good option for making up snow days. St. Therese School had a trial day to make sure all the students had access to the Internet and could get logged on to Sycamore Education. All the kinks were worked out before Virtual Day.”
She added that Cameron and her classmates had Pass-a-Note, an online access to their teachers for questions during Virtual Day.
Virtual Day may be one answer to that time-worn problem of schools using up their scheduled snow days and then having a blizzard or prolonged snowfall hit. Carol Hussin, principal of St. Therese, said that there are three days built into their annual schedule when the school will be closed that could be virtual days: a diocesan wide professional development day, a catechetical day for teachers and the day before the school’s annual auction. Teachers would be able to preplan class work for those days that would stay in sequence, could be done online and uploaded to a drop box or printed off and turned in when students return to school. Virtual days would not replace snow days that were not built into the schedule, but could be used on already scheduled days when the school was closed to make up extra snow days.
Hussin said Virtual Day took several months of planning for teachers, students and their families. Teachers had to design lesson plans for the day that were done via the Internet. Families had to ensure that their computers had Internet access and all the drivers needed for the programs and interactive lessons, and students were trained in logging on and accessing the sites. Most of the students at St. Therese have home access to the Internet, Hussin said, and the small percentage that did not were able to connect with friends, use the public library or go to work with mom or dad to access the Internet. Teachers were online from 9 – 11 a.m. during Virtual Day and many students communicated with them via Pass-a-Note.
Parker and Peyton’s mom Theresa Campbell said Parker was so eager to begin Virtual Day that he wanted to start as soon as he got home from school Thursday afternoon, but she convinced him to wait until Friday morning.
Parker chimed in, “What does eager mean?”
“It means you really, really want to do something,” Theresa answered. “Parker, how do you know how much money you’re spending in this math movie?”
“I counted in my head,” he said.
“This is great,” Theresa said, “he’ll get it all done in a couple of hours because we don’t have to crunch in changing classes, recess, lunch and restroom breaks, so he’ll finish and still have time to play outside if he wants to. Of course he’ll have to get dressed!”
“I like this,” Peyton declared. “I get to see different web sites that I might not have known about, web sites like the one that teaches more about The Lightning Thief. I can work as fast or as slow as I want to. And I don’t have to get up at 6:40 in the morning, which is horrible!”
All assignments were due by the middle of the week. Teachers were to compile the assignments, as well as the comments and have results by the end of the week. A report will be sent to Dr. Dan Peters, diocesan Superintendent of Schools, and he will decide whether Virtual Day will be a reality at St. Therese School next year.