'Homework in bed': No snow days for Gibault students

News-DemocratJanuary 8, 2014 

While most metro-east students have been out of school the last three days, that isn't the case for students at Gibault Catholic High School.

This is the first school year the Waterloo school has implemented electronic learning days to replace traditional snow days. Students and teachers did not physically come to school the past three days but were required to log-on to their computer and do school work for at least five hours each day, as required by state law.

"This is as good as going to school can be without being here," Principal Russ Hart said.

Gibault has a one-to-one computer initiative where all 261 students at the school are required to have a computer of some kind whether it's a laptop, netbook or tablet.

Hart described the school work assigned during e-learning days as "valid" and not just "busy work. It's work that we think is important to the classroom and what they are studying," he said.

The feedback from teachers and students about e-learning days has been positive, Hart said.

English teacher Erin Allen said she's been preparing her lesson plans the day before just as she would for a regular school day.

"I try to make them as close to what I would have done in class as possible," she said. "For them to count as a school day, I don't have time to go over and do it again."

Allen said she posts assignments for students on My Big Campus, a learning management system the school uses that connects students and teachers via an online environment.

"I give them step-by-step directions on everything they need to do for the day," she said, and post assignments and deadlines.

She estimated the work she assigned to students Wednesday would take them about an hour. Allen is available throughout the day for students to message or email if they have questions.

Students must not only complete their daily school work, but homework as well -- just as they would on a typical school day.

To give students a jumpstart, some teachers like Allen will post work for the next e-learning day the night before.

Gibault senior Mitch Meyer said he started on his Wednesday schoolwork Tuesday night to ensure he would have it all completed by his 12:30 p.m. basketball practice Wednesday.

"It's a lot better doing homework in bed than going to actual school," he said.

Gibault requires every student to electronically check-in with their homeroom teacher before 9 a.m. on an e-learning day, and teachers must post assignments no later than 7:30 a.m.

For example, Mitch said his calculus teacher posted a 10-minute instructional video for students to watch and a homework assignment for them to complete.

Mitch's sister Abbie Meyer, a sophomore at Gibault, said her English teacher assigned students a two-hour movie to watch. "Then we had to answer questions about the movie and what we thought about it," Abbie said.

For her history class, she had to read a speech from President Harry Truman and answer questions about it.

Abbie, 16, of Columbia has enjoyed the e-learning days this week. "I really like that I can stay in bed and do my homework," she said. "I can get it done on my own time."

Mitch, 18, said he's excited about getting out of school on time in May. "We won't have these days tacked on at the end of the school year," he said.

Abbie agrees. "It's going to be nice to be out of school when all the other schools are in session," she said.

Hart didn't expect to have so many e-learning days this school year, including three in a row this week and one last month.

"When we started this we thought we'll use it a couple of times," he said.

Allen, who's in her first year teaching at Gibault, said she was excited when she found out about the e-learning days.

"When we have these snow days, adding additional days at the end of the school year doesn't help me with what I need to cover now," she said. "I get to continue teaching them (students) even on these off days instead of having these huge gaps of time."

Allen said she hasn't had any problems with students not doing the work. "Our students at Gibault have really stepped up," she said.

After three e-learning days, Allen is eager to get back to school.

"While these e-learning days are really beneficial they do not replace the classroom," she said. "It's just another resource to continue to be able to learn."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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