GREENFIELD — The room was much quieter than it usually is on a Tuesday morning.
Few students sat in their desks, instead choosing to slump on the floor of the classroom — many wearing pajamas — tucking pillows behind their head and cupping big headphones around the ears.
These McCordsville Elementary School fourth-graders had been assigned an odd task, their teacher Chad Wimmenauer, admitted: come to school, do their work but pretend as though they weren’t in the building.
Hundreds of their classmates from across the Mt. Vernon School Corporation were doing the same as the district conducted its second mock e-Learning day — a practice session to prepare young minds for the snowy morning when they’ll have to do their school work from home.
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Mt. Vernon families were introduced to e-Learning days last year when the district’s approximately 3,700 students were each issued an iPad or laptop to use in the classroom and at home to complete their assignments.
On days when poor weather requires students to stay home, they take to the virtual classrooms their electronic devices provide, completing schoolwork remotely and communicating with their teachers from afar, school officials said. The arrangement allows the school to keep kids at home for safety purposes without having to make up a snow day.
Students in kindergarten through eighth grade are required to conduct practice e-Learning days annually to ensure all bumps, electronic bugs and questions are out of the way before the first snowfall.
On Tuesday, students were invited to wear their pajamas to schools and bring blankets, pillows and even teddy bears to help bridge the home-school divide. In Wimmenauer’s classroom, they cuddled up on the floors and got to work on their iPads, each plugging along at their own pace and on varying assignments.
Some read stories. Some worked through math problems. Some finished up writing assignments. They ceased all chatting and asked questions of their teacher using only electronic means to truly simulate a day away from school.
Many of Wimmenauer’s students had already been through a real e-Learning day last school year; but Tuesday was a refresher course in what was expected of them and helped ease any worry about having to complete assignments without having their teacher at hand to help them, he said.
“I think any time you have an awareness of what’s going to happen, your anxiety lessens — that’s the same for children and adults,” Wimmenauer said with a laugh. “… On a day when we have a school canceled because of weather, they’ll know exactly what to do, where to find content and how to communicate with me when needed.”
On e-Learning days, students are assigned classwork that they must submit to their teachers electronically, meaning students don’t miss out on a day of learning because of bad weather. Technology specialists are available throughout the day to help when students run into computer issues, and teachers make exceptions for the few who can’t access the internet from home, said Greg Rollo, the district’s director of technology.
For the most part, the day goes off without a hitch, Rollo said. Last year, the tech department received fewer than 160 inquires district-wide because of computer malfunctions, and they said they expect the 2016-17 e-Learning days to be just as smooth.
But practice makes perfect, Rollo said; conducting a mock e-Learning day gives the district’s technology leaders a day of practice answering students’ questions just like it gives the students a chance to practice asking them without one-on-one interaction.
The practice run was especially important for the district’s youngest members, school officials said.
While their older peers, who have been through e-Learning once already, conduct their practice session in near silence, the kindergartners in Courtney Streicher’s classroom at McCordsville Elementary had a lot of questions for their teacher.
Streicher used a projector screen to walk the youngsters through the iPad-based learning games they’ll likely play during an e-Learning day, addressing everything from how to open a program, how to complete the assignment and how to alert their teacher when they are finished.
The most important thing for the 5- and 6-year-olds in her room to know, however, is how they will ask for help when they run into an issue, Streicher said. Because they can’t yet read, these students need help from parents, grandparents, babysitters or older brother and sisters, making e-Learning days a family affair.
While e-Learning days have completely changed how families think of snow days, they don’t completely eliminate the thrill of a day away from school, students said.
Ten-year-old Gavin Joy said his days learning from home can be a lot of fun. It’s still a day for comfy clothes, relaxation and a nice, big breakfast he doesn’t get to enjoy on a regular school day.
“I get to have an omelet (on e-Learning days),” Gavin said. “I love those things. And usually I have to eat bacon on the go.”