Snow days and the curriculum

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With as many as 11 days, or two weeks, teaching time being lost to snow days, what will students miss out on this academic year? Certainly courses such as mathematics, science, chemistry, and physics have a lot to lose with three weeks less of class time.

With high schools and most courses on semester time tables (five months each) perhaps the time lost hurts the first semester (September to January) harder than the second semester (February to June). On full year courses it is three weeks of lost teaching time. It is interesting to note that before semestering, say 20 years ago, total class time per subject was about 150 hours. With the introduction of semestering, class time was reduced to 110 hours. This means that to pass a course a student is supposed to have 110 hours of class time. This year the hours of class time may be below 100 hours for semestered courses.

If there are no additional days added to the school year in an attempt to teach all of the course curriculum, what will be left out? The answer is a difficult one. In Nova Scotia we generally have a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” McTighe and Wiggins in their book “Understanding by Design” say that a viable curriculum is a well-articulated set of knowledge and skills that every child should learn in grades P – 12 in the available time. A guaranteed curriculum means that it is taught in every classroom in every school in Nova Scotia.

Within the various courses there are three elements, those things the student needs to know, those things that are important to know, and those things it would be nice to know. I am fairly certain that even with two weeks less of class time, our students will be exposed to what they need to know and all that it will be important to know. It is those things that it would be nice to know that will be difficult to teach with the reduction in course time allotment. 

The next question a teacher and parent must ask is: Will the information taught and learned in each course be sufficient and provide students with the tools for success at the next grade level? The answer to this must be: Yes, absolutely, everything that a student must know to be successful at the next grade level will have been taught and learned.

In the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model, there are four questions that must continually be asked and answered:

What should all students know and be able to do?

How will we know if they have learned the essential learning?

What will we do if they haven’t?

What will we do if they have?

Our teachers are professionals. Working together in PLC’s, these teachers will have to make choices on what is kept in and what may be left out of the curriculum. We trust them to make the right choices so that all of our children will learn what they must learn to be successful this year and following years. In my opinion, we can count on our teachers to make the appropriate decisions. That is what professional educators do!


An education advocate, Ron Marks has been an outspoken member of local and regional school boards and a former Stellarton mayor. His column runs weekly.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Stellarton

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Recent comments

  • Bren
    April 24, 2014 - 11:34

    There's no one holding teachers accountable for what they're supposed to be teaching. My child is in high school, has a wonderful mark in English but doesn't know a whole lot about grammar, how to write an essay, or cite information. The English exam was made up by the other English teacher so the mark came down a bit since their class didn't cover the same info as the other is that right, or fair? Storm days is the least of my concerns. I've lost a lot of faith in our education system.

  • Mona MacDonald
    April 24, 2014 - 09:12

    Lost hours in a subject can always be compensated for by increasing homework, completing extra research projects, etc. A teacher MUST concentrate on the critical objectives and leave out the "fluff". It means more work for both teacher and student and parents must understand this and become a part of the process. Academics must be given top priority!

  • Anne MacDonald
    April 24, 2014 - 08:54

    This is a refreshing article. It is nice to know that someone will speak out in favour of teachers and curriculum in the wake of so many days lost this school year, due to stormy weather.

  • Lana MacEachern
    April 24, 2014 - 06:00

    Perhaps in years such as this year with a high number of instructional days lost due to weather, the first step should be to cancel any scheduled exploratory days, end-of-year class trips, and assemblies. As enjoyable as these activities no doubt are for the students, keeping students in the classroom on those days might reduce the amount of course curriculum teachers will have to leave out. It ultimately comes down to what is more important, classroom time or extra-curricular.

    • Bob
      April 25, 2014 - 07:56

      There are snow days built into the school year.