SACS eLearning Letters

etters and Comments on The eLearning Trail


A Letter To Teachers

Letter from Dr. Downs

Dear SACS Teachers

As we embark upon this great opportunity, I would like to take this time to ask you all to
consider what a gift this pilot is and to feel free to relax as we pursue it. We have been given the
opportunity to pilot eLearning opportunities with the state allowing us to count the time as inschool.
This opportunity moves SACS forward into 21st century education and provides incentive to
test our ideas. Here are a number of benefits we will gain:
  • New ways to learn and apply valuable content as required in Indiana Standards.
  • Learning and practicing important technological skills that apply to the learning process.
  • Learning proper digital citizenship through the lens of an academic classroom.
  • Finding learning experiences that will be useful beyond the pilot.
  • Actively participating and working in a blended e-learning environment which will become more prevalent in the future education of SACS students.
  • Immersion in 21st century competencies (such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication) which are important to college and career readiness.
  • Balancing a time schedule that allows for synchronous (teacher and student in the same room or teacher and student on-line at the same time) and asynchronous (teacher and students on-line at different times but still communicating, e.g. message boards, blogs, etc.).
  • The establishment of a precedent for learning opportunities regardless of any weather events in the future.
We must be willing to be aggressive and brave in what we try, but balance that against our
abilities and the capacities of our students. We must not be fearful of the less-than-perfect because it
is in the pursuit of eventually-being-better. Most importantly, we must remember that small,
simple steps still move us forward. There is great value in a simple SchoolWires or My Big
Campus discussion about what you read in class that day. (E.g. Post a comment and reply to two
classmates.) Don’t overdo it. 
Dr. Phil Downs

A Letter To Parents

Letter from Dr. Downs

“There is no education like adversity.” –Benjamin Disraeli

Dear SACS Parent/Guardian:

I would like to take a minute to ease your mind about eLearning. While I would like to say that when I taught, every school year contained 180 days of education magic, there are enough former students of mine who are now parents in SACS for me to have to be honest and say that was not the case. Nor is it true in any classroom: education does not work that way. A few days are magical, but many are about practice and reinforcement. Most days contain frustration. In fact, the best classrooms foster some frustration. It is after these frustrating days that the magical days seem to occur most often. There is considerable research that points to confusion and frustration as critical components in deep learning. Here is a link to a blog on the subject and you can Google many scholarly articles if you suffer from insomnia or like reading that sort of thing. To save time, I have copied a quote from the blog.…/what-do-emotions-have-to-do-with-l…/

“So important is the feeling of confusion, writes D’Mello, that parents and teachers shouldn’t try to help children avoid it, or even simply accept its presence. They should deliberately induce confusion in learners. Not “hopeless confusion,” of course, which occurs when “the impasse cannot be resolved, the student gets stuck, there is no available plan, and important goals are blocked.” Rather, “productive confusion” should be the aim. It’s achieved by helping the student recognize that the way out of confusion is through focused thought and problem solving; by providing necessary information and suggesting strategies when appropriate; and by helping the student cope with the negative emotions that may arise. Pretty soon, learners will be experiencing a very different kind of feeling: elation, pride, and the emotion that D’Mello calls “eureka.””

I am sure many of you have had experienced frustration with a video game. I start to chuckle as I remember my son crying out to the universe for justice in loud unintelligible utterances. Why didn’t I chuckle when he was frustrated by his homework? Why did I get frustrated by his frustration? As parents we value the homework more than video games. We see purpose to the homework. We hate to see our kids upset. We get emotionally involved. And we miss the point: frustration implies caring. Many of the most popular video games are designed around the research on intrinsic motivation, and frustration in pursuit of mastery is a critical component of that research. If players are frustrated, it means they care. Frustration causes us to focus on learning. I can attest to this as a result of my experiences taking two semesters of Statistics at Purdue. I hated it, but now am glad I shook my fist at it and resolved it would not defeat me. Today I remember far more from that class than many of the easier classes I took.

All of this is to say SACS does not expect perfection or magic on the eLearning days. Our purpose is to maintain educational momentum; to continue the learning. These are only a few of the 180 days we work with your children each school year. These days will not be used for anything that would be a major part of a student’s grade without that being clearly stated in the assignment. Nor will any student likely “fall behind” because they struggled with some assignments on a few eLearning days spread throughout the year. At the elementary level, the extra time to turn in work is designed to aid parents who work, have multiple children, and/or limited access. Parents, please don’t beat yourselves up over your child’s performance on these days. By all means expect your child’s best effort, but don’t feel the work must be perfectly completed. You should not feel you must solve all the problems for your students. In fact, some student frustration will heighten the expectation of learning when students return to school. It will provide relevant lessons for the teacher. I know the teachers are very excited about this prospect: it is very different from what it used to be like following snow days.

So, feel free to chuckle and offer advice to your child on how to manage frustration. Praise your child when they persevere. Ask for their best effort. Have them take breaks. Encourage them to contact their teachers. Trust that the days they return to school will be the magic days we all hope for because your child cares, is proud they pushed themselves, has a heightened curiosity born out of any frustration, and receives positive reinforcement from teachers for what they did. Finally, please continue to give your child’s teacher feedback on what you see so we can improve the quality of the experience.

In any other year, SACS would have had a two hour delay on January 6, a full school day on January 7, and then four consecutive days with no school. Instead, this year when January 12 rolled around, students maintained some educational momentum. Ideas covered on January 6 and 7 were still being reinforced and/or expanded upon in student work. Teachers’ lesson plans were still on track and moving forward. Students came back to school ready to push on with questions and concerns. Additionally, students and the adults in their lives are now learning valuable digital skills in a very relevant situation. Parents and teachers are in contact more than they have ever been before. I hope that partnership continues to grow through phone calls, emails, meetings and social media as well as by how accessible and transparent our lessons will be for you via My Big Campus.

I hope you all have a great three day weekend. SACS will continue to work hard every day as your partner to help you raise your children.

Thank you all for your trust.

Phil Downs, Ph.D.
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