A Snow Day Hack for Our School Hackers Project

After three New England snowstorms in a row, snow day preparations are now part of our weekly routines:

  • Make it to the grocery store to stock up for a few snowbound days (milk and bread are still favorite staples, and hot chocolate is not far behind).
  • Place by the front door: shovels, salt, winter boots, hat, gloves, and big, warm jackets.
  • Check nonstop for school closings. When the official call is made for a snow day, there is an excitement that’s captured in this clever (and viral) video made by our friends at the Moses Brown School in Providence. Note: this excitement typically dies down around the sixth snow day when students realize school will be extended into summer.

“Google docs + Twitter = the ultimate hack.” - Jeremy Chiappetta, Executive Director, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy

And as much as we want to just watch the snowflakes fall, at BIF we also need to make sure our projects stay on track. As Experience Designers, our challenge becomes designing around Mother Nature. Thankfully, technology allows us to stay connected while we’re all home (drinking that hot chocolate). But, it’s also important in our design thinking process to make sure we are moving forward with our users in mind.


Left: The BIF courtyard after two of the three recent snowstorms!

For the School Hackers project, we are at the stage of sharing our progress and website prototype with educators to get their feedback. This action helps us check our assumptions about our users, and to make sure educators are letting us know what is valuable and meaningful to them. We want to learn what is working, and just as important, what is not working. User testing helps us refine our ideas and build out the next School Hackers prototype.

We had planned on visiting schools and talking to educators, but with snow days on the horizon, we thought we would have to push back our timeline. Then Jeremy Chiappetta, the Executive Director of Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, came up with the suggestion to make our own hack: with the certainty of a snow day, we would create a Google document with questions about School Hackers, and he would send it to his educators. Using his Twitter account, Jeremy sent out the Google doc the following snow day and started a Twitter conversation with #BVPsnowday.

By the end of the snow day, more than 30 educators had checked out School Hackers and left more than 100 comments on the Google doc to help guide the design of the project. The educators asked thoughtful questions and left helpful comments, and we were able to see patterns in how the teachers wanted the website to be organized that are reflected in our new prototype. We were also excited to see their excitement around our concept. In one day, we got further with this hack than we would have if we had just visited schools, let alone a snow day. During a barrage of winter storms, it’s easy to realize how thankful you are for the community that surrounds you. And for the School Hackers team, we’re especially thankful for the innovative educators that keep us moving forward with our important work.

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