Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

I Am The Starlight

Just about 12 weeks ago we, as a family, made the decision to pull our soon-to-be 7th grader out of the local public school system and educate her at home through an online public charter school. (See my post “I’ve Got No Strings” for a detailed explanation of that very big educational decision). At that time, we had settled on Ohio Connections Academy as the delivery vehicle. However, further investigation in the form of online and face-to-face informational meetings with OCA led to some serious concerns: namely that instead of harnessing the power of the one-to-one technology situation to connect and expose learners to others, it was being used to shelter or insulate  them. It was, we suspect, old school thinking wrapped in shiny 21st century paper. NOT what we want.

So…it was back to the drawing board. I did some research and discovered 25 public online charter schools in Ohio. Each one received an email with the following questions:

1) How are you using the technology you provide each student to allow kids to interact and connect with each other and with the larger outside world?

2) What percentage of your assessments are online (presumably in the form of traditional multiple choice-type tests) versus project, long-writing, or portfolio based, authentic assessment?

3) What textbook publishers do you buy from? Do you maintain continuity throughout your entire program or do you switch around between different publishers?

4) What type of methodology do you employ to teach mathematics, the traditional memorization/rote approach or a foundational knowledge, investigative learning approach?

5) How does the day-to-day online learning you deliver differ from watching a lecture-style power-point presentation or a taped lecture?

Some of the 25 online public charters service only a small portion of the state. Some service only struggling, below-grade level learners. Some never contacted me back - those were all easily eliminated. But after investigating all the choices, we have now settled on - and committed to - the Ohio Virtual Academy.

Having made the decision, it was shockingly easy to enroll. There were several online forms to complete and a few items that had to be faxed or emailed in. It was done in a matter of hours and we were confirmed by the school as fully registered in under 24 hours!

At this point, I thought there wasn’t much else to do but enjoy the summer break. However, Emily got an invitation to participate in some online camps to help her learn how classes will work in the fall.  Each camp ran one hour daily for a week, with topics such as “Disease Detective,” “Movie Making,” and “Goal-Setting.” The first time we tried to log-on, it took longer than expected as we got the hang of the software, but after the first day, Emily was able to get on by herself. I sat with her for the first session and was SHOCKED that within the first 10 minutes of the class, she was typing answers into the chat box and “raising her hand” virtually, which she NEVER would have that quickly done in a brick and mortar classroom. This was exciting stuff!

This week, it’s been my turn to learn. I have joined the OHVA Yahoo group, “liked” the OHVA Facebook page, connected with several veteran OHVA parents, and am attending the “Learning Coach and Mentor Institute.” Through the institute, I am participating in several one-hour informational session using Elluminate (the same software used for Emily’s camps and for the “class connect” sessions she’ll have live with her teachers).  Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

1. Like Suzuki violin, this is not just an educational change, but a lifestyle change.

2. Many MANY people have chosen this path – and very successfully. A shocking number are disillusioned public educators, which I did NOT expect.

3. The box is, for the most part, blown away. School can happen anytime, anywhere, in pajamas or clothes, in the house or at a park, and in any subject ORDER Emily decides works for her.

4. It will by fun, but we WILL have bad days and it will not always be easy.

5. My over-exuberance, type-A-ness, and potential desire to recreate the familiar box will be large potential stumbling blocks to success.

6. We need to start slow, let her be done for the day when she’s done (instead of “suggesting” she work just one more hour or do just one more lesson), and lower our expectations for the first month.

7. We CAN do this – and it’s really exciting!

Our supplies for the entire year come in two boxes and arrive tomorrow. I think I’ll wait to open them until Emily comes home from her 5 week trip out west with my parents. It’s nearly time to buckle in and hang on for the ride of our lives!

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Comments on: "I Am The Starlight" (5)

  1. This is a very intriguing piece as so few people will let others follow them into a decision like this. I appreciate you allowing it. One request I do have is if you would share their responses to the questions you sent them. It would be interesting to see what makes them the one that moved outside of the box. I’d appreciate that opportunity, if you see fit.

    • Scott – Below are the unedited answers that I received from OHVA. (REad them below my comments).

      What helped us decide was that these were the most straight-forward answers we received. Many other schools, including Ohio Connections Academy, got downright defensive when these types of questions were asked or simply couldn’t answer them at all. In addition, the hard-copy material we received from OHVA contained multiple concrete examples of kids working across state and even international borders. Sadly, this seems to mostly happen through the extracurricular national interest groups, but at least it IS happening in some context, which is more than any other school could boast.

      One would think that cyber schools, having overcome the one-to-one hurdle, would be the leaders in using the technology to connect kids. This is most definitely NOT happening. Why not? I’d like that question to be more fully explored! It seems like, as in traditional brick and mortar schools, use (or not) of the technology is left to the teachers as they see fit. I suspect many are still working under more traditional models. Is it how we are training them? I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I do know that what I am seeking for me kids in terms of technology use does NOT yet exist in a form I can access for my children here in Ohio.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Answers to my questions from Heidi Ragar, Middle School Instructional Leader at OHVA:

      1) How are you using the technology you provide each student to allow kids to interact and connect with each other and with the larger outside world?

      We have electronic classrooms, via program called Elluminate, where teachers can deliver real time, live synchronous instruction, and students can participate and interact with both the teacher and peers. In addition, students can participate in virtual field trips, virtual pep rallies, and K12 sponsored online clubs.

      2) What percentage of your assessments are online (presumably in the form of traditional multiple choice-type tests) versus project, long-writing, or portfolio based, authentic assessment?

      All of our assessments in our online school are online. Our students do complete writing assignments, across the curriculum, using an adopted “Formula Writing” approach, which teaches students to write short answer and extended response answers.

      3) What textbook publishers do you buy from? Do you maintain continuity throughout your entire program or do you switch around between different publishers?

      K12 writes and produces all of our curriculum.

      4) What type of methodology do you employ to teach mathematics, the traditional memorization/rote approach or a foundational knowledge, investigative learning approach?

      Our math program is founded in problem solving and application of knowledge. A “spiral effect” ensures concepts are revisited and strengthened as new concepts are introduced.

      5) How does the day-to-day online learning you deliver differ from watching a lecture-style power-point presentation or a taped lecture?

      Our online school is interactive, with students working through the online instruction and introduction and then practicing the concepts either online or in hard copy work. Our class connect sessions, as mentioned previously, are interactive, live sessions where students participate and interact. Although power points are sometimes used, so are virtual field trips, web cams of teachers demonstrating concepts, and web tours of educational sites.

  2. It’s very exciting. I’m so glad she was able to get started so easily, and I do hope it continues to go well.

  3. I appreciate you sharing. Some of those answers are non-answers, like you hinted at. I agree that online schools have a long way to go to harness the power of everything that they and students have access to. Sadly, they are so close yet so far from being the first to do that. There should be a best practices for online schools in general for things like that.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  4. Home schooling is much more widely accepted now than it was 30 years ago. The resources available are phenomenal.

    I was home schooled from January to September when I was 10, made a huge difference and I learned a lot from it. Some children just don’t fit into the ‘traditional’ school model for teaching and learning.

    When I went through it my parents had to do EVERYTHING, no online resources, no Internet.

    I wish you all well, it’s an exciting challenge for you and Emily.

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