As a virtual K-8 school, our goal is to insure each student is successful by developing individual programs that match the students learning style and current level of achievement. So often, theyhave feelings of helplessness. They believe that they are incapable of learning. No amounts of extrinsic rewards are going to overcome their perception.
What will motivate them is success. Success breeds success. Slowly their perception of being a loser or dumb falls away; they get excited about learning. We actually have the student chart their progress. Seeing their improvement becomes a further motivation. And, perhaps this is why we have seen as much as 2+ years growth in just one school year! Individualized learning programs make it far easier for each student, parent and teacher.
As a teacher of over 30 years, I have seen all kinds of fads used to modify students behaviors none that were overly successful. If we were to give children checks, what do we cut so there is money to do that? Should it by Gym, Art, and Music? Those programs have already been hacked just as Languages have. Most after-school sports programs have to be self-supporting as well. That leaves just the basics: Reading and Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. The big push by the federal government to improve STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math), means paring down childrens education elsewhere. When there is a bloated bureaucracy within school administration, less and less is available for teaching.
Such a proposal to pay students assumes that the students have the capability to do the activity in question for the rewards to be influential. Monetary rewards to students do not address the fact that most students do not choose to do poorly in school. I believe that once schools learn to teach to the student, students will learn. For students that attend classes at Mistacres, each child receives an individualized learning plan that takes into account the different ways children learn. A blended learning environment gives students the best of in-class learning along with virtual learning. Parents who want the best education for their kids have turned to our homeschooling programs, and use our virtual classrooms and curriculum to successfully home school their children.
Did you guessed that last week’ quotes were from Winnie-the-Pooh? Many of this quotes contain words of wisdom to the young and old. Yet he was known as “the bear with little brain”. How often are our children looked at as having little brain? Is it them or the way we teach. A Virtual School has the ability to teach children with methods and tools that fit their learning style and support their educational success. In Pooh’s words:
“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”
You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
“There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. “
The United States Department of Education has recognized the importance of online learning, especially to help rural schools keep pace with more developed districts. The DOE is creating an Online Learning Registry to make historical, artistic, and scientific primary-source materials more available.
At the National Rural Education Technology conference held July 21st, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, Knowledge knows no boundaries, and we cannot allow distance to stand between students, education, and opportunity. This is great news for a virtual school that also has a physical location, such as Mistacres School.
A virtual learning environment also has great appeal to parents of children with disabilities because these schools can provide individualized programs as a pace that best suits their child’s learning, offer extensive opportunities for parental involvement, allow for the use of technology which accentuates existing assisted technology for children with disabilities,
“Technology has enormous benefits for the learning process, and promises to change the nature of schooling and heighten its productivity. Curricula, teaching methods, and schedules can all be customized to meet the learning styles and life situations of individual students; education can be freed from the geographic constraints of districts and brick-and-mortar buildings; coursework from the most remedial to the most advanced can be made available to everyone; students can have more interaction with teachers and one another; parents can readily be included in the education process; sophisticated data systems can measure and guide performance….” (Moe & Chubb, 2009).
In fact, when families were asked to identify what made a virtual learning environment especially effective for students with disabilities, these benefits where listed:
Individualized support and instruction and tutoring,
Ongoing and immediate feedback,
Opportunities for students to take control of their own learning,
Promotes students ability to choose how best to access information,
Lack of peer pressures, conflicts or distractions,
Supports alternative means of social interactions,
Equalized the the academic and social “playing field” through new technologies.
The National Association of State Directors of Special Education recently completed two studies to determine whether students with Disabilities were electing to go to a virtual school. Their findings showed that these student were as much as 14% of these students, with Individualized Educational Programs (IEP) were opting for a virtual education.
Why are more students and their families turning to Virtual Schools for their learning?Virtual schools can develop and deliver an academic program that fits the individual students’ unique learning needs. They have the potential to open new educational opportunities to children with disabilities allowing them to work alongside their peers without disabilities, provide frequent and immediate feedback, present material in a variety of ways that better suit their child’s learning style and offers more control over the learning environment such as when and where their child works.
We recently got involved in a workshop to learn about PBL or Project Base Learning. Would it fit into a homeschooling program? Could it be used successfully in a virtual learning environment? Did it allow for the necessary individualization which is so important to Mistacres School?
PBL is an approach to teaching across the curriculum by allowing students to explore real-world problems. These projects can last a few days or can go on for a semester. They allow the students, either individually or collectively, to develop a deeper knowledge of the subjects they are studying through direct involvement. It is a way to provide active and engaged learning.
It is obvious students are more likely to remember things they learn through an active, hands-on approach then the more traditional textbook-centered learning. But as important is the confidence and self-direction students gain as they move through their project. As students work through their projects they strengthen their organizational and research skills, develop strong communication skills with peers and adults, and will often have opportunities to work within their community and see first hand effects of their work.
Assessment also becomes reality-based, not on some arbitrary fill-in-the-blank test that asks them to regurgitate what a teacher has said. Students are evaluated on the basis of their projects which has more meaning to them and is more in line with how were are assessed as adults in the real world. How often as I teacher did I hear, “Why do we need to learn this? I’ll never use it!” PBL allows students to see how academic work connects to real-life issues.
The next post we will look begin to look at the steps involved in Project Based Learning.
For those of you who visit Mistacres School on Facebook or at the home site, you know that we graduated our first student at the end of June. Following is a letter that we received from the mother of our graduate. I share it with you because I believe she spoke to many of the reasons why Mistacres was formed.
“I want to thank you for a wonderful first year of virtual learning. I was very concerned it would be more difficult than it was. The programs you used were very user friendly which made learning for Kyrsha much more enjoyable.
There is nothing like working from home,; no lost days of education due to snow days, no distractions from other students. Virtual learning let my daughter move at her own pace, although you pushed her when she needed pushing. I was also very pleased with the fact that if she needed you for support your were readily available or it wasn’t long before you were. I can only hope next years experience …is as simple. We are looking forward to your continued support through these last 4 years of schooling.
I was also very pleased with the amount of growth Kyrsha was able to make. Again, this is another advantage to virtual learning. There is no box limiting my child, … no one moving on with out my child having mastered concepts.
I am so glad we made this move to virtual learning. It has been one of the best decisions I could have made for my child’s educational needs. We owe you many thanks and we are proud to be one of your first graduates.
Thank you again for everything Sherra Carr”
I want to share with you some quotes from inspired people in history and literature. These quotes have made me happy and given me something to think about. They have led me to decide to provide online education to children. I hope you will enjoy them as well.
“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” â¨– Jim Rohn
“Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don’t know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” â¨– Sir William Haley
” Instruction ends in the school-room, but education ends only with life.â¨ Frederick W. Robertson
Five years ago I was given the opportunity to see if my gut feelings were correct. I became Program Director for a small non-public school middle school that served students whose behaviors kept them from being successful in a public school setting. For the most part, they were students that had specific learning disabilities, or were gifted, or just had extreme anxiety being in a large class setting. The thing they all had in common was the feeling of being a failure. This fear didn’t develop over night; It had been drummed into them over many years in the public system.
Each student had their own work station with computer. Using the technology that I had been studying, I developed individualized programs that were delivered directly to their computer. My foundation for each student’s program that required reading was the Lexile. Math was developed around another program that assessed mastered skills and areas in need of improvement. Then I stood back, held my breath and watched.
Yup, I watched. Because I had handed their learning over to them. If they needed me, they came to me with their INDIVIDUAL problem….or the programs I used flagged me with information. I didn’t have to stop everyone in the class to address one person’s questions. I didn’t hold anyone up by trying to teach the same thing to a group as, in my mind, there was no group. They were all at different levels of learning even if they might be in the same “grade”. And when we came together for discussions, nobody was left out for they had all worked on the skills, their way.
For the first time, these students were being successful. Then they became motivated to learn more – because they could. It was like taking a little ball of snow up to the top of the mountain and letting it roll down to the bottom. The result was students showing no behavior issues but making as much as 2 years growth in all academic subjects. Students that could stand tall and be proud.
I took this philosophy, this technology, to the web and created Mistacres School. I meet with the students whenever they buzz me on Skype or email me or I buzz them. I group students together online to work on projects or to hold discussions. Socializing is never questioned as it is a part of our school day. In fact, as we expand to bringing in students from other areas of the USA as well as internationally, then socialization takes on a whole new meaning. Think of the implications! Learning with others around the world!
But parents also have their needs satisfied. They can be more directly involved in their children’s education, they can direct better, more positive social opportunities outside of the school program, they have the flexibility to do more things with their children such as take trips without loosing academic time, go to museums or cultural events, the possibilities are endless.
I, for one, do not think Virtual Schools undermine social skills. If anything, they have the opportunity to develop strong, positive skills that will make them leaders in future years.