Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is a longer school year really the answer?

Who needs a summer vacation when there are things to learn and tests to ace? If Obama has his way the summer vacation and after school hang outs will soon go the way of buggy whips and 8 track tapes. But I have to wonder if it isn't quality over quantity that really counts. My selective perception must be selecting only things that show that methodology (one-on-few) and the ability to adapt the teaching style to the individual pupil has more impact than the amount of time held hostage in a classroom.

The article on Yahoo! News yesterday does provide some general references that might lead you to support this premise. For example they cite that spending more time in school studying math does increase math scores but by how much. And is it as significant as the increases seen by using online education delivering custom tailored classes that are student paced? Or how does this compare to homeschooling, that shows a 30+% increase in test scores? And what about the case for waiting longer to start school? Singapore holds the distinction of having the highest math scores worldwide and this country waits until children are 7 years old before starting school.

I'm not against spending more time in studies, I just think we need to be absolutely sure that we are investing that time in the best and most productive learning environment rather than creating a holding cell for our kids. If the impact on test scores is not significant then we might just be creating students that are only capable of counting down the extra minutes until the school bell rings.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Web Makes Spelling Fun!

The web is all abuzz about SpellingCity.com, a free online website that helps teach kids how to spell and what those words mean. This site has gone from zero to 2 million page views in nothing flat. It was only launched just last year but 2009 will be it's year to shine. Collecting awards this year like some people collect stamps, they have already won the 2009 Parents' Choice Award, the 2010 Teachers's Choice Award, been named a finalist for the Golden Lamp Award, and were selected for inclusion in the American Library Association’s Great Web Sites for Kids.

And I remember the olden days when I had to beg someone to read me my spelling words hoping against hope that they pronounced them correctly and if I was really lucky, help me use them in a sentence so I had some idea what they meant. Well, all of that is now automated and systemitized at SpellingCity. And talk about a dictionary, they have over 40,000 words available for spelling games, vocabulary practice, handwriting and pronounciation by a real human. I don't know any parent that wouldn't love to help make their child a better speller in a way that seemed more like a game than a chore.

I think SpellingCity is a good example of the old addage that the best things in life are free. But if you would like to let SpellingCity automate your grading and student reporting then you can do that for a small annual fee of $25-50 per year. Aw, the price of convenience, still a deal at twice the price!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Home is Where the School Is

Watching the news last night I was moved by the report and family interviews of yet another fatal stabbing in our South Florida public schools. This just happened on the heels of the Yale student who was found killed and stuffed into the wall of her classroom. And images of Columbine may never leave our collective consciousness.

With all the violence in our schools today, is it any wonder that more and more families are turning to homeschooling as a viable option? Couple the violence with entire school closings due to the swine flu outbreak and it seems that the best solution might be to bring school back to the home where it all started. Even if the decision isn't permanent it might be a viable solution until the school reopens from the latest quarantine.

The media talks about homeschooling as if it is something new. A new trend in a new time but in reality everyone was homeschooled when our country was young and public schools didn't exist. Actually a centrally controlled secondary education system funded by the state was a concept elevated in importance and implemented by Napoleon in 1802. Since that time public, private and religious education systems have come to dominate the former domain of homeschooling.

So where do you start if you decide, "Okay, I'm going to look into this homeschooling thing to see if it might be for me?" Here's a link to a great resource for anyone just getting started, the Welcome to Homeschooling Guide compiled by Time4Learning. And the best resource ever for homeschoolers is the Internet, where everything old is new again. As parents, no stone can be left unturned to protect our students from the violence that threatens them where they study. Happy reading!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blogs May Be Medium of Future Great Literature

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, it seems even more obvious to me that lasting great literary works and ideas may indeed be those published online in blogs like this one. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that only history could be used to judge the greatness of an author, how well their ideas and concepts endured the test of time. He refers to great books but in today's world, we also need to include the great blogs and ezines of today's authors.

And as parents leveraging today's technology, we can encourage our children to use a blog instead of a journal to self publish in a way not possible in our youth. How empowering and endearing for a child to share their talents in a way that can easily be accessed by friends and relatives and be captured for generations to come. With the help of a scanner they can even provide illustration for their ideas or as another way to communicate them. There are great blog writing resouces available online and even basic online writing courses that require students to publish their work as part of their assignment.

In conclusion, the movie also demonstrates how great ideas transcend the medium as Julie's blog became a popular book and a movie. The only thing we don't know is how enduring are these ideas will be through the test of time. In the meantime, Julia Powell can bask in her popular success and only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finally, Proof that Online Learning is Best!

Okay, so I have to first say that I have a bias that must be revealed before we go any further in this article. I have made my living from the web since 1995 and feel that almost everything is better online. So when the U.S. Department of Education released their study this week, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning, I stood up and cheered!

According to this study, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Hallelujah - finally someone researched and proved that the web is better than live. Kind of reminds me of the commercial, "Is it live or is it Memorex?" In this case Memorex beat the live instruction. This research spanned 12 years and 99 studies of mostly colleges and adult education environments. It did find a small but statistically significant improvement in test performance with online students scoring in the 59th percentile compared to face-to-face students scoring in the 50th percentile using standardized tests for both.

Now don't go off and close all of the physical schools just yet, but do look for online education options to continue to grow dramatically just as the tools to deliver it also continue to expand. With the adoption of broadband, the rapid consumption of video and the use of collaborative online communication tools, this segment of the education industry should continue to see explosive growth.

I hope the Department of Education expands its research to younger students as I believe the improvement in performance will be even more dramatic. The advantage that online has over other methods is the ability for a course to go at exactly the right pace for each learner and also the opportunity to incorporate a wide range of teaching styles via this one-on-one medium. And research abounds that proves learning by doing versus learning by listening produces better results.

Online learning curriculum such as Time4Learning.com should definitely be in the next round of tests that are conducted in this field. By providing interactive activities and games for kids Pre-K to 8th grade to learn language arts, phonics, critical thinking, math, social studies and science, this online educational program could prove a fertile ground for extending their findings to younger audiences.