Education & gov’t shutdown

Well, they did it. Or rather didn’t do it depending how you look at things. Our lawmakers have neglected to come to a reasonable compromise on the budget, so they have shut down the US government. Not only are things that are federal workers laid off, minor inconveniences (except to the workers) like national parks shut, but I discovered tonight while trying to research some things online that several government run education websites are also down.

That’s just silly. I mean how expensive is an existing website anyway? It’s not like you are paying a person to sit there updating it all the time. You just pay to have the server running and the domain registered. Probably virus and firewall software is installed and monitored periodically. I can think of better ways to save money. It probably cost more to have all federal websites taken offline than they will save.

So our lawmakers are holding the federal government hostage. Yes, they are no better than petty terrorists or spoiled brats. I also notice that even though millions of federal workers are laid off, lawmakers will still be receiving their pay. If they are serious about shutting things down, they should include themselves. Otherwise, they are hypocrites!

Stop the games and get to work Washington! We are having some good discussions about the true purpose of government  as well as healthy budgeting at our house from this though.

More trouble for online schools

While there are many good ideas in education reform, the education system in the US is experiencing growing pains as it attempts to enter and keep up with the digital world. Maine is the latest state to say no to subcontracting its online schooling with K12. I just discovered an article from earlier this month, Maine denied applications from both K12 and Connections Academy to run public school online programs in that state.

In regards to K12’s application, Amy Carlisle, president of the local board for the proposed Maine Virtual Academy had this to say about her board:

“She also vigorously denied that her board lacked independence from K12 Inc., the Herndon, Va., based online education company that would manage the school, hire and fire its staff and headmaster, and provide curricular materials and assessment data.”

Now if K12 is in charge of major decisions regarding the school including all staffing decisions (including hiring and firing), school management, provides curriculum, and assessment (testing) data, that to me says K12 is pretty much in charge of the school instead of the board.  As a result,

“The charter commission denied the school’s application in a unanimous vote Tuesday, saying that its review team “has no confidence that the governing board of the Maine Virtual Academy can functionally manage the daily education and fiscal responsibilities without staff.”

So what if the board is independent if they are not the ones who actually are managing the school program? They are contracting the work out to K12. This is the second year the board’s application has been denied. Last year was for similar oversight concerns regarding K12. Maine created a law authorizing online public education in 2011.

Good for Maine for not handing over control over the state’s education to big business, especially since their track record is proving less than desirable outcomes for students in other states. However, students should have education options. We just need to find a good balance that takes into account service, cost, and what’s going to have the best outcome for students.

I consider K12 education’s version of the agriculture and food giant Monsanto. Starting small and inconspicuously, they now control a vast majority of all phases of farming and food production in the US and Canada with products ranging  everything from seeds (including many GMO varieties), herbicides like Roundup, pesticides, to mills, and factories. Yes, they do offer useful products, but taken as a whole, they have too much control over a vital industry.

Online school problems

I read today some things that add to my concerns about online public schools. These free programs are available in most states. They allow students access to public school education only the work is done online instead of in a classroom. In theory the idea is good. However, now that they have been around for a few years, the outcomes are proving less than desirable.

Colorado, in particular is experiencing negative results with their online school program. There are 2 news stories in recent news: The Colorado Charter School Institute rejected K12’s application and Colorado Virtual Academy Answers Tough Questions. Colorado has been contracting with K12 (a company that provides services for online schooling) for twelve years. This is one of the oldest online public school programs in the U.S.

According to the articles, the Colorado program currently has a graduation rate of only 22%. They also have a high student turnover, meaning families are signing up then quitting the program in the same year. High school turnover was 50%. They applied to be a charter school, which would mean they won’t need to be sponsored by a school district. However, that application was rejected. The district they are with is currently debating not to go ahead with their renewal. K12 faces closure in Colorado this summer if it is is unable to find a sponsoring district.

I have never used an online school, but have homeschooled my children for 7 years now. The problems I think stem from the theory of being able to learn better online at home isn’t matching up with reality. In theory, the student would work when they are supposed to. They would check in online and meet their deadlines. There would be fewer distractions from other students because they are at home and away from the drama, bullies, and their friends. In theory the parents would be checking up to ensure the students are keeping up.

With traditional homeschooling, the parents are active participants in their child’s education. In a regular school, teachers are actively involved with the students even if the parent’s aren’t. Both equate to high levels of adult supervision. However, with online schooling, the level of direct adult supervision is greatly diminished. It is up to the students to ensure they get their work done. That is a huge responsibility, especially for younger students and students who may not be the most responsible to begin with. (I know I sure wasn’t.) There are no adults to remind you about work in person and watch to see that you are actually working on school when you are supposed to be.

Also, because it is online and there is less direct adult supervision, the risk and temptation of cheating is higher. I’ve seen several online sites from students asking for answers. Not just help understanding one or two problems, but flat out cheating. They are typing in their homework, quiz, or test questions then expecting others to provide the answers. One even got mad when someone said they would not help her cheat. She said this is how she learns rather than actually doing the work! Part of a good education is learning to find answers for yourself, not expecting others to give them to you.

I hear about online students who have trouble concentrating because they are distracted by the online environment. They play on computer games or social media instead of school. A teacher is available to help with students’ questions, but not sure how that works. I doubt they get answers as fast as with a regular teacher or parent being in the same room. This causes deadlines to be missed and students aren’t properly prepared for exams. If students procrastinate so they aren’t making steady progress throughout the semester, they can end up with a huge amount of work still undone at the end of the year. Then they stress and rush to try to get it done. That all results in lower grades. The program gets blamed and families leave or students just give up and quit.

What can be done to alleviate these problems? I’m not sure, but I think parents somehow need to be more responsible for insuring their children do the work. They shouldn’t just assume because their child is signed up for online classes that they are actually doing school and making progress.

Procrastination and group projects

I have never really liked group projects.  The thought that part of your grade depends upon the work of someone else is frustrating and scary. It can be fine if everyone pulls together and does a good job on their part. However, it can be horrible if people slack off or don’t work at all.

I had a group project for one of my online classes. It was assigned 3 weeks ago. There were 4 people in the group. About 2.5 weeks ago, one of the group members got busy and posted a rough draft of the initial part for the project. I then took it and did a write up about her chart. We asked the others to do writeups about the other things we were to discuss. Nothing got done.

Last week the first woman and I completed our parts of the project. We reminded the other 2 members about getting theirs in soon enough so we can review them and include it in the final project. Nothing got done.

While we were waiting, the other woman and I decided we’d better go ahead and do the rest of the project just in case. It is due this week. We each chose one of the other parts and got busy. By Wednesday, we had a complete rough draft of the full project. Thursday (just 3 days before it is due), one of the other members sent her part in. Unfortunately, she analyzed the wrong thing. We notified her as well as the instructor of this and asked her to redo it right away. Still no word from the 4th member of the group.

Yesterday afternoon we hadn’t heard anything from the woman about redoing her part, not even acknowledging she got the messages about it being the wrong thing. Nor had we heard from the 4th member at all. Ugh! After several e-mails back and forth, the other woman and I decided to just go ahead and do a final version without either of them, since we already had a version their parts done anyway.

So I got it all finalized. She did a final proof read and this morning, it was submitted for grading. We left off the other 2 members names and notified the instructor our reasons.  2 hours later, I got an e-mail from the last team member with her part. We didn’t even know for sure she had been working on it. Talk about procrastination and lack of communication!

I wrote her back and told her it was too late, that we already completed and turned in the project without her. So this 4 person group project turned into a 2 person team project because of lack of communication and procrastination. Very frustrating, especially since this is a college course. There is no excuse for that type of procrastination in a group project at this level.

We needed their parts a week ago to properly work it into the overall project. Even early this week would probably have been OK. But the afternoon before the whole thing is due? NO! I’m sorry, that’s way too late. I’m glad we went ahead without them, but it made for a very stressful week. I really hope we get a good grade, because basically we had to do double the work, for the same number of points.

Dumbing down education

I am taking online college courses through a well respected university. They are pretty interesting. The format is more like guided study than distance education because while there is no lecture, there are still weekly assignments, periodic quizzes, research papers, and a final exam. You log-on to a system called Blackboard. Here you can view the assignments each week, turn in completed items, and take quizzes.

Part of the weekly assignments is a discussion board posting. You are supposed to post an original though about an assigned topic by Thursday midnight. Then you have  until midnight on Sunday to post responses to two other students’ posts. It is expected to use proper grammar and spelling in your posts. Some classes have additional requirements such as APA formatting if research is done for the post. The discussion board is graded depending upon how well you follow the requirements. They are usually worth a quarter to a third of the weekly grade, so while not hard, they are important. Keep in mind, these are college courses so this shouldn’t be very hard for students to follow these basic requirements.

However, I’m finding the opposite to be true. We are now halfway through the term. Students are still doing late postings. For the course with APA requirements (in text citations and a list of references), several students still aren’t doing that even though the instructor gave examples of how she expected them to be formatted for the first 3 weeks.  Some students aren’t even giving a list of references, much less trying to do it in APA format.

Improper grammar is also fairly common in discussion board postings. I’m not meaning picky things either like the correct use of “it’s” and “its”. I mean basic things like complete sentences. Believe it or not, some don’t even use complete sentences. They just use phrases to answer the assigned questions. Others use “texting” phrases and spelling such as just a “u” instead of spelling out “you”.

It’s not just the students either. One of my instructors recently wrote “gonna” instead of “going to” in responding to a student post. How can they grade students down for improper grammar when they don’t even use it themselves?

This is frustrating for students like myself who try to follow the requirements. Late posts are difficult to respond to because they don’t give other students time to ponder them, especially if they are posted days late. To me, texting spelling and grammar is difficult to understand. If I can’t understand your post, how can I respond? Your inability to follow basic requirements negatively impacts the quality of my education.

Not using proper formatting is lazy. It doesn’t take that much extra time to do it right so you get full credit. Do they not understand this or just not care? I would assume many regular universities have similar problems. Why waste your money on college courses if you aren’t willing to do the work for a good grade?

If they  are taking shortcuts in classes, how successful will they be in real life when we need to apply what we learn? I would not place much value on a professional letter of recommendation or an applicant’s letter of intent if it is loaded with texting jargon and incomplete sentences yet they have a college degree.

Our use of texting and IM is having an undesired effect on students. Work is lazy. I’m sure there were lazy students before, but this is making it worse. IM and texting is great for informal conversations, but has no place in college assignments.

Hands-on learners (revised)

First, what is a hands-on learner? A hands-on learner is someone who learns best by touching and doing things. They like manipulatives and projects where they can do things rather than just reading textbooks and writing. Often they doodle, fidget and have trouble sitting still. For this reason, many hands-on learners are mislabeled as ADD or ADHD by schools, especially boys.

2 years ago, I wrote a post about hands-on (kinesthetic) learners. Since then, I’ve found more ideas and curriculum suggestions, so I thought I’d revisit the subject. Most of this is geared toward elementary students, but parts of it can be used for all levels. Some of this is copied from my earlier post. I’ve arranged my comments by category to make it easy to find suggestions. If you have an area of concern that I don’t cover or you have something else which you find useful for hands-on learners, please feel free to let me know.

GENERAL TIPS:

I’m finding the biggest thing is to have a variety of activities and allow lots of wiggle time instead of insisting he sit doing writing based activities all day, although we will still do those too. He also needs consistency in routines. For instance, we do reading every day. He will have to do the workbook lesson, but the lessons themselves may contain different activities. Part of learning for kinesthetic kids is learning when you really need to just sit still and get the work done. That’s hard, especially for younger students. We try to limit sitting time and have movement breaks or hands-on activities between them.

One thing that has helped greatly in all subjects is using a kitchen timer. I give him a set amount of time to do the work. If it is done before the timer goes off he may get a reward. If not then he has some sort of punishment unless he has tried but truly doesn’t understand the work. Rewards can be extra time the next day, going to the park, extra free time, or occasionally a small treat. Often I’ll let him use any time remaining as a break. Punishment is usually loss of a privilege or time-out and depends upon how much extra time he takes to complete the work. This helps keep him on task.

I used to insist he do his workbook lessons at a desk. This year, I bought him a clip board so he can do his lessons elsewhere as long as he is working. Often I’ll do this as a reward for getting work done on time the day before. Sometimes though, there are days he just can’t get comfortable at a desk and having the clipboard to choose his work area helps get him on task.

MATH:

There are a few companies now that use manipulatives beyond just the first few grades.

We love Math-u-See for math so he can fiddle with the blocks to find the answers after watching a brief video introduction to the lesson. As Mr. Demme always says, “Build it, Write it, Say it.” Using multiple senses makes memorizing anything easier. I’ve tried to apply this to other areas of his learning. I like this company because they use the same blocks all the way from kindergarten through calculus. So once they learn and get used to the blocks, students aren’t constantly switching manipulatives like some programs. Since the blocks compliment the lessons and workbook, instead of being the main focus, students don’t become dependent upon the manipulatives. Nor do parents have to purchase and keep track of many separate manipulative systems.

There is a math program called Right Start Math which uses a lot of manipulatives including an abacus, shapes, number balance scale, blocks, and more to teach basic math. I’ve seen this program and it seems good if you don’t mind keeping track of many separate manipulatives. I know a few homeschool families who have had good outcomes with this program.

LANGUAGE ARTS and READING SKILLS:

I switched from Abeka to Christian Light Education after first grade. While Abeka was thorough, it wasn’t very engaging. The work in Abeka was very repetitive and he was getting burned out by the end of the year. While still a workbook based curriculum, CLE is more engaging because they have more variety of activities in their workbooks even though they are plainer (less color and illustrations). This helped him focus on the work instead of the illustrations.

There are a few other reasons CLE is better than Abeka for hands-on learners. Abeka reading only had very basic comprehension questions whereas CLE has a full range of reading and comprehension skills. CLE also has study skills lessons which Abeka didn’t. I think these are important to learn (especially for kinesthetic learners) and not all parents know them or how to teach them. Having them built into the curriculum is great.

The goal of any reading program is ultimately to get students reading real books. The best was to do this is to expose them to quality literature as soon as possible. Readers and levelized stories have their place, but quality literature for children should not be left out.

HISTORY:

For history we use literature and activities based programs from WinterPromise instead of a history text. This is more of a Charlotte Mason approach. He’s doing well and really enjoying the reading selections. Most are historical fiction or single topic books. There are a variety of hands-on activities to reinforce the topics each week, instead of the usual narrative or fill-in-the-blank style worksheet.

SCIENCE:

My son is gifted in science besides being a hands-on learner, so finding a science program has always been a challenge. He enjoys reading about science, but finds traditional elementary texts too dull and easy. However, he’s enjoyed many of the books in the God’s Design series. There are activities that go along with many of the lessons, but often there is a lot of parent prep and help needed for them.

He’s also done the Real Science 4 Kids series the last 2 years. These have a separate lab book for write-ups of the activities. While he really enjoyed the readings, we both found the labs, and especially the lab book, tedious. The instructor guide didn’t help much either. As a result, my son was understanding the science theory from the books this year, but I didn’t do many activities to reinforce and apply the concepts.

There is a company called Exploration Education that is a project-based curriculum for physical science. I want to use them next year.  I had a hard time keeping my kids away from their booth at the homeschool curriculum fair. Every time they wandered off, I found them at their booth playing with, and asking questions about, the projects on display.

Their lessons are multi-sensory. First, they each watch a cd video-text about the lesson. There are graphics and animation to help show the concepts. Then, they do the project or experiment. Finally, they do an activity/write up about the project. The second and third levels also have assessments. The first level has narration of the reading (which can be turned off for older kids using the level) so I don’t have to read everything to her. She can be listening while I’m helping her brother with his project.

The curriculum has 3 levels. Actually the third level includes all of the second and just adds on extra lessons for each unit. Anyway, the levels cover the same topics so both my kids could learn about similar concepts at the same time. There are 4 units. The first activity in each unit is a project. This project will then be used for all the other activities in that unit. They are pretty basic but seem to show very well the concepts.

Both kids would be doing separate activities, but about similar topics at the same time. I really liked this aspect of their programs. I wouldn’t need to keep up with totally separate science topics and figure out activities to go along with both of them. Also, it didn’t look like a lot of parent prep for the lessons.

Starting a Health Fitness Specialist degree

As I stated in another post, I’ve been approved for beginning an Associates in Applied Science (AAS) degree program in Health Fitness Specialist. Everything just about is complete for my entrance. My ACT scores were finally received, and I scored well enough that I can get out of 4 foundation classes usually required. 🙂 Speaking of classes, I still haven’t heard which of the UAF classes were able to transfer to the other university on my transcript. I’m hoping a lot of them transfer so I don’t have to take any general classes, but can get right down to the degree specific courses.

I have to do an interview for financial aid (required even if paying your own way) then I can register for classes. I was supposed to have done the interview this week, but with only one vehicle since the accident, we were extra busy and I wasn’t home during the times available. Hopefully this can be done on Monday. Then I can register for classes and arrange book shipments. I’m excited to start classes in early April.

Why a degree as a Health Fitness Specialist? I’m definitely not your typical health nut, nor do I necessarily consider myself one. I’m 35, not athletic by any means, and overweight. However, I do see the value in being fit and want to help others learn that you don’t have to be athletic to be fit. Nor is being fit just being skinny. Being fit is a lifestyle and as such, full of choices. I want to help others make healthy choices. This degree will give me more knowledge to do that.

I want others to know that you can change your life from unhealthy to fit. I’m doing it. It’s not always easy, but worth the effort. Not someone who hasn’t been there saying what a health book says weight loss should be. Nor someone drastically overweight telling how to get thin. I’ve gotten advice from both these types. Neither of them were especially helpful, even though they were both informational. Instead, it added to my frustration because I felt they didn’t understand where I was coming from. I want the book learning to go along with my personal insights so I can help with a range of fitness problems whether it be loosing weight, toning trouble spots, or injury rehab.

For this degree, classes include human anatomy, movement, nutrition, fitness evaluations, and how the body responds to exercise. There’s also some business classes. It’s more detailed than what most fitness instructors and personal trainers have and I’d be able to pass those exams. This is a 2 year degree with the option to continue into a bachelor’s degree which has more specialized training courses.

I’m taking most of this for my own knowledge rather than wanting a specific job. However, I would be able to work in almost any health setting including gyms and health clubs, physical rehab centers, schools, and even corporate settings. It’s definitely a portable degree. That’s good since I could likely get short term or part time positions while traveling if I ever wanted to. I want to help people as a wellness coach and fitness instructor to get over the blocks keeping them from being fit. I’ve already been approached for a potential fitness instructor position.