The Student’s Guide to Getting Ready for College

By: Tisha Rinker

Pop quiz: When should you start preparing for college?

  1. Freshman year
  2. Sophomore year
  3. The winter of junior year
  4. The fall of senior year

This question has no wrong answer, actually. But it does have a best answer: Virtual high school students like you should start getting ready for college during freshman year. This will give you plenty of time to consider different career paths, strive for high grades, and look for scholarship opportunities.

Because getting ready for college takes effort, you may be wondering where to start. To get a better sense of what to do and when to do it, check out our College Prep Checklist below.

Click on the image below to view the whole graphic.

The College Prep Checklist is a starting point to help you navigate the college planning process. For more information, browse these college planning resources.

If you’re currently in high school, you might have already made some progress. Which college prep tasks are you focused on now? Share any tips you have for other students and parents in the comments below.

Real-Time or Anytime Learning: Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Explained

By: Cindy Carbajal
The Differences Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning. A young girl holds a red apple in one hand and a green apple in the other hand.

Synchronous, asynchronous, or blended learning? If you’re confused by the terms, today's post will explain how these different instructional approaches are being used to create more student-centered learning experiences in our virtual and blended schools.

Different Instructional Approaches Explained

When technology began transforming how, when, and where students learned, educators began using the terms synchronous learning and asynchronous learning to distinguish between face-to-face classes and self-paced learning. But what do those technology-tinged words really mean today?

Synchronous Instruction (Real-Time Learning)

In synchronous learning, students and teachers work together at the same time in the same place—whether that place is a bricks-and-mortar school environment or a virtual classroom. Typical synchronous instruction involves teacher-led or facilitated in-class lessons or lectures, group projects, and class discussions.

Asynchronous Instruction (Anytime Learning)

In asynchronous learning, students work at their own pace and place, completing coursework within defined time limits. Students and instructors are not necessarily interacting in real time. Schoolwork that students perform on their own time typically includes:

  • viewing pre-recorded online classroom sessions at home;
  • reviewing course materials online or offline;
  • completing assignments; and
  • collaborating with other students via secure message boards.

Combined Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

While full-time online schools such as Connections Academy combine synchronous and asynchronous learning in a virtual learning environment, blended learning environments combine virtual and in-person synchronous instruction on a school campus with asynchronous, self-paced learning at a time and place chosen by students and parents. Our Nexus Academy high schools offer this type of blended learning experience....

Taking Breaks: A Surprising Technique to Enhance Online Learning

By: Beth Werrell

Taking Breaks to Enhance Online LearningHaving a productive school day takes concentration. Students have to be motivated and focused on each task they need to complete. They also need to learn how to look at the big picture, set priorities, meet deadlines, and achieve goals. Then there are the different lessons and activities to juggle—math, trumpet practice, science, lunch, robotics club, reading. It’s hard work keeping everything straight!

School can be challenging at times, so it’s normal for students to get tired, get distracted, and lose motivation. Successful students, however, need a way to avoid frustration and stay on track.

To stay focused on learning, there’s an unexpected technique students can try: taking breaks.

Refresh Your Brain

Your student probably already takes breaks during the day, reserving time to eat lunch or grab a snack. But if he or she gets distracted often, it might mean that your child needs to take more breaks.

“In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you’ve run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend,” says Benedict Carey, the author of How We Learn. “You need to stand up, let it go … and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem.” Getting distracted is really just a sign that your child’s brain needs a rest before moving to the next lesson.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that students should take breaks every time they get distracted. With some ...

Advice for Helping Families Adjust to Virtual School

By: Kim McConnell
Advice for New Virtual School Families - A mom helps her daughter with homework at the kitchen table

“There’s too much work—my daughter is working into the evening.”

“My student won’t cooperate. How do I motivate him?”

“I never dreamed this would be so difficult.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? The new school year has just begun, but for parents starting virtual school for the first time, each day can be challenging! During these early days of educating their children at home, parents may feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and even ready to quit. Fortunately, with a healthy dose of patience, some tips for weaving learning into family life, and a few weeks of practice, you and your child can adapt to—and even enjoy—this new way of learning!

Your first and best stop for help with “learning the ropes” of online schooling should be your child’s teacher! He or she can point you in the right direction for school orientation, tech support, learning resources, and more. Your teacher may have suggestions to help you with student motivation or creating your daily schedule.

While you are adjusting to your new role as your child’s Learning Coach, there are some simple ways to make the schooling-at-home experience pleasant for everyone.

  1. Remember that you are a family. Although education is very important, your relationship with your child should always come first. Make your home classroom a positive environment and find little ways to let your child know that you’re on his or her side. Showing your student that you understand when he or she is struggling can make ...

Bowing to Biology: Teens, Sleep, and School Schedules

By: Beth Werrell
Should Schools Start Later for Teenagers? A teenage girl sleeping on a desk next to a computer

Go to sleep late. Wake up early. Drag through the school day tired, unfocused, and cranky. Unfortunately, that’s the typical scene for the nation’s chronically sleep-deprived teens caught between their changing biology-driven sleep cycles and their traditional schools’ unchanging logistics-driven early school hours.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this “catch 22” for sleepy teens must change. Since teen biology won’t change to suit schools, schools must change to suit teen biology. Here’s why:

Teens and Sleep Facts

As children enter puberty, their natural sleep cycles change, shifting anywhere from one to three hours later. While teens still need about 8½ and 9¼ hours of sleep nightly to function well academically, socially, and physically, they generally can’t fall asleep before 11 p.m. due in part to changes in their melatonin levels. (Melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep.)

With only 15% of the nation’s high schools starting after 8:30 a.m., this means that the majority of the nation’s high school students are struggling along with fewer hours of sleep than they need to grow and learn—sleep that cannot be simply “made up” by sleeping in late on the weekends. With a median middle school start time of 8:00 a.m., younger students are sleep-deprived, too.

This divergence between biology and school policies leads to a range of problems for teens. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), teen sleep deficits can:

  • Limit teens’ ability to “learn, listen, concentrate, and solve problems”
  • Impair memory
  • Lead to aggressive ...

Learn the ABCs of the Virtual School Experience

By: Beth Werrell
Important ABCs of the Virtual School Experience

One of the first things that young students learn is the alphabet, or ABCs. If you’re new to online education or are considering online school as a school option for your child, then familiarizing yourself with the ABCs of virtual school is a great place to start!

Below, you’ll find the alphabet from A to Z, with each letter describing an important part of the virtual school experience. Take a look at each concept and visit some resources on the subject.

A is for autonomy. Virtual school is a great environment for gaining independence because students have the chance to develop independent study skills early on. As students get older, they learn to be self-motivated students who are well prepared for adulthood.

B is for bullying prevention. No one should have to fear going to school, and that’s why Connections Academy takes bullying prevention seriously. Virtual school offers a safe learning environment that allows students to thrive academically and develop positive social relationships.

C is for certified teachers. Parents don’t have to doubt the quality of teaching in online school—all virtual school instructors are state certified. Besides leading each lesson, teachers work one-on-one with students on a regular basis to provide an individualized learning experience.

D is for dedication. Virtual schools are not unsupervised self-study programs. A parent or trusted adult monitors student progress in the home throughout the day and works with certified teachers who direct instruction. Attending an online school requires equal ...

Music Smarts: Learning the Language of Music

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Music Smarts: Learning Mankind's Universal Language

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki studied music in Germany, he struggled to learn the German language. By the same token, he noted that German adults found the Japanese language difficult. And yet, he observed, all Japanese children learned to speak Japanese very naturally and German children learned German with ease. How could this be?

Dr. Suzuki had discovered what would become the basis for his renowned Suzuki Method of teaching young children, which is also known as the mother-tongue approach. This approach takes the natural process of language immersion and applies it to music education. Surround children with music, Dr. Suzuki thought, and learning music will be as natural as learning the native language.

In other words, children who follow the Suzuki Method start developing their auditory-musical intelligence early on.

What are Music Smarts?

Auditory-Musical intelligence, or “music smarts,” refers to the ability to use rhythm and melody. It’s just one of the abilities included in the Theory of Multiple Intelligences developed by psychologist Howard Gardner. In this theory, intelligence is defined in a variety of ways. Each child may have strengths in certain areas, from nature smarts to people smarts to logic smarts.

People with strong music smarts thrive in surroundings full of music. They also notice sounds and rhythms in their everyday lives. The clickety-clack of trains on tracks, the sweet conversations between songbirds, the chiming of doorbells, and more influence the music-smart person as much ...

Stand Up for Online Learning! Standing Desks in the Home Classroom

By: Beth Werrell
Standing Desks in the Home Classroom

All parents know that sitting too much isn’t good for the body or the mind. So why do we let our students sit through most of the school day?

It’s time to reconsider our habit of telling kids to sit down and sit still. Instead, think about using a standing desk in your home classroom.

What Is a Standing Desk?

A standing desk is simply a workspace you use while standing instead of sitting. Studying at a standing desk is a type of workshifting, or working in a nontraditional environment.

Standing desks are becoming more and more popular in workplaces across the country. And they’re starting to find their way into traditional classrooms. So if you are still unsure about how to set up your home classroom or want to try something new this school year, standing desks might be a great option for the study area at home, too.

What Are the Benefits of Standing Desks?

Recent studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time can have adverse effects on your health. Sitting leads to high blood sugar and high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease. Students can benefit from standing desks because they reduce restlessness and sluggishness. In one study, teachers who used standing desks in their classrooms reported that their students were more focused during class. These students also burned more calories than those who sat during class.

How do I find a standing desk that’s affordable and easy ...

The Building Blocks of Learning: Start with Support

By: Beth Werrell
Building a Foundation of Family Support

When children start virtual elementary school, they need more than just school supplies and an organized home classroom. All children have basic needs that must be addressed before they can be successful in school. The most important of these needs is support.

Support is one of the building blocks, or fundamental principles, of learning. Providing your child with support comes naturally. But does your child have all the types of support he or she needs?

To find out, take a look at the different types of support listed below. They come from the list of “40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents” developed by the research organization Search Institute®. Here, we have added learning resources to the list of building blocks to help parents and Learning Coaches support their young virtual school students.

Building a Foundation of Support

Family Support

Excellent family support means offering a rich, loving environment. The whole family can get involved in virtual school, for example by making a “365 days of family fun” pledge.

Positive Communication

Communication is a crucial element of the family dynamic. That means encouraging good manners, kindness, and honesty, which lead to a positive learning environment. Also, remember to work on conflict resolution—it’s an important topic that even adults struggle with.

Other Adult Relationships

Children of all ages need support from at least one adult other than their parents. This can be a coach, teacher, neighbor, family friend, minister, or counselor. Having different positive adult ...

Announcing the Winners of our Back-to-Virtual-School Pinterest Contest

By: Beth Werrell
2014 Pin to Prepare Contest Winners

Finding creative ideas for virtual school has never been easier—or more fun! Parents and teachers agree that Pinterest is a great place to find back-to-school inspiration and tips for success. That’s why we invited both new and experienced online school parents to participate in our Pin to Prepare contest, which encouraged them to create their own pinboards of educational resources for the new school year.

We were thrilled to have so many back-to-school pinners participate! Choosing one winning “Cool Tools for Online School” pinboard from so many excellent entries was difficult, but the results are in, and five lucky winners will each receive a $100 gift card for back-to-school shopping! See what our winners have to say below, and be sure to follow the link to view their top picks for inspiring a great year of virtual school! And the winners are…

Laurie Landry

Laurie Landry's Winning PinBoard
Laurie Landry, the mom of an elementary school student at Louisiana Connections Academy, enjoys pinning fun ways to supplement her child’s learning, such as Lego Math, ideas for handwriting practice, and thematic coloring sheets. She says she also appreciates organization hints to “prevent school from taking over the house!”

The Landry family turned to virtual school after Laurie’s son struggled in first and second grades in traditional school. They also wanted to discontinue the ADHD medications that made him feel ill.

“Switching to virtual school was a big adjustment, but my son has excelled,” Laurie explains. “After a routine screening revealed that our ...

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