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The Pioneer Generation of K-12 Online Education

By: Beth Werrell
Reese Flurie Quote: “The students and teachers who joined our school for its inaugural year took a leap of faith—faith not only in our school, but also in virtual learning in general.”

A little more than a decade ago, K–12 education online was still a very new concept. With several Connections Academy schools celebrating their tenth anniversaries this school year, we wanted to capture the experiences of the pioneer students, families, and educators who have spent many of these formative years in an online school.

Here’s some of what we learned about the pioneer generation in K–12 online education.

Taking the Leap into the Online Classroom

As Commonwealth Connections Academy (CCA) Principal Reese Flurie puts it, “The students and teachers who joined our school for its inaugural year took a leap of faith—faith not only in our school, but also in virtual learning in general.”

“Early adopters” such as the Brems of Ohio Connections Academy (OCA) say that switching to an online school was a “big family experiment.” Parents like Cyndi Fugate had to overcome her extended family’s fear that her children would be “doomed to failure” and “unable to get along in the real world.”

As for the educators, Christy Lamb, High School Assistant Principal in Ohio who started as an OCA teacher in 2003, acknowledges that she worried how she would “connect” with her students in an online school. Kindergarten teacher Rachel Fiest knew that she would need special approaches to build the trust of such young students online, step by step.

But years later …

  • The Fugates and the Brems are delighted at the level of teacher involvement. Contrasting other school experiences, Mindy Brems says, “As ...

How Online Education Builds Career Readiness with the 4 Cs

By: Beth Werrell

Fifty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for a person to start a job fresh out of school and to continue working for the same company until retirement. When today’s students enter the workforce, they can expect to change jobs and employers multiple times during their careers. They’ll face an evolving workplace influenced both by technology and the global marketplace. In order to face these challenges, the next generation of workers will need advanced knowledge and skills—and virtual school and blended learning high school can play a significant role in helping them gain these skills.

The traditional three Rs, “reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic,” are no longer enough. Today, these subjects are joined by foreign languages, the arts, geography, science, and social studies. Even more important is that educators, in helping students to prepare for successful careers, are supplementing the content students must learn with the “four Cs” of the 21st century:

  • communication
  • critical thinking
  • creativity
  • collaboration
The 4Cs in a 21st Century Education

 
In high-quality virtual and blended learning schools, students have many opportunities to develop these important skills during lessons and while completing projects for a variety of subjects. For example, while communication skills would naturally fit into a language arts class, students may also practice explaining mathematical concepts orally during their algebra class, or writing about scientific principles during Earth Science. By integrating the four Cs into many subjects, teachers ensure that students learn to exercise their skills and adapt them to a variety of audiences, purposes, and media.

Below, take a ...

Why Families Choose Online School

By: Beth Werrell
why families choose online school

Parents choose to educate their children at home using virtual school for a variety of reasons. In fact, most families name several contributing factors. After all, with so many ways to customize the learning method, schedule, and environment, online school can be personalized to a child’s needs. Yet, while there are many reasons for choosing this form of education, recent data revealed that the most common fall into several broad categories.

Not so traditional
Fifty-one percent of families surveyed reported that their children do not learn well in a traditional school setting. This is not surprising, in light of the comments parents make once they’ve made the switch to online learning. We often hear them mention the benefit of having fewer distractions and a quieter learning space. This statistic may also reflect those children who need more one-on-one attention to learn, as well as those who thrive with extra parental involvement.

Change of scenery
Families were also concerned with the setting in which their children learn. Forty-three percent of parents named wanting a “change in the learning environment” as a reason for opting out of their previous school situation. Another 32 percent specified their desire to have a “more controlled educational setting.” These results seem to mirror comments we hear about children’s safety on school campuses and transportation, as well as concerns about discipline and health.

Change of pace
Another top answer was the desire for “a more flexible schedule.” Creating the daily schedule to suit your ...

Blended Learning: Building High Schools Around Student Needs

By: Beth Werrell
Blended Learning High School Students Studying

While full-time virtual schooling is a great solution for many kids, it might not be a good fit for everyone. Some students may prefer face-to-face instruction or miss the company of their peers. Yet teens in particular desire the added flexibility and personalization online school can provide. As online education continues to grow in popularity, Connections Education has drawn on the knowledge gained from 11 years of experience with virtual school students to develop a brand new high school model that brings together the best of both worlds.  

Improving the Ability to Personalize Learning

New Nexus Academy blended high schools  in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio offer a unique blend of in-person and online learning, plus the extra personal attention some students need to succeed.

Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education executive vice president, explained the thinking behind these blended learning schools in a presentation at the International Association of K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Virtual School Symposium in 2012. “Many teens typically think high school is boring, impersonal, and irrelevant to their lives. This new school model offers more flexibility than a traditional school, plus ways to customize learning to a student’s abilities and interests, making it more personal and engaging.”

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Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation

“We’re essentially wiping the slate clean on high school and starting over by building schools around kids instead of vice versa. We have discovered that when students can sit where they want, eat when they want, and tackle their courses in the order they ...

Celebrate Virtual Education on Digital Learning Day

By: Dan Reiner
Connections Academy online teachers supporting School Choice.

It’s a great time to celebrate education—last week was School Choice Week, and today is Digital Learning Day. School Choice Week encourages parents, students, and organizations to speak out about the importance of offering students different education options, while Digital Learning Day emphasizes the effective use of technology in our classrooms. Both movements have the same goal—to promote dialogue about the progress of education.

This year, over 200 partners collaborated during National School Choice Week and hosted at least 3,600 events across the nation with the goal of highlighting the variety of education options available, including:

  • Public schools
  • Public charter schools
  • Virtual schools (public and private)
  • Magnet schools
  • Private schools
  • Homeschooling

Students who choose virtual schools experience and appreciate digital learning in a unique way. In fact, every day is Digital Learning Day in virtual schools. Each day, students use technology to engage with their online curriculum. They learn lessons at a pace that’s customized to their unique needs, and along the way they make meaningful connections with their teachers through one-on-one interaction. Students also socialize in the virtual classroom and through online clubs and activities. All of these interactions are facilitated by technology, and virtual school students embrace it daily.

Digital learning empowers students to take ownership of their learning. Teachers learn to manage their classrooms a little differently, and students become more active in their own education, which better prepares them for college and career. In virtual schools, students are familiar with this increased ...

Tips for Balancing Time between Multiple Virtual School Students

By: Dan Reiner

This is a guest post by Jane Kummer-Meyer, a Learning Coach from Wisconsin.

siblings doing virtual school work

Working with multiple children in a virtual school or homeschool setting can at first seem daunting, but with some organization and planning, and a bit of flexibility, it can be quite manageable. For the past three years, I have had four boys enrolled in Wisconsin Connections Academy, and during that time I’ve been the Learning Coach for grades ranging from kindergarten through 12th. I definitely had to find creative ways to simultaneously give all of my children the support and attention they need, ensure success, and maintain my own sanity.

It doesn’t have to be stressful! Here are a few key things I do to help balance my time between each of my boys:

  • Having a schedule is imperative. With a schedule, I can plan to work with my youngest son when the older ones are doing an online class session or working independently. A schedule also helps keep the kids focused on their responsibilities as online students. One great feature of online learning is the ability to be flexible, so if we have an appointment or special event, we tweak the schedule. If my students ever get behind, we talk about how or why this happened and what adjustments they need to make to their schedules to get back on track. This is a great way to teach them how to effectively manage their own time and to take ownership of their own learning...

Virtual School and Working Parents: Ways to Make It Work

By: Peggy Barnholt
Working mom with kid on her lap

One of the questions parents often ask me is, “Can children attend a virtual school if both parents work outside the home?”

The answer is, It depends on the grade level of your student. The Learning Coach plays a key role in the elementary years, and for kids in elementary school it’s recommended that someone is available for guidance full time. As the student becomes a more autonomous online learner, he or she will need less supervision in middle school—and online high school students are usually able to succeed independently.

However, stay-at-home parents are not the only ones who are capable of serving as Learning Coaches for children attending online schools. There can be more than one designated Learning Coach. Another responsible adult can help facilitate daily lessons and assignments, or you can share Learning Coach responsibilities with your partner who supports your student while you are away from home. Some working parents are on different work schedules and each can spend time with the students—one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

Even if you cannot arrange for such assistance, depending on your child’s age you can develop an arrangement with some creativity and flexibility on everyone’s part. Below are a few suggestions for how you can potentially make this arrangement work:

  • Plan your child’s learning schedule around your work schedule. Make sure the activities that require the most support and input from you are done during the times you’re home. Designate your working hours for independent ...

How to Communicate Your Choice to Use a Virtual School

By: Carrie Jean Ross

When you make the decision to send your child to a virtual school, there is a chance people around you may not understand it. They will probably have questions for you, and they may even doubt your judgment or challenge your decision.

Rather than feeling defensive in these situations, you can look at them as opportunities to educate others about the benefits of virtual schools. You can encourage people to see your point of view and politely express that you would appreciate their support.Moms discussing virtual school

So how exactly do you go about having these productive conversations? How do you present your point of view and encourage others to accept it?

The key is to remain calm and remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. By following these simple steps, you should be able to have a great conversation that will not only reinforce your decision to choose virtual schooling, but also dispel some myths about online learning at the same time.

Five Steps to Having a Productive Conversation about Online Learning

Having a great conversation about virtual schools is much simpler than you may think. Use these tips to make sure you start off on the right foot:

  1. Understand that the other person does not understand. This will save you tons of frustration. Not everyone knows what you know about online learning, and as a result they may have some misconceptions that can be corrected. Recognize that they don't understand, and use this opportunity to educate them about the ...

Motivating Virtual School Students to Learn

By: Dan Reiner

learning coach motivating female virtual school student to do schoolworkUnfortunately, there is no single miraculous formula for motivating virtual school students to complete their schoolwork. And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants. Some of your students will be motivated by the approval of others, while others will be motivated by getting past challenges.

To encourage students to become self-motivated, autonomous learners, try some of the following strategies:

  • Create a positive atmosphere and be open to questions.
  • Hold high but realistic expectations for your students.
  • Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.
  • Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.
  • Help students set achievable goals for themselves. If needed, break assignments into smaller pieces.
  • Help students understand the requirements of the assignment.
  • Ensure opportunities for students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
  • Start with the least favorite lesson first. It motivates students to keep studying if they know they are working toward the activities and lessons they most enjoy.
  • Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving. Create opportunities for teachable moments, as these allow your child to have fun while learning at the same time.
  • If you have multiple students in different grades, create opportunities for students to mentor each other. A team approach can be beneficial for everyone in your home classroom.
  • Emphasize mastery and learning rather than using grades as threats.
  • Reward success and showcase your student’s best work in ...

5 Myths about Virtual Schools

By: Carrie Jean Ross

thinking woman in front of question marks written on blackboardAccording to latest research from Ambient Insight, 17 million pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in the U.S. will get at least some of their education virtually by 2015. More than 4 million of these students will attend a full-time virtual school.

Despite the growing popularity of online education, there is still some confusion regarding how virtual school works.

So here is a list of five myths about virtual school that helps demystify some of the most common misconceptions about online schooling:

Myth #1: Virtual public school is the same as homeschool

Truth: The two are very different.
Virtual public schools deliver public education in the comfort of the student's home. Like all public schools, they are tuition-free to students. State-certified teachers deliver a rigorous curriculum that correlates to state standards and provide students with a variety of innovative learning materials and top-notch resources.

Myth #2: Virtual schools are all about technology

Truth: Virtual schools are about curriculum and instruction for students.
Many virtual schools have the basic technology to allow students to join a virtual classroom wherever there's Internet access. But the most reputable virtual schools also take the curriculum and instruction very seriously for students—it's not just about technology.

If you think all virtual schools are created equal, it is time to do your homework. Look for a virtual school with a track record of delivering student academic achievement and high levels of parent and student satisfaction. Other key quality benchmarks include: accreditation from AdvancED; full-time, certified, ...

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