Whack a Mole ….

Whack a Mole ….

Place Based Learning: Instructional (PBL) Strategies was a one credit graduate course I took this past month. Thankfully, it is over!  From my past experience one credit classes seem to be over-filled with heavy assignments, placing demands on one’s time that seem incongruous with the gains received. Such was the case with this class. However, I really wanted to take it, as PBL has been how I have taught for the last 14 years!  I thought the class would give me some new ideas, connect me to new resources, and allow me to inspire others to use this method of teaching.

But, I ran into a snag! The final assignment was to video tape a micro-teaching lesson using PBL.  After much thought, planning, and a few concerns about things like consent to tape students, as well as a snow fall of six inches the morning of my lesson that necessitated a quick change in the lesson activity, I taught and the students taped me. That was well over a week ago. The lesson went well. I used a point and shoot camera and had 8 video clips ranging from 14 minutes to 38 seconds.  So, being the perfectionist that I am, I began editing the tapes and putting together a 30 minute presentation on iMovie. It turned out well but I had some frustrations uploading the video because my hard drive is close to being full.


Finally, I got the four videos uploaded but not without first having to clean files from my computer and put them on an external hard drive.


Once I was happy with the presentation on iMovie, I tried to export it to publish and be able to send to my professor as a file. It did not work! Whack! Then, I tried exporting to Vimeo. The files too were too large to be uploaded to a free account. Whack! Then, I tried You Tube and Facebook under private, or visible to me only links. No go!


and another hack!

Are you getting the idea? I felt like the mole in that old children’s game we had years ago, Whack a Mole, where you hit the mole when it popped its head out. Just as I was beginning to feel like I made progress, WHACK! I would be sent back down into the tunnel!

Fortunately, at 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I was able to upload the video from my SD card to Quick Time and from there compressed the files. The compressed files were then sent to my instructor! No fancy iMovie, no editing, no title page! Just 8 raw camera video files! I had to be done with it! So much wasted time! My one credit course cost me a lot more than it was worth!

mole-2089816_1280 copy

With my files sent, finally, my head was fully out of the tunnel!

I could rest easy and get some sleep!

Why Do Parents of Gifted Students Turn to Virtual Education?

Why Do Parents of Gifted Students Turn to Virtual Education?

Virtual education or distance learning is becoming more and more common. Regularly, now, you can see advertisements for distance learning establishments on the television and receive information through the mail or online.  The establishments or more accurately, institutions, include services and classes for both K-12 education, college courses, and even degrees.  There are many reasons why parents and their students turn to virtual education. For many, it is a last resort.  However, the purpose of this blog post is to explore why gifted students and their parents turn to a virtual education platform.

You might be familiar with the story. Great grades, involvement with extra-curricular activities, a job, some socializing – and, maybe even a boyfriend or girlfriend. High school seems to be going great! And then, you realize, or maybe your child tells you – they want out……Out of what, you ask? They inform you that they want to complete high school differently! What!? You express shock and disbelief. You thought they were doing so well!  This is the scenario we experienced when my oldest, then a sophomore in high school – ranked first in his class of over 200 students, came to us seven years ago.

It was clear. He thought that finishing high school via a virtual classroom setting or distance learning, as it is now commonly called, was the answer for him. As it turned out, he was right but what led to this decision? What attracts gifted students to distance learning? Our student was perceptive in determining his own needs and even desires for what his education should look like. And, it was not reflective of a traditional classroom.

These are some of the reasons gifted students might turn towards virtual education:

  • better use of time. Unfortunately, there is a lot of “down” time in schools today.  Gifted students have a need to move through the material at a quicker pace. Our student determined at the time he was in school, only about 3 hours a day were spent learning. The other five hours of the school day was “fluff” or mis-spent on things he just did not need (this includes assembly time and things like character education).
  • more challenging curriculum. Very often, gifted students have been accelerated and are topping out of course options. Even with the chance to take courses via dual enrollment at local colleges, very often virtual schools offer more in terms of course flexibility, more foreign languages, and more AP classes.  At the time of our decision to let our son finish high school virtually, AP classes were restricted at our high school.  He was denied the chance to take three AP courses as a sophomore and I believe that planted the seed of disenchantment with our traditional system. It also showed a lack of understanding of him as a student who very simply, “needed more.”
  • faculty are more used to working with students who do not “fit” in the traditional “box”. As a parent, this is huge!  Although individuality and individual academic needs are said to be valued in traditional systems, problems exist in conveying that value to the students who are sometimes denied what they need (see above).  This applies to learning styles as well.  There is more flexibility with a virtual system to allow the students to learn the way that is best for them.
  • more time to pursue outside interests. Since the gifted student might be able to progress through curriculum at a faster pace, more time is left for “serious” hobbies! These could include music, sports, art, or any number of other things. A great deal of the newly found, extra time that became available once the virtual education was underway for our student was spent on extending his musical abilities.  Gifted students may be extremely passionate about a talent they possess and the flexibility in scheduling allows them to follow or enrich that passion.

All in all, I believe there were about nine reasons my son came up with for wanting to finish high school via a virtual platform. Is it for everyone? No. Is it for all gifted students? Definitely, not! One has to consider the pros and cons for each individual situation and student.  It might not work for all students. But, it worked for us and increasingly is working for other students who need options.

But, when I look back on this now, I think the stage was set with an early history of virtual course enrollment. Aleks Online was used to take geometry the summer between 7th and 8th grade. Additionally, health was taken online via the K12 platform the summer before 9th grade.  After a struggle to “get what he felt he needed” during the first two years of high school – which did include AP Calculus AB, Calc II at a university,  AP – US History, and a trip to the National competition for National History Day in Washington D.C.,  the decision was made to exit the traditional classroom and complete high school, virtually.  As parents did we worry about this? Absolutely! Did we investigate what it would do to his options for college? Absolutely. (And, the answer to that is that it did not make any difference at all – as long as the virtual program is accredited). Did it turn out alright? Absolutely! Was it the right decision? I would say, yes, without any doubts!

There are many reasons students (and parents) become disenchanted with our educational systems today.  And, possibly, even more reasons for the gifted student to be disenchanted. For all these reasons, and others not mentioned that might exist – like social issues – virtual education is a viable option for the gifted student today.











The Downside of Distance Learning

The Downside of Distance Learning

Distance Learning. This term has come to mean a lot of different things, but to me it means learning from an institution or teacher from a distance – one that is not local to where you are but someplace, some distance away. I have experience with distance learning, both personally and with two of my boys, during their high school experiences.

Much of our experience, in fact almost all of it, has been positive. But, there are a few downsides, one of which has been occurring with me since last weekend.  I am having computer issues! Currently, I am enrolled in a graduate program about two and a half hours away from where I live. The entire degree, a Master’s of Science in Environmental Education and Interpretation, is online. I am just over half way finished.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of self-directedness involved in taking an online course. The communication patterns are different that being in a physical classroom. I know this is a stumbling block for some considering virtual education, but for me, it has worked out fine. I tend to be a very organized person, keeping track of when discussion posts are due (which replace classroom discussions), on top of all assignments, papers, and tests.

Yet, this past Saturday, I was thrown off track. I could not connect to my course pages! After several hours of trying, I contacted the help desk at the university. In the past, on the rare occasion that I have had to call them, they have been very helpful. Apparently, there was some WiFi problem going on effecting conductivity on campus. My weekly paper was not due until Sunday afternoon. Knowing I could work on this offline, it did not concern me. But, Sunday came, I finished my paper and found that I still could not connect!

What to do?

Well, about an hour before the paper’s final deadline, I emailed the professor and explained I was having computer connection issues. Proactively, I told her I would attach my paper to the email, so as to prove I had finished it in the required timeframe. She emailed back, stating that it was not a big deal, and I could post to the second discussion forum (which was also due) as soon as I had a connection, even if I missed the deadline. I appreciated her flexibility.

Yet, here it is Thursday. Two more discussion posts were due by 10pm last evening. I still had no computer connection to school. Now, all during this week, I had kept trying various ways to connect. Nothing from home worked, even after I involved my very tech savvy senior high school student. Calls to the help desk were made each day from Saturday through Tuesday. Tuesday, since I had online readings to do for this coming week of class, I went to a local restaurant/coffee shop with free wi-fi and was able to connect to the university with out a problem. Two afternoons were spent in our public library, using their computer to access my course pages. Our library is brand new, so my problem served a purpose in getting me there. It is beautiful and I enjoyed my time, so it might become a new place of study for me when I need to get out of the house during the dreary winter days to come.  Finally, yesterday, from home I emailed the help desk at the university, with a detailed list of what I have tried, and the difficulties I continue to experience.

Hopefully, today, something will happen to resolve this issue with getting on my university course pages. It is taking extra time to run around to get a connection, download materials and/or discussion questions, and upload my answers. Luckily, we do not have a paper due for ten days. During this time we are supposed to be working on a project, instead. That I can do. But, I am getting frustrated with the situation. Can you tell?

Placeholder ImageMaybe, today will be the day it gets resolved! If not, I will be contacting tech support again.  Not having adequate computer connections to complete distance learning, definitely presents a downside to learning this way.


Life Long Learning

Life Long Learning

There is no doubt that I am a life long learner! In the midst of obtaining a second master’s degree, twenty-five years after my first in an arguably different discipline, very few could accuse me of not being committed to learning and growing through my life thus far. Taking graduate courses during the school year, and the summer – as I am doing now, is being done because I want to do it. I see value in it. My aim was to give myself some legitimate authority as I began speaking at local, state, and even international conferences on interdisciplinary learning and gardening with children two years ago. It is a topic I know well, both in theory and practical experience, but there is always room to learn more – especially when it might help to give me credibility. But, the plain and simple truth is that I love learning, being a student, and being in school!  I think I love it almost as much as I love teaching.

It has been interesting, however, to notice some things about myself – some “student qualities” that I do not think I ever took the time to reflect upon during my two previous degrees. For example, as a middle-aged learner, I was somewhat reluctant to engage in a distance learning curriculum. But, that is – in fact, what I have done. All my classes are online. I enjoy being able to write what I want to say, whereas in person, I am much more timid.  The technology rarely throws me a curve, and when it does, I have two able adolescent boys to assist me in figuring out where I have gone wrong. I can scan, upload, use zip files, find my grades, and post to a discussion forum as well as the most able twenty year old college student! Having taken typing wayyyyyy back in high school, I also am an exceptionally fast typist. This has the extra bonus of avoiding those hand cramps that I get now that I am older and have to write long passages manually.

Motivation and drive are two characteristics that I have never been in short supply of having as a student.  It remains the same today. I strive to do well, learn the material, and be an engaged student. Much to the dismay of those who hold a popular educational philosophical belief, I am motivated by grades. True! I want the A/A+ and am willing to work hard to get it! And, it does not even matter – I am not in competition with anyone, do not have a class rank, or GPA that will count toward some unknown future college critique – I still want the A.

The other very interesting thing that I have learned is something I have always known but has been augmented in my most recent class, the class I am taking now.  This knowledge is that I am a very literal learner. I actually need to read and take notes to learn material. This is okay. I have the skills to do so. These skills include things like outlining from a text or journal article as one reads. Skills that I am not sure are being taught anymore or hold importance with today’s educators. The dependence on my style of learning was highlighted when I had to complete my first computer lab for an advanced interpretive media class I am taking now.  Essentially, this class is a graphic design course. A tutorial “packet” was  assigned to guide us through Photoshop and Indesign software. I completed each packet, taking my time. And each time, when I went to do the assignment I was somewhat lost as to what to do!  I had to look back at the packet of instructions! It dawned on me that the reason for this is because I am not learning by using my usual “style”.  It has made things a little more difficult for the class, but not impossible.

I then reflected on conversations I have had with my son who just completed his junior year of high school.   He has learned, at a very early age, that he does not learn like most students.  Most times, he has to adjust to the instructor’s teaching style. He is not a literal learner at all. While most times this is not a bad thing, and it is certainly preparing him for college classes, it has made his learning more difficult on occasion. He has had to adjust while learning, and the adjustments are sometimes just a stab in the dark.

Oh! Now, I can relate!

What does this mean for us as educators? I think it means several things. One is that we need to make sure our students are learning how to learn. There are many resources out there to help students determine what type of learning style they prefer. Likewise, there are many resources and theoretical foundations that tell us we MUST teach using many different styles (or models) if we are to adequately reach all of our students. Think about how you teach, and now, think about how you might teach the same content in a different way to enhance the possibility of reaching more learners! If learning is a positive experience, more students will go on to be life long learners well after they need to “earn” a grade.