Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Enrichment Based Summer School Work Morphs into AP Course Prep

Yesterday was August fifth! I honestly do not know where this summer has gone!  In the past, during most summers, I kept my boys busy with enrichment exercises to prevent what is commonly known as the summer slide. When they were younger this meant involvement in the library reading program, tracking all the books they read over the summer and working on comprehension strategies. It also meant travel journals, extra math problems, and some work on grammar and conventions, playing Geo-Bee, and reading up on some history as we visited places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Colorado, and Niagara Falls.  In fact, only a few short years ago my boys were writing letters and/or post cards to their grandparents and cousins several times during the summer. These were written as much to stay in contact as they were to practice writing skills.

Some years, even as recently as last year, courses were taken. The courses taken over the summer months at our house have been primarily math related. There was a Math Counts Prep Course and Pre-calculus through Johns Hopkins. And, a very long time ago, Geometry through an online platform called Aleks, as well as Health via K12. This was in addition to experiences with the Rosetta Stone software, 3D printer software, CNC machine software, raspberry pi, a drone and some other miscellaneous online courses. My oldest even took a few language courses through Corsera.

One thing is for sure, we are a family that likes to learn! My husband can often be found listening to continuing education online or laughing through a tutorial on the restoration of old trucks on YouTube. And, as for myself, the fact that the end of my coursework for a second master’s degree is nearing, tells it all. I can be found reading, writing papers, developing curriculum, and occasionally complaining about it. But, deep down, I love it!

This is the first summer I can remember when someone was not off at camp or taking an online course.  Three summers were spent at engineering camps. Two through Michigan Tech University and one through the University Wisconsin at Platteville.  Neither University won over my son’s choice to attend as instead he will proceed into the engineering program in yet another state later this month. Regardless, they were both great learning experiences! Last summer my engineering camper was chosen to attend Badger Boys Camp which is a leadership camp in our state.  It also was a great experience in which he was honored to take part. He enjoyed running for an elected office, as he went for the brass ring of  being selected as governor. And, although he did not win, there was much merit in the experience. In the more distant past, there was a year of music camp attended by musicians who were selected through auditions to be part of an elite state honors band in Wisconsin. Summer learning took place through all these camp experiences as well.

And, once our district began to offer enrichment for TAG students at the middle school level during the summer a few years ago, my youngest was a reluctant participant. But, I felt it was nice to see something offered for students that was not just remediation. There is a small proportion of students who are engaged in learning all year and something should be offered that is interesting for them as well. Don’t you agree?! Learning without the pressure of grades or credits can re-motivate and re-introduce students to the joy of learning. I’ve seen this time and time again.

But, here we are nearing the end of summer already and instead of summer enrichment coursework being over for the students in my house, it is just beginning.  Several AP classes at our high school come with pre-school year prep work. While some families and even teachers might take issue with this, I do not. I really cannot differentiate from what I asked my students to do over the summer months and these packets of prep work for their upcoming AP classes at the high school this school year. The work will slowly get them back into the groove of studying before actually sitting in the class. It will re-waken their foggy summer brains that have been solely focused on soccer balls, art projects, and get together’s with friends. I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, my youngest, who is starting his AP prep work for Chemistry once told me he’d prefer year round school. Surely, that is a topic for another post, but I can relate. Learning never really stops, not for summer and not for aging. If the teachers want to ask the students do some summer prep work, it’s alright by me – after all, it is exactly what I’ve asked of them myself since they were small.

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.


My Days as Principal

My Days as Principal

Of course, this is facetious, for I am not a principal or even a teacher for that matter, but there have been times in recent years I have had to act as one. Recent duties have brought this forward in my mind once again.

Yesterday, I had to assist my youngest son on turning in his summer course mid-term. It is an online course and so far, the homework and unit tests have all been online with results being recorded as he checks an appropriate (or not appropriate, as the case might be) multiple choice answer box.  His midterm was different. He had ten multiple choice answers and then 10 short answer questions with multiple parts. All work was to be shown and then uploaded to the appropriate drop box on the course page. Since I have experience in online learning though my own graduate work and my oldest son completing high school through a virtual setting (no – this was not a move to charter school but to an online school from another public school district within our own state), I was more than able to assist him in the submission of his test.

But, platforms are different. Although there was nothing odd or difficult about this platform – working much like Blackboard, D2L, or Drop Box, we did have to scan his work (all fifteen pages of it) twice because we forgot to sign the code of conduct to show we had adhered to the exam policies, which added two additional pages to the pdf file that had already been uploaded to the computer, saved under a new file name, and ready to be uploaded to the site.  I could see that the extra few minutes to repeat these steps added to my fifteen year old’s stress. However, we were done with an hour to spare before the “clock” ran out of time given to complete the mid-term (48 hours). It was a closed book exam, and yes, we adhered to that and all the other course/exam policies.

So, in this situation, I was test proctor. I also was a course guide in that I was showing him how to perform the tasks that are part of online education (scanning, uploading, and  organizing files all with maintaining integrity). Is that not part of what principals do? They might show a fellow educator the “way” of doing, be it content or behavior management, all while maintaining and expecting integrity of themselves and their staff.   In essence, setting the tone and showing the way for their staff and students. Principals should be knowledgable, have vast experience both inside and outside of the classroom, be able to trouble-shoot, and be approachable. They should garner the respect of their staff and students not only because of their title but also because of their actions. They should possess and encourage integrity. I have been lucky to witness some fine examples of leadership from which I can draw from when I need to “act as principal” for a day or even for a couple of years!


When it comes time to submit his final exam, at the end of summer,  I will ask my son if he remembers how to scan, upload, and attach the files to the proper place in the course. This is part of an evaluative process. Principals do this all the time, do they not? Unbeknownst to him, he is gaining skills that will be useful in the future, not only as a result of learning the content in the course, but also in knowing how an online course works. What will he remember about what he was shown? Only time will tell.

Did you know that more and more colleges are offering supplemental education through online courses? And, some offer the courses for free? It is true.  Many institutions are now are offering open courseware opportunities. My 17-year-old who is adept at computer assisted design, 3-D printing, and using a CNC machine (all self-taught) is looking to learn a new computer coding language. I suggested he look at open courseware. There is plenty from which to choose. I am sure he will find something that will meet his needs.

I have realized that my posts have gotten away from my tag-line of student enrichment but truly part of my own students’ enrichment has been from what I have encouraged them to do as their mom. Learning no longer takes place only in a brick and mortar building. Those days are gone. If we truly want to encourage and inspire life long learners, we must encourage our students to stretch themselves. And sometimes, that means stretching ourselves, as well. I do not think I would be a great principal on a daily basis but to act as one for a day – to make sure my own student has integrity, knows how to submit his exam, and is back at the desk learning a new unit today – I know I can do it once in a while. So can you.

Look for new learning experiences and/or platforms for your students. Help them to learn outside of school. They do not even have to know you are their principal! We will keep that part just between us!