Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Microschools: A Mix of the Benefits of Public School and Homeschool


We know that during the years of Covid, alternatives to in-person schooling grew because they had to. Since the reopening of schools post-Covid, many parents have decided to continue homeschooling, rather than sending their children back to large school classes. Another alternative, microschools, has also secured its place in the education landscape.


What is a microschool? Sometimes referred to as “outsourced homeschooling” or as a “modern version of the one-room schoolhouse,” and similar to “learning pods” created during Covid, each microschool will look a little different. It involves a small group of students (usually ranging from 12-120 students total), a school coordinator (often an education professional, but sometimes a parent), teachers, and a student-centric curriculum. The classes are often mixed-age, allowing older students to learn more thoroughly by mentoring and tutoring younger students. Teachers are often called “coaches” or “facilitators,” not teaching the students (lecturing) as much as encouraging the students to learn in whatever style works best for them. The curriculum is often a combination of online learning and face-to-face project-based and experiential learning (hands-on activities).


How are microschools funded? Microschools are private entities, usually funded by curriculum fees. Some states do provide public funding to qualifying microschools. Utah, for example, has recently decided to give up to $8,000/student in scholarships to low-income families whose children attend microschools that have registered as a business and meet all applicable zoning requirements (e.g., not located next to a liquor store).


What are the benefits of microschools? Microschools do not need to satisfy public school curriculum requirements in most cases, especially if they choose not to pursue accreditation. The lesson plans can be designed with the students’ needs and interests in mind. This has both emotional and cognitive benefits. Students build self-confidence and practice soft skills (communication, conflict resolution) as a side effect of a more personalized education experience. Students are more engaged in their learning because of small class sizes and varied curricular approaches. Parents can be much more involved in their children’s education, if they wish. Like students who have been homeschooled (also an unaccredited educational option), the graduates of microschools can qualify for college and university via standardized testing and the qualitative reviews of higher education institutions.



I wish microschools had been “a thing” when my son was in middle and high school. We did find an alternative school that served him well because it had small classes focused on experiential learning, but a microschool might have been a good option too. It will be interesting to see how this type of schooling sustains and develops over time.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Could a Robot Be Your Child’s Next Best Friend? Meet Moxie.


There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the public arena lately about the evils and dangers to our children of social media and time spent with electronic devices. And there’s a lot of validity to those concerns. Reportedly, children’s mental health is in decline, with more and more children reporting feelings of anxiety and depression all the time.


So, I was tickled to learn about an AI robot for children that promotes positive learning outcomes by focusing on emotional learning.


The newly-introduced Moxie robot uses play-based conversational activities to support age-appropriate learning for kids ages 5-10. It’s self-described as a “tutor, mentor, friend.” It uses play-based learning to help children regulate emotions, build self-confidence, communicate clearly, develop positive relationships, think creatively, and problem solve. For just one example, watch this video in which Moxie teaches a child about affirmations (positive statements to oneself to build self-confidence and self-motivation).


Moxie is expensive, thus will not be a possibility for every family. And user reviews of the robot are mixed, with some parents extremely appreciative of the device’s emotional skill-building capacity, and others complaining that the device’s AI appears simplistic. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the focus on emotional health in the kids’ robot space.


This is not a plug for Moxie. It’s just new and seems different from the rest. The other robots for kids I’m familiar with focus on substantive learning, helping kids learn discrete facts and concrete skills (such as coding). Here and here are listings of some other robots specifically designed for kids.

Monday, January 29, 2024

How to Pay for College

Not by loans and not by income sharing!  Although these are today’s common ways of financing higher education.  They are legal exploitation of the less endowed citizens.

In a civilized society, education, in any form, should be a legal right of every subject, and paid for by the government (or the society as a whole).  In many countries this is already the case for elementary school, to learn spelling and arithmetic.  If this makes sense, then logic demands that any further learning should also be paid for by the State, for it’s in the public interest to have a well educated populace, to the maximum possible.

That means that the population needs to vote to increase taxation or otherwise raise the funds to finance more education.  It’s because of this lack of initiative and consensus that today’s conditions exist.  Therefore, politicians and taxpayers, please get your act together and make education a national priority, financing it properly, as you’ve done for elementary school already.

This doesn’t mean pumping money into high cost and for-profit institutions.  Of course whatever “free” education must be provided in a frugal yet highly effective format.  In my humble opinion, ONLINE is the answer here.  At least, I’m sure, 90% or more of the learning CAN be done ONLINE.

It may take some time until progressive nations will come to that status.  So, in the meantime, there are many ways of how whatever education can be obtained at minimal or no cost at all.  Most of that is ONLINE and which we’ve been highlighting in our blog since years.

That raises another issue though, i.e. the question of the reputation or perceived prestige of the college one is going to attend.  From my experience, though, that issue is highly overrated.  If we check the list of success stories, in business (examples: Walt Disney, Ted Turner = founder of CNN) and government (examples: Winston Churchill, Harry Truman), we’ll find that many did NOT graduate from a prestige college, yet got their education through very ordinary institutions, if not through hard knocks in an ordinary life.

The truth is that education need not be obtained through name schools, but can be obtained in many other ways as well, maybe in many ways even better.

And again, in today’s world, ONLINE is one great avenue therefor.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Happy New Year 2024!


I’m taking a little break from researching and writing blog posts to celebrate the December holidays and the New Year. Hope you have been doing the same (enjoying quality time with family and friends).


Here’s a few highlights from 2023 if you’re looking for something to read:

·      100 Best E-Learning Blogs and Websites

·      7 of the Top Influential Education Blogs to Read in 2023

·      40 Best Online Learning Websites in 2023

·      The 10 Best Online Learning Blogs for Education in 2023

·      11 Incredible eLearning Blogs to be Thankful For



I’d love to hear what online education topics you, our readers, are interested in learning more about.  Email me your suggestions here, and we’ll see what we can do.


Happy New Year!



Thursday, November 30, 2023

AI Controversies Increase Appetite for Computer Science Education

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the topic of the day. Previous blog posts have explored the benefits and challenges of chatbot AI (ChatGPT) in higher education. ChatGPT has been in the news again recently with the drama surrounding the firing and re-hiring of its founder, Sam Altman. A health insurance company has been sued by surviving family members for allegedly denying necessary medical care based on faulty AI algorithms, contrary to doctors’ medical advice. Recent negotiations with the Autoworkers Union and the Actors Union have centered on the impacts of AI on union members’ jobs.


So, it’s not surprising that more and more college students want to major in computer science, with a specific focus on AI. The number of graduates from the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School (their school for computer science) doubled in the past 5 years and tripled in the past 10 years. At other schools in the state of Washington, students in the computer science programs have tripled and quadrupled in the past 10 years.


Student interest in computer science is so high, in fact, that it’s overwhelming colleges’ ability to provide the desired education. At the University of Michigan, there is a separate application process for the computer science major, designed to limit the number of students in the program. The University of Maryland requires a minimum grade in the introductory computer science courses, and a minimum GPA overall, before a student can be accepted as a computer science major. At Columbia University, computer science majors no longer have to select a specialty within the program (like AI or software development), resulting in a reduction of overall class sizes and a more interdisciplinary student body.


Institutions of higher learning are not the only source of AI-related coursework. Amazon, the company, has a new AI Ready Initiative to provide free AI skills training to 2 million people around the world over the next two years (by 2025). The initiative includes new free AI and generative AI courses, and scholarships for 50,000+ high school and college students. These new courses supplement an existing curriculum of 80+ free and low-cost courses about AI and generative AI.


And if you want a little help filling out your application to get into the computer sciences and engineering program at the University of Washington, a student has developed a website outlining the rubric that the UW admissions staff use to evaluate applications. Should help you write an essay that focuses on what the college wants to hear?

Friday, October 27, 2023

Home Schooling Remains Popular Post-Pandemic

When schools were shut down during the height of the Covid pandemic, students’ learning went virtual. Most students logged onto classes hosted by the schools they attended pre-pandemic, and have since returned to the in-person classroom at their traditional schools. Some students/families, however, opted to switch education gears and embraced home schooling – a learning environment which does not usually include a traditional in-person classroom. Many of those students/families continue to practice home schooling.


As reported by the Washington Post, a recent poll “suggest[s] that American home schooling is evolving from a movement into a practice — no longer driven by shared ideology and political goals but by circumstances specific to individual families.” Some families avoid traditional schools out of fear (health fears about continued exposure to covid and other illnesses), safety fears (related to school shootings and bullying), or moral fears (related to the content of public school education).


But other families value the flexibility that home schooling provides, allowing a better mix of book learning, experiential learning and extracurricular activities. Home schooling also often better addresses the needs of students with special needs or learning disabilities. Not unlike the post-pandemic “work from home” movement, it’s all about creating a life that maximizes the value of the time you devote to each task.


Home schooling is also starting to look different than it did in the past. The pre-pandemic model usually involved a parent staying home to deliver the instruction him/herself or facilitating the students’ learning via online classes. Post-pandemic, plenty of families continue to follow that labor-intensive model. But for other families who want the benefits of home schooling but don’t want to be the teacher/facilitator, a marketplace is developing to coordinate the learning environment without actually being a “school.”


Another Washington Post article cites several options: A micro-school, where students are dropped off for the day and a “guide” (not a teacher) coordinates the students’ access to online lessons. Hybrid schools allow students to spend some of the day interacting with other students, and some of the day learning alone at home. Co-ops draw on the relative talents of member parents to cover all the academic disciplines.


It will be interesting to see what the future of home schooling holds.

Monday, September 25, 2023

NASA Launching New Website, Streaming Service and App


In a July 27 media advisory, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the upgrading of its www.nasa.gov and www.science.nasa.gov websites, with future launch of an on-demand streaming service (NASA+) and an upgraded NASA app to enable all people to access their world-class web content from any device.


You can watch a short video of the new website here. NASA encourages users to visit the beta website and provide feedback for improvement. My short visit to the beta website was very interesting. There was plenty of information about NASA activities (NASA News, NASA Newsletter, image of the day). There were collections on specific topics: Earth Information Center (satellite observations of earth), humans in space, earth and climate, solar system exploration, welcome to the universe. And perhaps most fascinating, there was NASA TV, providing live coverage of various NASA missions. Find the schedule of NASA TV daily programming here.


The upcoming NASA+ on-demand streaming platform will be family-friendly, free-of-charge and ad-free. It will include existing videos and some new series, all focused on NASA missions past and future. NASA says they will be “putting space on demand and at your fingertips.” NASA+ will be available through the NASA app on most phones, streaming media players (e.g., Roku, AppleTV, FireTV) and through the web on laptop and desktop computers.