Monday, May 31, 2010

Your Kids Will Beg to Play BrainPop!

By Jenny Williams

To me, learning is almost always fun. I never want to stop learning, and am always seeking out new things to try and new bits of information to know. I remember this not quite being the case when I was a child, however, and the same is true for most kids. School wasn’t always fun, even when the teacher tried to make it so. Some subjects can be dry, but a fun experience with a dry subject can keep you motivated to learn.

Regardless of whether you homeschool, like we do, or send your child to a public, private or charter school, there is always room for additional fun learning opportunities. Nature walks, museum trips, hands-on activities and countless other options are available to you. There are also many sites on the internet you can use in your child’s education, or they can supplement what the kids get at school. Some of these sites are excellent, but some are not so excellent. It’s often hard to tell the difference.

One site that I discovered many months ago is BrainPop. The main site is geared toward grades 3 and up, but it is part of a family of sites which also includes BrainPop Jr, for grades K-3, and BrainPop Español, seemingly for all ages. Separately, there is also BrainPop UK for grades 3-9, for those across the pond. While all these are pay sites, they all have some videos you can watch for free, and there are different levels of subscriptions. I’ve discovered that they are well worth the subscription price, however. They are full of information and my kids have really enjoyed them. While none of these sites is a comprehensive curriculum for school, they supplement and add on to schooling very well. Subjects range from reading and math to holidays and civic responsibility. The folks at BrainPop are always putting up new videos, sometimes at the same time as national holidays or special months, so even if you’ve subscribed in the past, there will always be something new.

BrainPop Jr

Since my kids are included in the BrainPop Jr age group, we have spent most of our time there. They currently have about 120 videos which are divided up into six categories: science, writing, social studies, health, reading and math. Each video page consists of a video with Moby, a beeping robot, and Annie, a very sweet girl. Annie’s voice is very gentle, and she comes off as both knowledgeable and friendly. After you’ve watched the video on either regular mode or full-screen, there is a huge number of other things to do.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Online schooling pays off in grades, college scholarship

By Kenya Woodard

PALM COAST -- Stephanie Bettis, 18, has never passed a note in class, eaten lunch with friends in the cafeteria or listened to a teacher lecture.

For Bettis, the classroom is wherever her laptop is located.

Bettis, a senior, has been home-schooled for much of her education. Her father's job as a business consultant kept the family on the move. The Bettises permanently settled in Bunnell in 1997.

As Bettis' freshman year approached, however, her parents gave her the option to attend Flagler Palm Coast High School. By now, Bettis was comfortable learning at home and she turned down the offer in favor of continuing her education via the Internet.

And so, for the last four years, Bettis' classroom has been wherever her laptop is located.

Before the start of each school year, Bettis said she considered enrolling at Flagler Palm Coast because she craved more socialization with her peers.

But a fear that the traditional school setting would distract her from her studies kept her at home, she said.

Bettis said she believes the decision to study on her own and miss out on attending prom and cheering on the team at homecoming games paid off.

On Friday, she will "graduate" with a 4.0 GPA from Florida Virtual School.

The future marine biologist scored an 1800 on her SATs (out of a perfect 2400) and is headed to Stetson University, which gave her a full-tuition scholarship, she said. Bettis said she has no regrets about missing out on the highs and lows of a traditional high school experience.

"It's been really cool," she said.

Bettis isn't alone in her decision to pursue her education online. A 2006 report by the North American Council for Online Learning found that virtual education enrollment in grades K-12 is expected to increase an estimated 30 percent annually.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Distance Learning or Bricks & Mortar?

Distance learning philanthropist Gerhard Andlinger donated $100 million for the Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. Princeton just announced that construction will begin in 2012. A quick look at his bio reveals that the Austrian-born teenager first came to this country as the winner of an essay contest, studied economics and (prophetically) Arabic at Princeton, earned a Harvard MBA, and had an obviously profitable career that included stints with ITT plus his own leveraged buyout firm.

Andlinger must believe in distance learning because he endowed a professorship in distance learning at Cornell's medical school, officially known as the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Yet at Princeton he donated for bricks and mortar. When you think about it, that's no conflict. Medicine lends itself to distance learning. Energy research does not. One of the buildings designed by Tod Williams for the Andlinger Center will be built on bedrock three stories below ground to reduce vibrations.

My house is just blocks away from the proposed construction site, where the vibrations from the excavations will rival those from the rock bands at the dining clubs, just yards away on Prospect Street. Their thump thump thump echoes in my house behind closed doors. But though I'm not looking forward to the excavation, I have to admit the Andlinger complex will be beautiful.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Three Game Changing Tools That Will Transform Education

By James Andrews

I'm blessed with the opportunity to send my children to a private school that uses both the community and many of the creative and technological tools possible to educate. There is no resource they are not afraid to use and I love them for it. I've seen them ask a parent with DJ skills to teach music curation or deploy an Iranian Grandparent to further explore the conflict in that region. The school my children attend has everything they need to be successful through leadership that thinks beyond limits or boundaries. This spirit transfers to our own home where my wife and I utilize a "surround sound" digital approach to compliment what my kids receive during the school day..

With this as a backdrop I am constantly thinking about non-traditional tools that I believe will have a significant impact on the future of education. Much like my own kids' school, I think about how to educate my children outside of the four traditional walls of a classroom. What's cool is that there's some great technology out there that allows for an expansion of the four walls of a traditional classroom. Here are three tools to consider:

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