Open enrollment, online schools alter education landscape

With the exploding popularity of distance education, it’s become more important than ever to remember that not all students are created equally. Some prefer fully online courses, while other prefer a blend of the two. Still others prefer only on-ground courses. Online education is available for all, and we as educators have the unique challenge of determining how to best-meet the needs of our students.

The Cap Times

October 21, 2010

By contrast, Middleton’s new eSchool, run through the school district with district employees, has been designed from the beginning to be integrated into the rest of Middleton’s public schools rather than operating outside of the district. In this inaugural year, besides the 37 full-time online students, there are also 49 regular Middleton High students who are taking one or two courses electronically.

“Our goal in putting this school together was primarily to serve our own students who were interested for a variety of reasons in taking their classes online,” says Sherri Cyra, Middleton’s director of teaching and learning. “We learned we weren’t providing the kind of education some of our families needed, and we didn’t want to lose them.”

The school offers a customized online curriculum, purchased through several content providers and developed by the Middleton district to reflect student interests and needs. Classes include such subjects as advanced placement art history, advanced game design and marine biology. Students may also participate in some of the non-academic experiences of a bricks and mortar school, including art and music classes at the middle school, or extra-curricular activities like theater or band.

Teachers from the Middleton district are involved in teaching some of the online classes, and, in fact, have developed some of the courses. Next semester, a Middleton teacher and some of her students will explore an extreme version of long-distance online learning: From Australia, she will be teaching a computer programming course that she designed.

For eighth-grader James, online learning has been a blessing. On several recent mornings, he has turned his family’s suburban kitchen into a science lab. Using common household supplies like molasses and cooking oil, he’s doing experiments that teach lessons about density, properties of materials and specific gravity.

“This is the first time he has really enjoyed science,” notes his mother, Chan Strohman.

A shy student who found it hard to speak up in class when he went to a conventional bricks-and-mortar school with other kids, James likes his online academic classes, including math, reading, social studies, language arts and science, all organized around his home computer. His virtual lessons are supplemented with textbooks and workbooks as well as the glass beakers and other tools that allow him to do the kitchen-based science experiments he loves. But the biggest bonus, he says, is being able to enjoy art and music in a noncompetitive atmosphere with kids his age.

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