Saturday, March 24, 2018

So...What's Online School Like?

Lindsey and her dad configuring her new laptop for online school (Nov 2017).
When people hear that Lindsey is going to an online high school, their first question is invariably, "What's it like?"

It is really, really cool. And challenging. And not lonely.

From an academic standpoint, because there isn't class time where students are expected to work on practice examples or projects, there is a lot of written work. For all of her classes, Lindsey needs to turn in a portfolio of sample work, showing that she has grasped whatever concept is being taught, be it sample math problems, writing samples, a short essay proving understanding of a historical event.

She has lots of online quizzes, some only as much as 3 questions, to test students' understanding of a concept. She takes great satisfaction in taking those quizzes, clicking "Submit" and then seeing her score instantly. She can see which ones she got wrong and what the right answer would have been, which, of course, bothers her greatly so she always looks it up to see why she got it wrong.

She has live lessons, usually one or two per day, where she needs to be logged in at a specific time for a lesson. It works a lot like a webinar, where the teacher often has a presentation up on the screen, and all the students can respond via a live chat. The teacher will have her audio turned on and all the students muted. This is the most entertaining part of her education.

Lindsey usually loves these live lessons, because she enjoys the interaction between students and the teacher. After a lesson she'll say something like, "Ben interrupts a lot," or "Alison is really chatty, she is constantly talking." Some of the kids in the class are on Snapchat together, and they'll snap to each other during the class, which is the online equivalent of passing notes. Lindsey only knows this because they'll accidentally comment on the live lesson chat about what the other person sent them (the equivalent of dropping the note between desks).

For Spanish class, she has to record herself speaking Spanish vocabulary and submit that recording to the teacher and it is graded on her fluency. In the live lessons they spend time learning about the culture of various Hispanic countries. For one live lesson, the teacher did a live stream of herself making churros in her kitchen, and during the cooking lesson they talked about the cuisine of various countries. Lindsey was really craving a snack after that one.

During one memorable math lesson, the teacher had asked students what the next step was in solving a quadratic equation. Lindsey started typing, then backspaced, then started typing, backspaced, and so on. In the meantime, on the chat screen everyone can see "Lindsey is typing..." for a pretty long time. Finally the teacher said, "I get the impression Lindsey is trying to say something." Lindsey finally hit "enter" on her answer and posted it. She got a few LOLs from other classmates for that one.

Her school has tons of clubs, of which she's not yet gotten involved. They have debate, Photography Club (which she wants to join eventually), Science Club, Musical Club and many others. They have field trips that are all over the state, and the high schoolers have a prom in a city centrally located in the state. Lindsey is considering going.

How you often find Lindsey working: on the couch with the dog on her lap.
Here's the cool thing about this: I suspect that there are many special education students in her classes and they are no different from anyone else. I am seeing that most of the students in her school live in small towns in outstate Minnesota. I suspect these are students for which their local public high school could not make accommodations for them, and their next best solution was online school.

Students are not judged for their appearance or their fashion. If they have difficulty speaking no one knows it, and students are more than capable of expressing themselves through the typed word. No one needs special accommodations for equipment, wheelchairs, tube feedings, etc. because those things happen off line. I can imagine that for some kids, an online education is ideal.

Lindsey is staying connected to her friends from Minneapolis schools on weekends, meeting for lunches and coffees, going to movies together and hanging out. Through her friends we are learning of more budget cuts at the public school, messy class schedules and overcrowded classrooms. It makes me sad to hear of the state of our local high school. I know we made the right decision to search out another education option for her.

Friday, March 02, 2018

What I've Learned in 2018 (So Far)

It's been nearly two months since I hung up my corporate hat and put my parent hat on full time. What have I learned about life so far?

I've learned that my children are complicated people. I've listened to more stories of lunch time comedy and recess shenanigans in the past 2 months than I've heard in the past 5 years. Our girls have ideas, dreams, imaginations so strong, and random thoughts that are unlike anyone else's. It is truly a gift to be able to spend as much time with them as I am.
Marissa's best 80's ponytail.
Which she found hilarious.

Lindsey's favorite pasttime: reading voraciously with Beauty beside her.
My daughter's requests for a "big breakfast" on Sunday mornings is more-often-than-not met with a "yes" instead of a "no." Our version of a "big breakfast" is bacon, pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, all homemade, of course. It takes so little to make her happy, why would I not when I have the time and the energy?

Delicious gluten-free pancakes, after tweaking the recipe for two months.

I've seen that anxiety is a mangy beast that has one of my kids in its maw tightly, more tightly than I realized. After two months I feel like, perhaps, we are starting on a path to lightness. But no, I won't say that yet, maybe it's just another good spell that will be broken by another awful terrible no-good very bad day. And so I will continue to question, to pester, and to be there for her.

I've learned that I need the gratification of actually seeing things get clean when I clean them. This means there is no sweeping of floors once a week "just because," or dusting of mantels before they collect dust. I want to see that dust FLY, man, so it needs to accumulate good before I get after it.

And I've learned that my husband, the ultimate neat-nick, doesn't mind (or at least knows not to say it if he does) if the house isn't quite up to his standards. He is a more relaxed person for not having to do laundry on weekends and wash dishes every night. Not that I wash dishes every night either — we just leave them until the next morning because time together is precious and I'll have time in the morning to do them when everyone's gone off to work and school.

We've all learned that we used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on take-out food. I never quite understood before how our family could spend so much on "dining out," yet we never went to a restaurant. Bringing home "dinner in a bag" from Chipotle one night and Noodles & Co the next, and now I get where that money was going. That money is no longer flying out the door, and suddenly we can actually go out as a family to a sit-down restaurant every once in a while, despite my lack of income.

I have time to reflect and write, take photographs and exercise, all of which makes me a better person, more patient and confident at the same time. We are a better family for the change, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Hey Alexa, Stop My Scattering Thoughts"

This past September our family got the Amazon Echo Dot. Two of them, to be exact.

This is the device that you activate by saying "Alexa," and then asking any number of questions. She most often tells us the time or the weather.

In the morning the girls and I will play the song quiz, where Alexa plays a few seconds of songs from various eras and players take turns guessing the artist and title.

Our favorite Alexa skill is the shopping list. The minute I realize I'm out of something, I tell Alexa to put it on my shopping list. By the time I go grocery shopping, the list is already built of everything the family needs.

Which brought me to an interesting thought, among my scattered thoughts.

I was sitting in my kitchen working on a project, when I suddenly remembered that I had opened the last gallon of milk that morning. "Alexa, put milk on my shopping list," I called out, and she dutifully did so.

A song came on in the kitchen and I told Alexa to skip it. The next song was rather loud, so I told Alexa to turn down the volume. A few minutes later, I thought about taking the dog for a walk and asked Alexa what the weather was like.

I found myself calling out to Alexa every few minutes, taking care of the random thoughts that flitted through my brain.

Which brings me to this question: are my thoughts scattered because of Alexa, or is it just more obvious because I interact with a device whenever my thoughts scatter?

Many of us struggle with focus and concentration, especially those of us responsible for family activities, stocking a household, appointments and work obligations. Are these devices helping or hurting?

After my experience working on this project at home, I feel like Alexa helped me. A random thought would come across my brain, I had Alexa take care of it and I could go back to my project. Normally I would be telling myself to remember to put "milk" on a list later on, and that thought would never leave my brain until it was taken care of.

Our family started with just two Alexa devices, we are now up to four. If I'm ever in a place where I can't just take care of something by telling Alexa to do something, I get annoyed. "Great, now I have to remember this until I get home and ask Alexa," I'll grumble in my car.

Are our brains moving forward or backward?