Two years ago I pulled my son from a STEM charter school. It was a very good school, full of dedicated teachers, the latest technology. Parent/student nights were held often, involving STEM activities engaging families to build roller coasters with pieces of paper, marbles, and tape dispensers; parachutes with tissue paper and yarn. We were extremely happy with the learning that was taking place.
Then the bullying started. My son is below the growth chart for height and weight. He’s always been the smallest in his class and was easy pickings for the class bully. Grades went down, participation went down. Suddenly it didn’t matter what kind of school he was attending, he wasn’t learning anymore.
At the same time, I was in the middle of looking for a full-time teaching position. This was during a recession in our county and not a single district was hiring. Suddenly I had the opportunity to teach my son at home. I would have a classroom of one.
Fast forward to now. To a world filled with Google Classroom, Twitter, numerous educational apps, saving to the cloud. Instagram. YouTube. And what was I using for curriculum? Textbooks, workbooks, worksheets. Canned curriculum. Very well crafted curriculum, but a curriculum that wasn’t going to prepare my son for the future. So I decided to make some changes. I reached out to the YouTube community. I joined Instagram and got a bunch of followers. But all that I learned about were teachers that were still relying on beautiful bulletin boards and SMARTboards as projectors.
Then I found Twitter. Suddenly I understood how to incorporate technology into the classroom. Flipgrid. Seesaw. Google Classroom. All of these called to me. The biggest challenge I faced was how to make these relevant to a classroom of one student. So I started playing around. Flipgrid allowed us to connect with other classes in different parts of the country. Seesaw was perfect for sharing what my son was learning with family members. Google Classroom allowed me to go paperless and be more flexible in my assignments. Now my son could still answer the questions posed by the curriculum about his reading assignments, but I could respond to him and he could expound on his answers before I graded his work.
I’m still working on how to move away from math worksheets. We use videos from Khan Academy to explore subject matter, but the workbook remains. After reading Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook I’m looking into how to remove our science textbook, although the material is above my level of knowledge so at the moment the writers of that particular textbook are safe.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the latest educational technology. It assumes that classrooms consist of more than one student and exist within the four walls of a public school. I cannot sign up for G Suite because I am not an accredited institution. Many software companies price their products based upon classrooms, which could mean a cost per student ratio of a few dollars, whereas I am footing the entire bill for one student, without a purchase order to back me up. To use some of the latest technology could run into the hundreds of dollars and I don’t see any of the tax dollars that I pay that goes into our public school system. So lately I have been advocating for homeschool discounts and pricing and homeschool recognition from many of these companies.
We have to bridge the gap and give homeschool students the same opportunities that public school students have if we are to foster a future of adults with the ability to think creatively and work productively with whatever technology exists at that time. The choice of whether or not to produce digital citizens should not rest on where they do their learning. It should rest on how they do their learning.