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Parents Talk: How Much Learning Should Happen at Home?

The Internet has opened up a world of at-home learning opportunities, but how much should we rely on those when many families still don't have Internet access?

Directors who attend the Minnesota School Boards Association conference are inundated with presentations and ideas, but one idea in particular had the talking: Stillwater’s fifth grade Flipped Math pilot program.

In a normal classroom, students listen to their teachers in the classroom and then practice the skills they learn at home. Classroom instruction is typically aimed at average students, and the teacher isn’t available to help students as they practice the skills they learn at home.

Flipped Math, as its name suggests, turned this on its head. Students viewed the math lessons and took an online quiz at home, and then worked on problems in the classroom, where teachers and classmates are able to help.

Teachers could track students’ progress and see how often students needed to watch the videos before they grasped the content. Students who learned more quickly could work ahead, and those who learned more slowly could watch the videos multiple times or use supplemental resources.

Flipped Math is just one of many innovations bringing learning home. Kahn Academy offers more than 2,700 free instructional videos that have notched 115 million views on YouTube. Budding programmers can take free computer science courses at Udacity.com, founded by a former Stanford professor and head of Google’s self-driving car project. And perhaps most famously, Apple debuted textbooks for its iBooks store that will bring together videos, photos, interactive graphics and study aids. The company saw 350,000 downloads in the first three days.

All these tools are without a doubt both cool and useful—and they’re not just for children. While driving around recently, I’ve been listening to Stanford’s International System in the 20th Century—one of many free courses offered through iTunes U.

But cool and useful doesn’t matter much for those who don’t have access to these tools. Only about 57 percent of Minnesotans have access to the type of high-speed broadband that allows the gee-whiz features that have people so excited about education technology.

For low-income families, it’s a struggle to even purchase the slowest levels of broadband.

Schools can work to narrow the gaps. In Stillwater, flipped classroom teachers sent students home with DVDs and, in some cases, iPod Touches.

But students also have lives outside of school. They play sports. They participate in church groups. They join clubs.

When society is already wringing its hands about how much homework is appropriate, what would it mean to place so much of the burden of learning on the home?

So how do you feel about home learning? Is it necessary to be competitive in the global environment? Are you already doing it? Or is it a costly burden we shouldn’t place on young learners and struggling families?

Donna Schmitt January 27, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Look at the area this was piloted in: Stillwater, not a necessarily poor area. It probably has a higher rate of in-home high-speed internet users than many other school districts. This school district also had the option to send home iPod touches. Something that poorer school districts might not be able to do. The cost efficiency of this program and workability of this type of program would depend on how many students would have to have school funded iPods versus home internet use. This could easily be one of those optional courses that students could take with the understanding that they would need to have internet access to take this course. There are many areas, not just libraries, that offer free Wifi that it is not as big of a problem as it was even 3 or 5 years ago. Computer skill and on-line skills, are essential to anyone working or even planning on attending college. The more experience students get even at younger grades makes them more comfortable with a computer as they get closer to graduation. Students need more than online gaming skills as they get closer to adulthood. To deny all of the students this experience because of a few is something I have a problem with. Each school district would have to determine what works in their area. Another thing to remember is that even those 'poorer' school districts are looking at things like replacing textbooks with e-readers so obviously some of those 'poorer' schools are getting creative in finding funding.
Penna1965 January 27, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I currently have a foster child that is a senior but his math skills are at 4th to 6th grade. The child didn't have access to high speed internet until he came into our home a few months ago. I don't see how Flipped Math would have helped him, even if he had the proper tools to do it. What happens to the kids if they have math difficulties? I see increased risk for failure for kids with math difficulties. With Flipped Math, the kids have to wait until the next day and learn from a video if they don't know how to do the work at home. Shakopee starts Kindergarteners and 1st Graders out on keyboarding skills, my kids showed me how to do thinks when helping them with some of the techniques needed to use Microsoft Word. Libraries are not open enough and have limited resources for the kids to use a library for free internet. The high school this year had to slow down the math instruction for the lst time offered Algebra 3...the district's previous attitude was to teach to the test instead of insuring the majority of the students got the concept before moving on. My daughter's grades have improved dramatically since the switch to the slower instruction program has been introduced to Shakopee. Her friends have seen better grades too, when they were doing poor before. The books that our district uses have online from the publisher a video instructor; he's good but my daughter was frustrated because her TEACHER was not instructing (this is before the change).
Katarina Hit January 27, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Flipping can work in poorer areas: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/18/my-view-flipped-classrooms-give-every-student-a-chance-to-succeed/ - if the right additional support is provided. "Almost 75% of our students receive free or reduced-price lunch because of today’s economic climate." "Students watch these videos outside of class on their smartphone, in the school computer lab (which now has extended hours), at home or even in my office if they need to." I think Flipping is a very interesting concept and am excited to learn of a program in MN!
James Warden January 27, 2012 at 04:35 PM
What a great link Katarina! Thanks.
rob_h78 January 30, 2012 at 07:14 PM
It seems to me that learning the mechanics at home and then having the teacher available to help understand how to apply those steps is far more valuable than the other way around since the application is where many if not most people get stuck and need help. I have my son do at least 90 minutes of "extra" homework seven days a week split between grammar and math and we use the Khan Academy website to review the mechanics of a particular concept and then he goes through the exercises to practice the skills while I am helping him on anything he gets stuck on. (He loves the feedback and gathering the "points" and "awards" which makes it more fun). The problem of course is children who do not have access to computers at home. The Khan Academy has the lessons available for download so that you can load the lessons on a computer without an internet connection. So a family can forgo the recurring cost of an internet connection if we can find a way to help them to get even a lower end computer since the Khan Academy program is not something that requires a lot of computing power to use.

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