Home Schoolers, Advanced Placement, and a Revolution In Distance-Learning Technology

2/1/2008 By: Mark Cruthers

from Educators' eZine

Just because Home Schoolers are not physically in a school building is no reason they should be barred from the opportunity to distinguish themselves academically by passing the prestigious Advanced Placement exams. I firmly believe this, as my website, homeschool-teachers.com, will show.

Why Advanced Placement? Because it offers an opportunity for the home schooled student to distinguish himself, to possibly gain national recognition, to compete for the best universities in the country with the rest of the nation's top students, and, most important, to learn in depth. And it brings the home schooled into a very elite group. Statistics show that only 15% of all secondary students sign up for Advanced Placement and that only 12% of the nation's high school population will pass one AP exam with a score of "3" or better. By your student passing just one AP exam she/he joins the elite group of academically prepared students in the country. The better the grade and the more AP exams taken will continue to elevate the student into the higher echelons of the country's best students. Some of our students have achieved the status of an AP Scholar with Honor and more are on their way to achieving this level of achievement.

I use distance learning to reach my home schoolers, but until recently I was not terribly satisfied with the technology available. Then I discovered WiZiQ, and that has made a tremendous difference. It has enabled us to use a virtual classroom environment for our online class and still maintain real excellence necessary to succeed in the Advanced Placement program.

I set up a session on the WiZiQ.com website and my students are sent a URL and a prescribed time to come into the virtual classroom. There they can see a video of me, I can see that they are in attendance, and then I bring up my PowerPoints, pdf files and other materials I want to use for my virtual class that day.

The technology allows me to speak to all my students in real time and for them to speak to me or use the chat window. It's actually kind of amazing. This is not your old chat technology; this is real video and audio in real time online technology. It doesn't require any downloads. It truly is the next stage in distance learning.

For example we begin our lesson in Advanced Placement US history with me orally describing what we are going to cover that evening. My students can also see my video on their screen. Then, with the click of my mouse, I bring up my PowerPoints—outlined with notes and full of pictures, graphs, charts, maps, art, etc.—and the material appears on the screen for all of my students to see at the same time. I then lecture on the material, using a detailed outline of my lecture notes from a binder in front of me using a microphone/headset. My students are wearing similar microphone/headsets, available for under $20 at their local electronics store.

There is a lot of interactivity. For example, one of my students might ask, " Mr. Cruthers, I don't get why President Nixon felt he had to actually resign." And I would try to see if anybody else had an answer and maybe even prompt a discussion in my virtual class. Yes, we can have discussions virtually in real time. And if they need further explanation they can ask through their microphones or through the chat window.

They can even electronically raise their hand. I can see this in my attendee window which has icons of each student and you can see the hand rise. If I want to ask my students a question I can just say "Jeff", or "Justine" please explain this political cartoon. The cartoon is on the screen and the student can answer the question through her microphone so everybody can hear. It's really very easy. Once you get used to using the technology you don't even notice it and you have to remind yourself you're in cyber-space conducting a real time virtual class.

Anybody can sign up to teach classes and invite their students into their virtual classroom. I almost prefer it to a regular class because there are not the distractions that often come with a regular classroom.

Our results speak for themselves. On our latest AP US History exam all of my home schoolers passed with 4s and 5s, no 3s—quite an accomplishment for any student.

Email: Mark Cruthers

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