Five Benefits of Online Classes & Five Classes I Recommend

Online classes are becoming more and more popular. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an online class is defined as “a formal education process in which the students and instructor are not in the same place.”

Online classes include pre-recorded tutorials and videos providing step by step instructions on a variety of topics. As they pursue their independent study projects, my kids have watched hundreds of these type of lessons on YouTube – whether she is learning to tie a new fly, improve her watercolor techniques, channeling his inner Indiana Jones, or learning to code a Minecraft plugin.

Online classes also include direct interaction with the instructor and occasionally live instruction either through a virtual classroom or occasionally through Skype. In fact, when our language tutor accepted a position in Indiana, our Mandarin classes transitioned from live in-person classes to classes delivered via Skype.

onlineclasses5 Benefits of Online Classes

Whether you are a seasoned homeschooler or your children attend public school, I have outlined five advantages of online learning that will persuade you to consider alternative approaches to education.

1. Learn Whatever You Want

The great variety of online programs and courses is a huge advantage of this type of education. It doesn’t matter where you live or what you want to study – you can always find a suitable course or even a degree program that you can follow from home.

2. Comfort

Forget about attending classes for hours and sitting in an uncomfortable chair. When you opt for an online course, all lectures and needed materials are provided via online platforms, so you’ll easily access them from the comfort of your home or via the subway as you commute into the city.

3. Self-Paced

Most online classes are self-paced. This means that the student can start completing the targets at any time and she can arrange a learning schedule that meets her individual needs. Many even allow access to the material for a year or more.

4. Less Expensive

While the actual cost varies from one program to another, online courses are generally always less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Many online courses are completely free of charge. MIT, for example, offers all course materials online without any charges. Though free courses don’t usually come with certificate of completion, they are still more than useful for anyone who wants to learn from prestigious educators.

5. Achieve Your Goals

Taking online classes allows you to work toward your goals at your own pace. As homeschoolers, this is something with which we are very familiar. Upon completion of online classes and tutorials, students can frequently take assessment tests to prove competency in the subject and even receive college credit.

Tips for Success

Not everyone has what it takes to succeed in the non-traditional setting of online classes. They will test a students self-discipline, time management skills, and ability to learn independently.

In face-to-face classrooms, there are reminders to finish projects or assignments. Frequently, students are graded for simply showing up and participating. This is not always the case in an online class. You should thereby learn to login regularly to see what has changed or been updated, or who has replied to your posts. This is especially true if the course is graded or provides a certificate of completion.

Online Classes I Recommend

Art History with Alisha

Art & Mixed Media

Mixing with the Masters is one of several mixed media workshops by Alisha Gratehouse that we have enjoyed. Each week, we receive an email with a private access code to a video lesson. The necessary materials are clearly outlined and a list is provided in advance. Upon receiving the email, we simply gather our materials and jump in.

What I love about these online workshops is that I can pause the video at anytime or “rewind” if I need to see a technique demonstrated again. With lifetime access, we can work on our art projects whenever we want and at our own pace.

In addition to the art lessons, Mixing with the Masters includes:

* A short biographaphical video on each artist
* Printable PDF study guides
* A weekly student “challenge”
* Printable patterns and templates
* Inspirational quotes by each artist
* Suggested books, videos, and websites for further learning
* Private Facebook group in which to share students’ works of art

Hanbridge Mandarin

Foreign Languages

We have had the opportunity to try a variety of online foreign language courses. Hanbridge Mandarin and Middlebury Interactive are our two favorite. While both are very different in their approach, they each provide opportunity for students to develop proficiency in a foreign language.

Hanbridge utilizes a virtual classroom and live interaction with a native speaker. Middlebury uses an immersion approach similar to the well known Rosetta Stone. Both incorporate videos, stories, and games throughout the lessons. Students are completely submerged in the new language from the get-go. They must listen, speak, read and write in the foreign language.

Bright Ideas Press

North Star Geography

North Star Geography, is written by Tyler Hogan and is designed to give students a deep understanding of how geography impacts all of us —with real-life applications for college, career, citizenship, and ministry. You will love the open ended approach that allows you to mold the program to how you homeschool. I love that the program is flexible – providing schedules for one-semester, one-year, and two-year options.

Whether you build your own atlas, create unique hands-on projects, dive into a research quest, or set off on a fieldwork itinerary, you will find North Star Geography packed with a wide variety of learning options for every student’s interests. My favorite components of the textbook are the sidebars that provided us with a variety of cultural diversions. We also loved creating our own atlas and geography picture dictionary.

Through the online class, each of the book’s 16 lessons is available to download individually, along with the activity directions, map work, memorization, research questions, and note-taking pages. When you’re done with the lesson, take the quiz online and get feedback instantly!

The North Star Geography Online Class includes:

* Hands-on activities and projects
* Map work, memorization, and geographic research questions (with answers!)
* Quizzes, a final exam, and a grading rubric for the homework
* Reproducible outline and reference maps, note-taking pages, and graphic organizers
* Audiobook version of the Student Reader

 

Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.netMr. D Math

Mr. D offers both Algebra I and Algebra II as well as a variety of other courses including SAT Prep. On a weekly basis, students work through the material and develop mastery of the math concepts, while also learning to manage their time, coursework completion, tests and grades.

My daughter loved the Mr. D Algebra 1 course. Her experience really helped to build her confidence.

I really like that every problem is worked out clearly. If I make a mistake, I can see where I went wrong and it helps me improve.

Mr. D Math Self-paced Online Curriculum includes:

* 12 chapters of video-based instruction (Mac and PC compatible)
* Coursework for each section of each chapter
* 12 chapter tests
* Two semester exams
* A comprehensive solution manual
* An online gradebook
* Enrollment in the Mr. D Math virtual learning center

Students who want guided instruction in addition to the Self-paced Online Curriculum can register for a full academic year of live Online Class Sessions via the Mr. D Math “virtual classroom” (August – May). Each class meets once a week, and there are several days/times to choose from.
The Mystery of History Online Academy

The Mystery of History 

The Mystery of History provides a historically accurate, Christ-centered approach to world history for all ages. In the online course, author Linda Lacour Hobar takes junior high and high school students through The Mystery of History Volume III: The Renaissance, Reformation, and Growth of Nations in two online class options: live and self-paced (recorded).

The Mystery of History Online Academy includes:

The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader and Companion Guide in e-book format
* Recorded weekly videos of live classes led by Linda Lacour Hobar to view at your student’s convenience
* Automatic quiz grading
* One full year of learning (18 months of course access)

LIVE classes of The Mystery of History Online Academy with Linda Lacour Hobar begin on August 30, 2016. There are two options 10-11am CST or 2-3pm CST, both on Tuesdays.

How Well Do You Know Your World Geography?

We love geography! It is fascinating to learn about other cultures and to learn how the physical geography has influenced different peoples around the world.

A few weeks ago, I shared a post detailing how we use the sidebars in North Star Geography to explore the diverse cultures of the world ~ Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography. We love comparing the cultural points with our own life experiences and have delighted in the many similarities we have discovered.

We live in an ever connected, global world, so it’s important that we teach our children that the world is bigger than they are, larger than just their community. One way to get kids excited about geography is to make it as interactive as possible.

This post contains affiliate links.

How Well Do You Know Your World Geography? @EvaVarga.netWith the help of North Star Geography my kids enjoy exploring world geography studies with a variety of resources including books, videos, hands-on projects, and even online games. Here are some of our favorite online geography games for middle school:

geoguesserThink You’re a Geography Expert?  Try Geoguesser …

Utilizing images from Google Street View, BBC Travel has put together a fun online game called Geoguesser. You are given an image – like a peak from a small window – from Google Maps of somewhere in the world.

Then you have to place a pin on the world map by clicking on the spot you think the picture is from. You’ll see how far off you are and the closer you get, the higher the points earned. You can let others challenge your score too. This is a fabulous activity for families!

The game challenges your geographic knowledge by having you guess the location of a street view image. You can pan and walk through the images to try and extract clues from where you are. Click on a location on the small inset map and click the “Make a guess” button to submit your best estimate of the image’s geographic location.

smartypinsSmartyPins

Another fun game built upon the Google Maps platform is SmartyPins. Rather than show a street view image, it provides a trivia question and a regional map. You put a pin on the map to guess the answer to the question. You can select different categories for the questions such as Arts & Culture, History & Current Events, and more. The goal is to place your pin as close to the actual location as possible. You can “take a hint” for more information and get a bonus if you answer quickly. Try to see how many answers you can get correct before you surpassed 1,000 miles.

Geoguesser & SmartyPins are a great ways to utilize the technology we are already familiar to further explore geography.

brainpopBrainPop

One of our all time favorite interactive games is BrainPop. We all enjoy learning with Tim and his friend, Moby, a robot – the hosts of BrainPop’s animated videos and online games. BrainPop offers free feature videos daily or you can access all of their content through a subscription service. Their geography lessons include Geography Themes, Latitude and Longitude, Map Skills, Time Zones and more.

One of the things I like best about BrainPop is that it is accessible in other languages ~ Español and 中国 !! I’ve only recently discovered the Chinese site so we have only begun to explore. The animations and our familiarity with many of the videos help with comprehension while providing a fabulous tool to develop our foreign language skills.

We also love that BrainPop has both a web version and a mobile app so we can take our learning on the road. We travel frequently, so having access to educational material is a huge bonus!

geonetGeoNet

Created by Houghton Mifflin, GeoNet is an online game they have developed to accompany their publications. You begin the game by choosing from a regional map of the United States or a world map. You then narrow it down by selecting a specific region you want to explore further. Lastly, you choose from six geography categories such as The World in Spatial Terms, Human Systems, Environment and Society, Physical Systems, etc. Your score increases as you correctly answer questions. The broad categories ensure each game will be different.

natgeokidsNational Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is geared for the younger ages and is a fabulous site for exploring geography and science. To navigate, select the round “Menu” button at the top of the screen. The menu will pop up and from there you can find interesting videos, animal facts, games, and more. You can sign up for a free account for your child where they will be able to collect point, earn badges, and access additional games and videos.

How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netIf you are looking for a high-quality and engaging Geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about North Star Geography – the program we have been using this year.

My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job as their teacher so easy! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.

 

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

We have been using North Star Geography for a few months now and I am continually impressed with all that it encompasses as well as how flexible the program is for our homeschool lifestyle.

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars @EvaVarga.net

This post contains affiliate links.

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

Embedded within each of the sixteen high-level geographic lessons are green sidebars that bring attention to real-world examples of the concepts and topics addressed throughout the curriculum. In the introduction author Tyler Hogan writes,

“The hardest part of writing this curriculum was deciding what NOT to include. So many interesting places, facts, and stories are with discovering ….”

I love this! These sidebars not only provide clear examples of geographic concepts but introduce students to places of cultural importance around the world.

As we travel internationally each year, the sidebars embedded within each lesson are of particular interest to us and we have often jumped around in the text seeking them out as they relate to our travels. We use the sidebars as points of comparison and as the carrots of our rabbit trails for student-led learning.

The Tube Map

In the first unit, Geography Skills, one of the sidebars focuses on subway maps. I love that the author describes how the London subway came to be called the Tube and how maps of the underground transportation system evolved to more user-friendly.

My children first experienced a subway when we were in Sweden. Though my husband and I had experience on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress. stockholmtubemap

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and we made our way from our hotel, to the T-Centralen station where we transferred to a trolley before reaching our final stop on the island of Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We further practiced our skills at reading a tube map in China as we utilized the subway to get around the major metropolitan areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Having experience reading a tube map was particularly useful as fewer people spoke English.

The Three Gorges Dam

One sidebar that was of particular interest from the Physical Geography unit was that of the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province of China. While we hadn’t visited this area when we were traveling, we enjoyed comparing the construction of this dam to that of Shasta Dam, which we toured a year ago.

The sidebar briefly mentions the ecological results of constructing the dam and from this a discussion ensued. The kids were able to recall watching an Oregon Field Guide episode on breaching the Condit Dam.

The Chinese One-Party System

An understanding of the culture and politics of China is of growing importance and as students of Mandarin Chinese, we found the sidebar describing the Chinese One-Party System from the Human Geography unit of interest.

Utilizing this sidebar as a starting point, we then used the graphic organizers in the Companion Guide to direct us in researching our own state and national government.

nsg-banner656x181

Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.

Real Life Learning Experiences: Geography & Science

Learning by doing is generally considered the most effective way to learn. The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Seymour Papert once said,

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong! Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

reallifelearning

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy.

Everybody is motivated by challenge and solving problems. Project-based learning gives everybody a chance to sort of mimic what scientists do, and that’s exciting. Better still, it’s fun if it’s done well.

Geography

While classroom experience is necessary to learn the foundational skills, nothing beats real life experience gained through travel and simply being open to opportunities. In real life, we don’t spend several hours at a time listening to authorities who know more than we do and who tell us exactly what to do and how to do it. We ask questions of a person we’re learning from. We link what the person is telling us with what we already know. We bring what we already know and the experiences we’ve had that are relevant to the topic to the front of our minds.

Students can be engaged in identifying, researching and graphically representing different types of “resources” in their own neighborhoods to create a Community Resource Map. 

  • Where is the library? Where are the parks? Where are various types of businesses?
  • What services are offered at these sites?
  • How can families access them?
  • Where should the neighborhood prioritize building new resources?

Students can also create a directory or a documentary style video. Through these real life learning experiences, students learn research and communications skills, graphics, and computer skills as they create an actual map of their neighborhood.

Additionally, students can develop skills in surveying, geographical information systems (GIS), aerial photography and satellite digital image manipulation; digital mapping, and geographic positioning system (GPS) topographic data.

The process of creating a community map can also help students to identify areas of need. Roots & Shoots utilizes this model for their service learning programs.

lifelearninggeography

One of our favorite hands-on activities is to Create a Geography Picture Dictionary.  As a special travel keepsake, target the illustrations to the region you visit.

Another great hands-on activity is to build your own 3-dimensional topographical map.

When we travel, we engage the kids in using maps to aide in identifying natural landmarks. Read of our experience in discovering the Geology & Geography of the Galapagos.

nsg-banner656x181

Sciences

Like geography, the sciences are a natural first for real life, project based learning. Students can utilize scientific principles and methods to conduct research and develop solutions to medical, forensic, and environmental issues that impact our community.

In a CSI/Criminal Forensics Lab, high school students can explore issues in medical science and human anatomy/physiology through their involvement in scientific research projects, and would investigate how a healthy body functions and how it reacts to disease.

Students could investigate the inner workings of the human mind on the chemical level. Why people behave in certain ways? What factors influence behavior? How is behavior controlled, changed and modified?

Students can use investigative science techniques to solve intriguing problems involving the law. Students would use scientific evidence to paint a picture of what happened in the past. DNA, fingerprinting, physical evidence analysis, scene reconstruction, and biotechnology are some of the techniques that would be introduced.

Students could conduct field research to develop an awareness of the impact of human activities on the environment. The data collected could be used to design and produce environmentally friendly products, solve problems and investigate policies that ensure sustainability and stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

lifelearingscienceMiddle school students may enjoy a Theme Park Project whereby students are required to:

  • Decide on a theme for a new amusement park
  • Design a physical layout
  • Design four rides/attractions and create models of them
  • Determine an initial business plan
  • Create marketing materials to attract the chosen demographic

Real Life Learning is Interdisciplinary

Real life learning allows students to practice thinking across disciplines in organic, natural ways similar to what will be expected of them once they leave their formal education. Because projects reflect real-world challenges and unknowns, students work within a complex environment. They must be able to solve problems and refine their strategies.

Real life projects integrate various content areas and instructional methods and require students to plan their tasks in advance, sequence their work, check their progress. Most projects involve collaborative and group learning scenarios which reflect the demands of the modern workplace. In the end, students celebrate and demonstrate their learning with an exhibition or performance.

My kids are engaged in a long-term project to study the impact of invasive turtles in our local area. Utilizing Google maps, they have begun to create an interactive map to illustrate the locations where native turtles and non-native, invasive turtles have been found. They are also working alongside resource specialists and connecting with community leaders.

These real life learning opportunities enable students to learn how planning, literacy and math skills are foundational in all curricular areas as they put together and present community development proposals.

Real Life Learning Resources

reallifeFor more resources and Ideas for Real Life Learning, visit the iHomeschool Network.

 

Spark Interest in Geography with The Passport Club

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy.

We have been really enjoying our new textbook, North Star Geography. As we have begun formal geography lessons the kids inquired if we couldn’t also resume the geography co-cop as we had done when they were younger.

passportclubThe Passport Club

As I began to gather materials, I discovered The Passport Club, a geography program designed to encourage students to learn some or all of the names of the world’s countries. It was first developed as an enrichment program for schools to encourage parent involvement.

The Passport Club program is operated by Chris and Bob Manning, with the goal of giving teachers and parent volunteers the tools and guidance to develop geographic literacy and a curiosity about the world within their students.

“What a wonderful way for us to learn about the world. This could easily be integrated into our geography co-op,” I thought to myself.

I am delighted to now share how we have begun to use the The Passport Club program in conjunction with the North Star Geography curriculum.

How Does The Passport Club Work?

Each student is issued a Passport Book that lists the countries or locations to be learned each month of the school year. The passports are the same for all grades and students. There are five levels for each month and the student can decide how many levels she wishes to study. Note that the levels are inclusive: if a student wants to study at level three, she needs to study levels one and two also.

Each month the student receives a copy of a world outline map as well as a regional outline map marked with the locations assigned for the month. Over the course of the month, the students study the locations assigned for the month in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Every hardback purchase of North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press includes a free Companion Guide that includes reproducible outline and reference maps that are perfect for The Passport Club as well as many note-taking pages and graphic organizers.

North-Star-Geography

As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

The optional WonderMaps, also available from Bright Ideas Press, is a customizable collection of over 350 different maps.

The International Luncheon

The Passport Club is designed as an after school enrichment program but it can be easily adapted for home educators. In a homeschool setting, an International Luncheon – with food and presentations from each participating family – can be planned as a culminating celebration each month.

Families are encouraged to engage in Independent Study projects each month – a lapbook, a dance, a costume, a regional recipe, a 3-dimensional map, a poster of an animal in its native habitat, or a short presentation about the country. These projects could then be displayed at the International Luncheon and students can be given an opportunity to present what they have learned.

Families are also encouraged to bring a dish to share from one of the countries. Alternatively, one country could be assigned each month for a more focused study.

Checking Passports

Upon arrival at the International Luncheon each participating student comes to the Passport Check Table for 5-10 minutes, bringing their passports with them.

Starting at level one, the checker (a parent or teen volunteer) asks the students individually if they studied the level, and if so, to point out each location on an unlabeled map. The students must pass a level in order to go on to the next one.

Tips :: In kindergarten and first grade, the students are coached through level one, so that they all pass level one.  

If the student passes any levels, they then take their passport to the Stamp Desk. There they can pick a “stamp” for each level they passed, and it is pasted onto the Visa side of their passport page.

The “stamp” images utilized in the The Passport Club program are photographs, flags, or other graphics from the countries assigned that month. Alternatively, an assortment of cancelled postage stamps can be utilized and provide additional avenues for study (though these would need to be obtained independently by each family).

thepassportclubWhere Can I Find the Passport Books?

Passport Books and “stamp” image pages are available for purchase from the The Passport Club website. You can also find book marks, inspirational posters, T-shirts, and more!

Where Can I Find Cancelled Postage Stamps?

You may be able to obtain free stamps from local philatelists or from the American Philatelic Society.  At local and regional philatelic shows, there are tables of cancelled postage stamps free for children.

I’ve written extensively about using postage stamps in education and have contributed a chapter to the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas titled How to Use Postage Stamps for Learning.  You may also be interested in my earlier post, Stamp Collecting and Exhibiting.

The

Geography Activities: Geography Picture Dictionary {Free Printable}

I love to travel and explore new cultures, to learn new languages, and meet new people. Traveling offers us a unique opportunity to learn about the world around us. Field trips are therefore a major part of what we do and how we learn.

Whether we are traveling on holiday in another country or exploring historical and cultural treasures locally – I take advantage of every opportunity to expose my children to the world in which we live. In our homeschool, we dive deeply into history and immerse ourselves in other cultures via geography and language studies.

geographydictionary

This post contains affiliate links.

Geography Lessons Through Travel

Any type of travel is sure to include numerous opportunities for your kids to study the topics that make of the field of geography.

As your family travels and explores a new area you will most likely look at a map to help find your way to a historic landmark or to your hotel. You might decide to take a hike near a lake or through the mountains. You’ll likely also eat foods that are unique to the area.

All of these activities are included in the study of geography!!

The study of geography includes 3 major categories:

Geography Skills – including map reading, using tools like compasses and atlases, and understanding navigation and cartography.

Physical Geography – similar to earth science, this includes geology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, and astronomy.

Human Geography – we can understand how people relate to their location and environment by learning about sociology, culture, religion, transportations, agriculture, and economics.

perfect-combo-650x175

DIY Geography Picture Dictionary

Years ago, I created a printable Geography Picture Dictionary for my children.  I knew it would be the perfect tool to document the physical geography we observed in South America. Therefore, in preparation for our voyage, I revised it – as the original boxes were really too small for quality illustrations.

While traveling through South America, we created a small illustration for each of the physical geography features we observed. Brochures we collected along the way also helped us. The process also provided us with a special keepsake.

If you are interested in learning more about how I utilized the printable in South America, take a peak at my Geology & Geography of the Galápagos.

Do your children enjoy sketching and doodling? Then a Geography Picture Dictionary is the perfect learning activity.

Download and print the free DIY  Geography Picture Dictionary here.

If you are looking for a high-quality and engaging geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a little time to learn more about the program we have been using this year – North Star Geography.  Created by Bright Ideas Press, it has helped my children delve deeper into the three main geography categories: Geography Skills, Physical Geography, and Human Geography.

It provides suggestions for course planning – whether you want to undertake the course in one semester, one year, or more long term. My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job easier than I could have imagined!

nsg-banner656x181

Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.