Monday, September 24, 2012

Our First Month of School with Michigan Connections Academy

          Well, it has almost been a month since Autumn started her first day of school with Michigan Connections Academy (MICA), and we have been a lot more busy with school than we would like to be. This is evidenced by the fact that this is the first blog I have had a chance to post since school began!

          The first week of school was stressful because we had company, and then we went on a trip. I made the mistake of allowing Autumn to do most of her online course work and then put off some of the paperwork like worksheets, book problems etc that was assigned with each lesson. For example, she would complete her math lesson and do all of the activities online and take the quiz, but skip the math problems. Or do the language arts assignment online, but not complete the 5 pages of worksheets that went with the lesson. We kept saying, we'll do that later when we get back.....BIG MISTAKE! We found out very quickly that it is not a good idea to put off any assignments or projects while using MICA. A couple of lessons set aside for a later time could mean A TON of work if you continue trying to accomplish future lessons and projects at the same time.

                 This doesn't necessarily mean that we think the workload is too much, but we are finding that the pace can be challenging if you don't work quickly and do the tasks the same day as they are assigned. We are used to spending a long time on projects or new concepts and at times we have said "YIKES! That is due already? It feels like we just were assigned that!" Or "Wow, there is already a quiz on this material!" This feeling is probably happening to us just because we aren't used to working on a teachers deadlines. I think we also feel this way because the computer system doesn't do a very good job of breaking up projects into smaller tasks. There is no hand holding. The job of time management and breaking apart large projects into smaller tasks each day (hand holding), seems to fall mostly on my shoulders. This is not good, because I am a procrastinator and often pass this nasty habit along to others. I am quickly learning that there is no time to procrastinate with MICA.
                Also, we are probably adding too much pressure on Autumn by adjusting the assignments to meet our own personal standards of education.  For example in math, we really want Autumn to grasp the material she is covering, so we think it is important to do ALL of the problems in her textbook for each lesson. We have found that this will usually cause her to run into a couple of tricky problems that she would otherwise not see if she only did the ones assigned by her teacher. However, doing 60 math problems each day on top of all of her other paper assignments and computer assignments and live lessons and need for exercise, reading, eating, sleeping, etc. is turning into a challenge. Plus, Autumn has always worked at a VERY leisurely pace, and it was never really been a problem, but now she needs to adjust her rate of work to this new work load.(Something she seems reluctant to do, which irritates me a great deal because I feel like the pressure is on me to get her to keep the pace up) I have to say, it has been a challenge at times motivating her to accomplish all of the tasks without feeling like we are destroying all of the reasons we are homeschooling in the first place!

             Yet, we are only a month in and we are just starting to relax into the schedule. Autumn is now navigating the computer system on her own, which is nice, because the first couple weeks I felt like I had to guide her through each step. She is still not doing very well with typing, which we discovered right away is a skill that would be helpful to have, since most of her answers online need to be typed. There is nothing more painful than watching your child plunk out a paragraph letter by letter at the pace of a snail. If you are thinking about enrolling your child in an online school we HIGHLY RECOMMEND an intensive TYPING CLASS. Autumn and I both agree that better typing skills would save us both a lot of stress. We have a few websites that we are visiting to work on this problem, but it is slow coming and we wish we would have mastered this skill over the summer while we had more time on our hands.

Autumn had to take a few Scantron Performance Assessment tests online, Leap Tests, and at the beginning of October she has to travel to Cheboygan to take the MEAP tests. These tests haven't been too time consuming, but Autumn and I do find them slightly irritating, just for the fact that we don't really need a test to tell us what we know and don't know and where we are struggling,.... we know already. She will be required to do testing again in the Spring.

Probably the thing we like least about MICA right now is the grades. So far Autumn has really high scores on everything, so it is not because she isn't doing well. Rather, it is the way the grades make us feel about learning. We are used to doing an assignment or quiz or test over and over again until we get 100% on it. We have always felt that fixing your mistakes is the best way to learn, and so getting graded on everything feels so foreign. I notice that when Autumn gets an answer wrong she is adopting the same attitude that I had in school... the feeling of failure, and what is the point of the grade doesn't help me learn. The grades make her feel pressure and stress. Instead of wanting to discover the right answer, there is something about a system that uses grades that makes the student feel like they are doing all of the work for the grade instead of for the learning. If a student is getting all A's that is probably a bad thing, because it means they aren't being challenged enough. But is they are getting all C's, which most likely means the material is a challenge, instead of having the student practice the skills that are difficult until mastery is demonstrated, the C grade is just given and the student moves on.....Grades in other words are really quite pointless and detrimental. A's are bad, but C's are bad too!  We like the lessons MICA offers and the way they are all organized for us and how we are being motivated with the knowledge that we are being supervised by teachers afar, but we think the use of the A, B, C... grading system doesn't work at all with this new technologically based learning. It is very cold, impersonal and unmotivating, and seems wrong with a system like this, where they have the capability of using the technology to ensure that every kid grasps all of the material....why settle for anything less? (which is what a grading scale does). Every kid should be required to demonstrate mastery of ALL the material, not just 75 percent of it!

Autumn loves to practice math on a website called Khan Academy because when she gets an answer wrong they don't give her a red X and a 90% and tell her to move on. Instead, she can demonstrate mastery of the new skill. When she does this she earns points and stars that eventually lead her towards earning badges etc. She never feels like a failure on this site because it is a pass/ or try again system. You either understand the material and move on, or you don't, and you keep on practicing it until you do. This is what we were doing last year with our homeschooling, and I think it is the only thing that truly motivates kids to succeed without hurting their self-esteem and their eagerness to learn. It would be awesome if MICA would adopt this type of evaluation system,...It would be cool if teachers made you rewrite your paper until it was perfect, instead of just plunking a grade on it. Imagine if we did that in other areas of our lives. "Well, I only give this building a D rating, but we'll live in it anyways and hope it doesn't fall down...." No! That would be crazy. Instead you would ask the builder to make the necessary changes until you were satisfied with the results. Or you might even ask the builder to tear the building down and start all over.....But I guess schools haven't figured this out yet, and we are going to have to just play their games and put up with the antiquated A, B, C, system and try and find time to force ourselves to review material we don't master.

               Overall, we are not sure yet whether MICA is the best choice for us or not. We are not unhappy, but we are not as excited as we were on the first day of school. We wish the school would use video streams during live lessons so we could see our teacher's face while she lectures. We wish our conference calls with our teacher would be over Skype instead of the phone so that they could be more personable. We wish that there was more opportunity to connect with the other kids enrolled in the school in a meaningful way. But, the school is still very young, and technology is always changing, so who knows what kind of adaptations they will make in a years time. For now, we are just doing are best to make things exciting and fun while still keeping up with the daily influx of new assignments.

                Also, it doesn't help that the weather has been rainy and cold and we have been stuck inside doing school work almost all day, every day. This is not typical of September. Usually in September we are playing on the beach and enjoying all of the time we have outdoors, while thinking about all the poor kids stuck in school....This week I am praying for some sun, the chance to get caught up or even ahead on our work, and I'll gauge how we feel about MICA again in another months time.


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