Monday, February 20

Choosing the Best Online Resources for High School

In a post-pandemic world, the trend toward online learning and remote resources has exploded. With so many options, however, how do you choose the best class for your needs? How do you know if online learning is even the right move for your student?

Four Things to Keep in Mind

Technology has glitches

Teens today are pretty comfortable with computers, tablets, phones, and all the apps that accompany them. Teachers tend to be a bit older and may still be learning the technology as they go.  Whether you're using an established program or newer one, expect a hitch here and there along the way.  That doesn’t mean these are poor programs, but the teachers tend to be from a different era. There will be times when a PDF may not download correctly, a glitch will appear in an assignment, or the internet just doesn’t want to work properly. Which leads us to communication, because keeping an open line goes a long way when the student experiences glitches…

Communication is crucial

Online courses put you in contact with potential friends and mentors, but you have to be proactive in forming those relationships.  Many online teachers will have students introduce themselves to the class at the beginning of class. At Sparks Academy, we provide a (monitored) open forum in every class for students to chat amongst themselves and form those connections.  It’s also a good idea to introduce yourself and stay in contact with your teacher, whether through email or a classroom portal-based chat. Communicating promptly whenever you have an illness, question about classwork, or other issues is crucial.

Time management is key

While sitting at a computer, taking a class, it’s easy to get caught up in another page, a notification ping, or a chat thread.  It's the nature of our distraction-filled world. It is the student’s responsibility to find a groove that works for them, learn their best focusing techniques, and develop an organizer / scheduling plan that works.  While we make suggestions at Sparks Academy, ultimately we know that every student is different and must find what works best for them. Procrastination is the number one grade-affecter in the first semester of enrollment, but students typically find a groove by second semester.

Online doesn't equate to an "Easy A"

While it’s true that the classes are more flexible, you still have to put in the time and effort. There are probably ‘pay for play’ classes out there that will give you credit in exchange for money, but those aren't going to pay off in the long run.  After all, what are you really learning in that situation?  Online courses take roughly about the same amount of “work time” as traditional courses to study for and complete. Here are some of the best online class options for middle and high schoolers.

So how do you know which classes are Best for You?

Full Program vs Individual Classes

Are you wanting to take all of your classes in one location, essentially creating a school-at-home scenario? Or are you wanting to pick and choose classes that are tailored to your needs and interests? Do you want to have one sole point of contact, or one contact for each class? (Even with an all-in-one situation, you might still have an array of contacts.)  In the wake of Covid, there are more full program schools than just a few years ago, but you’ll want to research them to get a thorough look at the curricula being used, any ideology being included, and any required testing or data collection that is included with that tuition. (As you would with any school, camp, or program you utilize.)

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

This is one of the biggest factors for students – do they want to take a class that is on a schedule, or work at their own pace? There are pros and cons to each, and not every course will give you the option.  If the course follows a set schedule (synchronous), be prepared to stay on task and caught up with your work. If the course is self-paced, you’ll need to be diligent and responsible for keeping on track.  At Sparks Academy, every course is offered in both a scheduled and self-paced format.

Live vs Threaded

If you’ve opted for synchronous classes, your next question is whether you want video-chat classes that are scheduled at a particular time, or should you take text-based classes that can be streamed at any point within the time frame? Again, it’s a matter of personal preference.  Some people prefer to chat face to face, while others are more comfortable in the online forum.  Sparks Academy provides a combination, with live, face-to-face (via internet) classes each quarter and forum-based classes the rest of the year. This allows students to get to know each other and form connections, but doesn’t commit them to a particular time slot for an entire year.

Accreditation and Certification

Curriculum is not accredited. Homeschools are not accredited. SOME schools (most public schools) are accredited, however not all are.  Accreditation is awarded to schools after so many years of operation, plus completing a lengthy application and submitting a recurring fee.  Most online homeschool providers are not going to be accredited, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as good. However, if you are applying for an NCAA scholarship or another program that requires an accredited diploma, you will want to keep this in mind.

Why Sparks Academy?

At Sparks, middle and high school students from around the world come together for language arts, history, and science courses. Students have the option of either self-paced or synchronous class format, and all work is teacher-graded.  Students form connections with each other via class chats and open discussion forums, and have the option of meeting one-on-one with teachers when extra help is needed. Over half of enrollment each year is comprised of returning students from the previous year.

One Sparks Academy parent says, “My son used this last year for HS1 & World History. It was great with teaching him accountability & responsibility. He loved being able to communicate with others using the discussions (he thought it was cool that everyone lived in so many different places and they were all able to communicate with each other). He also enjoyed the live class with Yvie, and I liked it because it kept him on his toes with making sure all his assignments were completed when it was time for that live class in case he was called on to report it. As “mom” I still had to keep on him to make sure he was current and went over his assignments with him, but that’s to be expected. Overall we love it! My son will be using it again this year for HS2, American History, and Science.”

Sparks Academy enrollment for the ’24-’25 synchronous school year is open now. Self-paced classes are open for enrollment year-round.

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