Thursday, March 5, 2009

Individualized instruction

Seems like I say this a lot, but it is true that as homeschoolers we can do all the things that professional educators know are best practices. A few months ago, I mentioned the science teacher who likes to take his kids out into the woods to experience nature for 20 minutes! As homeschoolers, we can do that for hours -- and we can do it every day if we want. One of the other big strengths of homeschooling is that we are able to provide individualized instruction for our children. This is something that the pros know they need to do, and they are continually trying to figure out how to deliver individual instruction to 20 or 30 kids in a classroom.

Jim Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas and the CEO of the virtual world Whyville, recently explained at an educator's conference:

We tend to learn best through hands-on experiences, he explained--by trying things ourselves and taking ownership of our own learning, rather than passively receiving information from another source. But until the internet came along, we haven't had a scalable way to deliver this kind of experience to every student.

Before the internet, Bower said, the two most important developments from an educational perspective were the invention of the printing press and the creation of a university system. But both of these developments were "push" operations, he said--meaning they pushed information out to students, rather than letting students experience learning for themselves.

I agree with Bower, but after spending time teaching in three different public high schools over the past few months, I can tell you that most schools are not even close to giving kids the kind of education that is necessary and possible in the World Wide Web. Almost zero students have heard of a blog, Twitter, Squidoo, or any other Web 2.0 tools and programs. This semester I surveyed my high school seniors and learned that most of them spend very little time online, and almost 100% of that time is spent on either Facebook or MySpace.

Most schools have a single computer lab, but little time is spent in there. This is where homeschooling parents can easily give their children a better education than the public schools can. If you're reading this blog, you are already more Internet literate than a lot of public school teachers. So, don't be shy about searching the net and looking for learning opportunities for your children, and let your children look for information on subjects that interest them. If you're new to this blog, read some of the older posts about how blogging can improve kids' writing or how you can learn critical thinking skills through the Internet.

As I said, I totally agree with Bower's ideas that the Internet can be used to deliver individualized content to students, but it will not happen if kids are getting half an hour per week on a computer. Sadly, most districts don't have enough money to allow students more time online. And Bower even admits in the article, "'We haven't figured out how to leverage Web 2.0 yet' in schools." Well, while the school districts are still trying to figure that out, homeschooling parents can continue delivering the best possible education to their children.

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