Me as a Homeschooler
I was homeschooled. I think that word is pretty funny. It doesn’t seem normal to say “schooled” in any other way, and Microsoft Word insists that I separate “home” and “schooled” into two separate words. I ain’t complainin’, I was home learned! Nevertheless, my parents homeschooled me all the way through graduation. During the last two years, I went to a community college and got a few credits so I was well prepared for college. I can definitely say homeschooling helped me in a lot of ways. For one, I got to avoid the problems of today’s public school system. I think homeschooling also has something to say about my self-motivation, and dedication. I don’t think homeschooling has anything to do with my punctuality though!
Well it wasn’t just a walk through the park. I’m not the mostly perfect but socially awkward and stylistically outdated guy with absolutely no tan.. On second thought, socially awkward, stylistically outdated and tan-lacking may be the right words to describe me if you don’t know me. There were speed bumps for me in home schooling and in particular, I sucked at math! I had gone through the typical stuff like Math-U-See early on and then Saxon Math when I got to algebra. But I HATED doing math homework. I think Mom realized that I picked up on the topics pretty quick, I just didn’t try at it so she reduced the load by letting me only work on every other problem set, or sometimes only do the tests and a couple of practice problems.
On the other hand, my dad introduced me to the text editor and the compiler, and I found a programming language and online community solely focused on game development. This was interesting to me. There were tutorials for me to read, software packages for me to learn, software packages for me to save up for and BUY. I quickly found out that our old Compaq running Windows XP on 512 MB of RAM, and an on-board video card didn’t run the games I was trying to make very well. I needed to somehow earn money to buy myself a computer that ran a lot better. There was an end result. There were personal achievements that I could be proud of myself for. Who cares that I found x in some silly equation? The difference between math and computer science for me was the end result.
What if I had Khan Academy? Khan Academy is unique in the fact that it provides students—or anyone with an internet connection and a browser—a fun an interactive way to learn. Well actually, there are tons of programs out there that are fun and interactive and try to help kids learn. Some of them might be effective one way or another, but Khan Academy has a nearly flawless experience. There are literally thousands of YouTube videos to teach the various topics, and once you are confident in your knowledge on a topic, you can practice it in their interactive web apps. And most importantly, you earn achievements, “Energy Points”, progress tracking, and you can set
goals! Motivation, rewards, and entertainment. It really couldn’t get better could it?
All of Khan’s videos are hosted on YouTube of course. Their collection is very impressive. You can find videos on many topics from math, physics, and chemistry to things such as art history. You’ll be more likely to find the technical topics, even economics and computer science. You’ll even see interesting videos on various projects that are contributed by the community. They have organized the math program, with some of the science programs into a large “knowledge map” which connects various skills to others—for example, before you get into Calculus, you should understand Trigonometry. Or Functions and Linear Relationships are both related like siblings in a tree. This knowledge map provides one of the strong points of khan academy, in fact it combines many attributes which I think are very important: organization, continuity, and skill mastery.
In the Khan Academy Vision, the founder Salman Khan talks about a couple of values which directly influence the content on Khan Academy: Mastery, self-paced learning and peer-to-peer teaching. Personally, I started to realize the mastery aspect when I took math classes in community college. As I took more advanced courses—trigonometry, and then calculus—I realized that I had to go back and fully understand and master some algebra concepts that I had merely glanced over the first time. Self-paced learning is what every homeschooler already does to an extent, and it’s how my parents adapted my learning style in math (and ultimately what helped me achieve mastery in algebra and trig so I could do well in calculus).
Peer-to-peer teaching is a VERY interesting concept and I can’t believe it isn’t already a fundamental attribute in our school system today. From the perspective of someone majoring in a technical major at a university, I can say that the guy that sits alone, never makes friends or looks for people to help him, and never tries to help other people does poorly. In the classes that I find less interesting and tend to do poorly in, I notice that I didn’t make the effort at the beginning of the semester to seek out some friends to work with. Peer-to-peer teaching goes a lot further than just checking homework answers with each other, explaining concepts to a friends, etc. People who engage in p2p teaching are more likely to also give and receive mentorship to their peers, and engage in leadership activities.
I noticed this my freshman year at Colorado State University. I was in a digital circuit logic class and I knew that I was understanding material very easily, but I also realized that many other students were not, so I started a study group. I was actively engaging in leadership because I went after p2p teaching. (After this, I was noticed and recommended for a tutor position through the College of Engineering). In some of my other classes later on, I found upperclassmen who already had a base understanding of some subject or another that I was learning for the first time. When I worked with these people, I gained a lot of insightful tips about college and life in the real world just from casual conversation-turned-mentorship.
Imagine all of this happening at the high school or even middle school level! I haven’t even talked about the most exciting part yet: points and badges! While humans are quite competitive, many more people are even more competitive when they see a list online with their name and a score to compare them to others. If you want to know why “MMORPGs” (the video games like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft that a lot of people get totally immersed in and addicted to) are so popular, it’s because people instantly become competitive, trying to build a better character than the next guy. Khan Academy has taken this (while maybe not directly influenced by World of Warcraft) and used it to their advantage.
Other Educational Programs Online
I’d like to point out a couple of things as a closing remark. The internet is quickly becoming the center of everything we do now. For many years we have used the internet for communication (email), recently we use it more and more for collaborative work, shopping, meeting new people and socializing. There are also several educational programs online—this includes universities that offer classes online, but there are free options as well. What I would like to point out is massive open online courses, commonly known online as “MOOCs”. These are university level courses ranging from introductory level courses that achieving high school students could easily take to graduate level courses. The course material and professors are from actual universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Resources such as discussion boards where you can talk to one of the many thousands of other students taking the course are available, and the option of earning college credit exists in some circumstances (although it is not widespread yet). MOOCs are simply another sign that the internet is opening up a whole new dimension in education.