Saturday, February 12, 2005

Homeschooling and E-learning...Our Experience

As some of you know, we homeschool one of our children who has both gifts and learning-challenges. We're often asked for our experiences and knowledge of resources, so here's our review of the year so far...

E-learning: Our favorite E-learning options have been those that provide some flexibility in work submission, online discussion, and regular feedback from teachers. Discussions include virtual classrooms (talking to your computer, click your hand to speak) with blackboards, slides, and taped classes that can be reviewed later. E-learning programs without a 'live person' may present more problems with motivation, though some self-paced programs like (for Lego building, engineering, robotics) also offer some forums, interest groups, and a 'merit' pyramid to work through.

Northwestern Center for Talent Development - an award-winning fun and whimsical course on the Hobbit. Weekly projects involved a selection of options - and choice of writing, drawing, composing music, or cooking. The best parts were interesting questions delving into the characters and themes of the book. The worst - technical glitches when the teacher was not able to be present to lead discussions.

Stanford EPGY Writing - hard work, but enjoyable course involving weekly online discussion (talk into your computer's microphone) revising writing with teacher, and critique in class. Emphasis is on the mechanics and artistry of writing.

Great Books Academy Online - weekly online discussion (talk into your computer) using the Socratic method and the Touchstones materials (Great Books)- Open ended discussion questions emphasize critical thinking and examining assumptions. The director seems flexible with grade skips- a plus for gifted students. - Various courses with Lego building - Architecture, CAD, Robotics, Machines, Electricity. Each lesson is fairly short, but step-by-step instructions, introduction to design principles, and forums. Progress assessed by uploading pictures, journal entries, and multiple choice questions.

Other online resources: : Because our son (age 10) wants to be an digital animator, animation is a large part of his arts program. A fabulous free resource is Professional animators from Disney and Pixar (as well as anyone else - largely art students or high school students taking a class) comment on animations that you upload. There is an Acme Trek challenge - where the animation challenges get more complicated. We use Toon Boom Studios which exports as a Quicktime file. Online streaming movies to supplement Science, French, History - $100/year with homeschooling discount - gets you access to 4000 excellent full-length streaming videos. Also unitedstreaming is aiming to have 1/2 of movies close captioned - excellent for children with auditory processing problems. Many of the videos come with full lesson plans, text of video, quizzes and problem sets. These accompanying lesson plans are much better than the ones offered by Mentura. We had subscribed to Mentura, but gave it up. : Apex Virtual School...have mainly used and Beyond Books for History and English Literature. Occasional science topics in Biology course (lesson plans presented as Flash movies -especially helpful with molecular biology). Without a 'live' class or teacher, it has been more difficult to engage.

For non-Elearning, we have used conventional textbooks (mostly bought used - for instance from Textbook Heaven) for French and Science, Spielvogel text for World History (also some Tapestry of Grace), Math with excerpts from Singapore Math and Continental Press workbooks, Grammar and Vocabulary with workbooks from Continental Press and Caesar's English (Royal Fireworks Press). Handwriting without Tears.

We have a local homeschool resource which has a wide selection of course offerings taught by staff teachers, yet flexibility in course selections and reasonable time expectations. Many tech options are available even for the lower grades (RPG creator, lego courses and robotics league, digital animation, web design, cinematography, even Broadcast News), foreign language (Spanish, French, Japanese, Latin), as well as science, language arts, math, music, drama, and arts.


  1. Anonymous6:02 PM

    Hey, i liked your article about e-learning.
    I am leaving a comment because I am a homeschool father of four, and a software guy. I created an e-learning environment for users to create courses themselves and freely share them with the world. I thought that this would provide the most useable e-school, because you make it what you like. The site is called the Open School, and you can see it at
    let me know what you think.

  2. For the print-challenged, you might also consider Reading & Radio Resource,, a non-profit agency in Dallas that has been providing spoken-word alternatives to school textbooks and literature for K-12 readers (and beyond) for more than 30 years.

    Any reader who is unable to hold or draw information from printed text (including learning differences, in addition to visual or physical challenges) is eligible to use their services.

    It's not e-learning per se, but recordings are available in .mp3 formats from the agency!