Middle School Online Class Pilot Wraps up First Semester
Students and teachers liked the flexibility and instant feedback.
May 22, 2012
As if trying to wrap up their middle school lives weren’t enough, about 90 students at three APS schools are already getting a leg up on their high school careers by taking an online class for credit toward graduation. That’s on top of their full course loads.
Eisenhower, Madison and Taft middle schools participated in a spring semester pilot program that offered online classes in health and New Mexico history. Eighth-graders took the classes for high school credit and their grades will appear on their permanent transcripts. Each school held one section of each class with an enrollment of 15 students, who were chosen by lottery from those who applied to register.
“Students like the independence of the class,” said Linda Heckes, who taught the history class at Eisenhower. “It’s good preparation for high school.”
Called a “blended model,” the classes meet for face-to-face sessions twice each week, then students work independently on their assignments on their computers. The Eisenhower and Madison classes meet before school during “zero hour” at 7:30 a.m., while the classes are held after school at Taft. Both courses use high school curriculum and work load because they are the same ones students take in high school. The twist is the online component, but it got good reviews from teachers and students alike.
“I like that I could get this (requirement) out of the way and have the credit now,” said Stephen Cantwell, an eighth-grader in the history class. “It can be hard, with other homework. But I can also work ahead in my assignments and get them done.”
Another advantage of the online classes is that teachers can provide feedback almost instantly. Students don’t have to wait until the next day to see the teacher if they have questions on their homework. Heckes said she thought she had more contact with students because of the messaging tool, and is glad to provide instant feedback. Cantwell noted that he received prompt responses from Heckes on Saturdays as well.
“I like that I can work at my own pace and I can ask for help anytime,” said Elizabeth Ramkowsky, a student in the health class.
Teachers had to go through a 10-week training session outside their regular work schedule to become certified to teach an online course. Heckes said there were some technical difficulties early on, but students figured out the technology.
“We catch on quickly,” Ramkowsky said.
Students found the course material and scheduling challenging. Some found it difficult to fit the work in on top of their regular classwork.
“I’d only take another online class if I needed it,” eighth-grader Nathan Hines said.
Teachers agreed there’s a learning curve for students and themselves, but see a lot of benefit to offering classes online. APS expects to add three more schools to the pilot program in the fall, with the hope of expanding it further from there.
“This is a nice change, and students get to see what high school is all about,” Eisenhower health teacher Gloria King said. “When this program really gets running, it’s going to be a great asset to schools.”