Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School third graders didn’t need much convincing to embrace the school’s new online learning program designed for families.
Students Jeremy Larson and Matthew Lao thought it might help them prepare for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) test.
“There’s a lot of things I don’t know about the MCA,” said Lao. “I think it might be hard and I want more practice.”
"It gives me a little more experience," said student Akshara Manamkunat.
One thing they were all sure of, they like learning online.
The new program—you might even call it a Pilot program—was devised by Pilot Knob Principal Tom Benson to give students a chance to learn new concepts from home with the help of their families. All of the assignments are tested on Benson’s own three children (ages 6, 9 and 11) before they are put online for Pilot Knob students to get a crack at them.
“We know there’s been some successful online learning programs,” said Benson, who is both an online educator and an online student himself. “I’m trying to learn how to play the guitar (online) … From a guy called Justin Sandercoe. He’s over in England. I just view his videos, practice, stop it, listen, try again. And the thing is I can do it whenever I want.”
The first lesson for Pilot Knob families was posted March 14. Every Monday, Benson posts a new lesson on the Pilot Knob webpage that will cover Minnesota Educational Learning Standards in math and/or reading. So far there are three lessons posted. The first lesson students were given was how to measure and find perimeter. Both concepts will be measured on the third and fourth grade MCAs.
Students and families can watch video lessons online and view a PDF that includes state standards, math concepts and work on the family math activities.
The latest lessons have one set of questions for students in kindergarten and first grade and a second set of harder questions for older students.
“Part of my goal is also to educate the parents about some of the things that we’re doing in school,” said Benson.
The lessons are designed for families to do together and should take no more than 20 minutes.
“My hope is that families will do these activities together,” Benson said. “Around the kitchen table they may talk about perimeter or area, or why does mom or dad in their job need to know these things.”
The lessons are strictly voluntary. For younger students the online lessons have tended to be on new material, while for older student the online lessons have been geared to reinforce subjects that have already been covered in class.
“Their teachers may have talked about it, may have touched on it,” Benson said. “And I don’t expect some of these skills to be mastered. I don’t expect to go into a kindergarten class and they could say, “Oh Mr. Benson, I can do perimeter.’ But just for them to start talking about it with their families so when they do hear perimeter, they can say, 'I learned that. Mom and Dad helped teach me.'”
Benson grades the online lessons himself. Students who return the family homework will be entered into a weekly drawing for a $5 Barnes and Noble gift card.
So far, 160 families have participated in the first lesson. There are 290 students total in the school.
“I see the power in it,” Benson added. “… And I think bringing it right to your living room, your laptop, your cell phone, it makes a better connection to the school and the learning.”