Gifted Kids and Online Learning

Today Ann Treacy with the Blandin Foundation wrote about an update to S. F. 1528: Teachers 21st Century Tools. This bill explicitly encourages students to take online courses and would change the Minnesota Graduation Requirements to include one digital learning course credit.

The bill lays out that the enrolling district must apply the same graduation requirements to all students whether they are traditional classroom students or online learners and must continue to provide nonacademic services to online learning students. The bill also explicitly states that while a licensed Minnesota teacher must supervise the delivery of the instruction to the online learning student, the instruction may include curriculum developed by persons other than a teacher holding a Minnesota license.

This bill seems to open the door for schools and teachers to become far more flexible in meeting the needs of gifted students. Under the bill 50% of the student’s schedule can be online courses and they can be different from the student’s current grade level. In theory, this could give gifted students who are ready to work above grade level in some subjects the opportunity to work at their ability level in all subjects. Students could work with their physical classmates at grade level for some subjects and with their virtual, online classmates and instructors above grade level for other subjects.

The availability of quality online educational programs is skyrocketing and because many of them are self-paced, they can be excellent for gifted students. Ones we have used for homeschooling our gifted kids include Khan Academy, ALEKS, and iTunes U.

All three kids use Aleks for their main math course, supplemented by parent and teachers when they get stuck. Aleks has enabled them to work at their natural pace, frequently completing 2 or 3 grade levels in a single academic year. This type of individualized pacing is virtual impossible in a regular classroom with 25 to 35 kids.

My 10-year-old is taking a biology course through iTunes U. iTunes U courses can include audio, video, textbooks, syllabi, handouts, and quizzes — providing very comprehensive treatments of course subjects. iTunes U courses have been developed by Stanford, Yale, Oxford, UC Berkeley, and the NY Public Library among others. My student finds the iTunes U course more interesting and fulfilling than science at his STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) elementary school. iTunes U lets him work at his own pace and the materials are much more detailed than those typically found in 5th grade classrooms. Even in his STEM school, the need to teach to the entire class prevented the teachers from covering subjects with the depth he hungered for.

Online learning can be one of the most effective and economical tools to help all students to reach their full potential.   As funding of gifted education programs continues to far fall below what is needed, it is a positive step for the state to explicitly recognize the value of online learning.

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