The Homeschool Tech Boom
Homeschoolers in Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Jersey talk about the technology they use as part of their kids’ lesson plans.
Homeschoolers don’t leave the house to learn, yet the world is their classroom, delivered to their door in bits, bytes and code. The technology explosion has been a boon for the homeschool community, offering innovative outlets for learning unheard-of even a few years back.
“There is a greater use of technology now,” confirms Bella Victor, a Philadelphia mom who has homeschooled all five of her children, the oldest of which are now college-age. “My younger kids are using more online courses and software compared to my older children. These make the learning process more student-centered, easier, cheaper and faster.”
Interactive homeschool curricula
Area homeschoolers augment traditional textbook coursework with free and fee-based interactive online courses offered by sites like Time4learning, Landry Academy, Homeschool 2.0, Memoria Press, Stanford University's Education Program for Gifted Youth and the Institute for Excellence in Writing, which one seasoned South Jersey homeschool mom “who has bought almost every writing curriculum available” believes is the “best on the market.”
“My kids take AP calculus and composition class through the Potters School program,” says Josefina Hendry, a Philadelphia mom of two homeschoolers. “It’s rigorous and thorough and takes extra stress off me because I’m not skilled in those subjects.” Her kids are equally enthusiastic about the program, which is taught through a live feed that delivers audio, slide shows, whiteboard presentations, annotation markup and screen sharing. The comprehensive package allows Hendry’s kids to interact not only with their computer screens but also with their teachers and fellow students in real time.
Joyce R., a Delaware homeschooler, boosts her kids’ math studies with Teaching Textbooks. This curriculum combines old-school workbooks with interactive CD-ROMs containing instruction, hints and assessments. “During lessons, they hear the voice of the instructor, and there are examples where they can see if they got the answer right or wrong,” Joyce explains. “In a traditional classroom, students have to do a full assignment and wait before knowing if they understand the material. Here, the kids get immediate feedback and assessments are automatically graded.”
Fun ways to learn at home
“There are so many ways to use the Internet in conjunction with homeschooling, it’s hard to make a complete list,” says veteran South Jersey “unschooler” Sharon Ardito, who instead of using a structured curriculum to teach her two children, “went with their interests and took it from there.”
Video-streaming technology provided a glimpse into one of those interests. “There are live webcams of animals around the world,” she says. “We’d sit and watch animals in their natural habitat,” a task now facilitated by Live Animal Webcams, which aggregates the best video links on a single site.
URLs like Puzzle-maker and Bingo Card Generator allowed her to teach spelling and vocabulary words in a fun way. “I’d have my kids come up with a list of words related to a subject and we’d make a word search or bingo game out of it,” Ardito says.
The homeschool Internet connection
To take the learning outside of the home, Ardito relied on the Web as an instant info-generator on things to do — and what they cost. “When our kids were younger, we did a lot of traveling and the Internet was great for finding things to do,” she says. “I would research museums and such to see if they had any coupons, special pricing or discounted admission during the day when most kids are in school.”
Connecting with other families through technology is a hallmark of the homeschool community. Homeschool co-ops and groups flourish on the Web through discussion boards like Yahoo groups. Joyce R. likes the fact that the Internet’s inherent meet-up capabilities led her to a homeschool co-op that meets weekly. These sessions give her kids the opportunity to learn with others in person — “instead of just doing stuff at home on the computer.”
MetroKids interns Morgan Pendleton and Tim Rattray contributed to the reporting of this article.