You gotta cast a big net when looking for experts… Now with Presentation!

First and foremost, here is my presentation on K-8 virtual schools:

Overall the process for making the video wasn’t too bad. I made PowerPoint slides for my presentation and saved them as pictures. Originally, I planned on making my presentation a VoiceThread, as I have used it before for presentations. Because groups of slides are focused on the same point, I tried to do my narration for those slides toghether. What I found, however was that when you played they presentation after the audio played you then had to manually flip to the next narration piece, which I found frustrating, so instead I moved over to iMovie. Once I started on iMovie things went a little faster: I could re-record my audio, add transitions to the slides (while also disabling the dreaded Ken Burns effect), and even upload the video directly to my youtube channel! Overall I’m very happy with the video, and hope that everyone enjoys the presentation. On top of that, I had a lot of fun researching and curating information about this, and felt like I finished the presentation having learned so much in such a short time: I went from hearing a commercial about virtual schools in June to being able to discuss them at length buy August! I found this entire project fun and rewarding!

 Now, what was that about experts and fishing?

For my presentation I searched high and low for people who have had experience in this teaching environment. In the beginning of the course I had some trouble, in fact I was a bit worried that come today I wouldn’t have had anyone to help me out. What I also found within the last few days, however, is that if you cast a big enough net you’ll definitely have caught some fish who know a thing or two about virtual education!

So tell me, what have you found to be the biggest difference between traditional and virtual school environments? (Fish- Mandarinfish by Jim Trodel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Part 1 – The Video Interview

First up is my video interview I did with Suzanne Conway, who is a homeroom teacher for elementary students and a middle school grammar teacher at the Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Suzanne teaches in a blended environment, where she has the students in a traditional environment for one day a week, and the rest is done online. She shared with me how her class works, the different types of students they have, and how the school works with students from various academic levels, among other things.

I’d like to thank Suzanne again for her time and for everyone for dealing with my fumbles through the interview. This was my first time ever using Google Hangouts On-Air, which was both exciting while also pretty nerve-wracking. I did find that once I figured out the basics (google’s FAQ section does a solid job) that it wasn’t as bad as initially feared, but it still had its hiccups.

Part 2 – The Text Interviews

As I mentioned above, I cast a big net when looking for experts. Because of that, I actually ended up with three text-based interviews.

Karen Lirenman

The First is with Karen Lirenman, who teaches at the SAIL Academy in British Columbia. In her school, students are in class four days out of the week, with one day out of school, where the students do online and home-based activities to reinforce their learning. Karen’s class involves a great amount of maker-themed activities where students have a choice on how they want to do the activity, whether it be a digital picture, a lego model, or even a cross-stitch! Karen was traveling through Europe at the time, so she was only able to set up a text-based interview. You can read her blog about her experiences in a blended classroom (where her students spend four days at school and one day home/online) here and about her school here.

How did you get involved with this blended learning model?
I am involved with a brand new program with my school district. Prior to the 2015/16 school year I was a “regular” classroom teacher.  The new program focused around innovative teaching practices, as a change from the more traditional home learning program. I was encouraged to apply on the job.
How did you get started establishing the class? What decisions did you make in terms of the class environment and what influenced them?
I started very similarly to a traditional classroom set up with the exception that we had learning plan meetings before the students came to school as a way to get to know the students and their families better, and to  go over the expectations and the ways the students was going to be taught and what was expected for them to learn.
When the students have their day home, do you do anything additional? I’ve seen in other sorts of online and blended schools that the teacher is there for support/contact.
I am responsible for planning their entire day which includes creating open ended curriculum right activities.  At school I am emailing with parents, planning, reviewing the previous weeks home learning, paper work etc..  At times I work with other classroom teachers .
What has reception been from parents/families?
The parents in the program are in in by choice and have been very happy. The home learning piece has been a stress for some families. Some tend to see the home learning and family learning vs student learning. For more information about out program check out . Click the k-7 link and see the video.
What have been some of your greatest successes?
Seeing kids run to school – this is huge for students who have been totally turned off of school. Having students feel good in school.  Some of the content my students have created to show what they have learned.
What have been some of your greatest struggles?
Planning the home learning programs have been a huge struggle.
Do you feel that this method is better than a traditional education environment?
What makes this method better is that it is far more student centered. The home learning piece also allows families to be more involved with their child’s learning.
Could you see a time or place where students spend more time at home?
Hmmmm With the guidelines around distributed learning in BC that isn’t an option.
Do you think this could the future of education?
I think the parent involvement piece is key, and the ability for kids to learn at home and be given credit for that learning.


Ashley Fryer

Ashley Fryer is an online teacher at the Insight School of Kansas. She teaches science to grades 6-8 in a completely virtual environment. She uses labs, video conferences, and live (via internet) demonstrations to help teach her kids science. Since I heard back from her so close to the presentation I sent her the questions, and she got back to me within a day! I was really excited to hear from her, since I now have the full spectrum of virtual school (blended – majority in-school, blended-majority virtual, and totally virtual), and I also found it interesting to hear how a science class works as well, considering there are labs and experiments to be done. She linked a few of her answers to blog posts she wrote, which can be found through the links she provided and my K-8 Virtual Schools Flipboard. I first discovered her thought this EdWeek article.

What do you teach and what age level?

I teach 6-8th grade science and health.  I’m certified 6-12 Life Science, so I’ve taught many different courses and grades over the last 10 years.

 What brought you to online teaching?

I was teaching in a traditional brick and mortar setting, which I loved.  My husband took a new job and traveled a lot. I didn’t want to keep switching schools and we knew his schedule of moving probably wouldn’t be in the summer.  I saw a listing for a virtual educator with a Kansas teaching license.  I jumped on it and haven’t looked back!


Describe a typical class for you: what do you cover, what type of assignments, what’s your typical class makeup?

“Ask your mom…”


When you first started, what were your concerns about the online teaching world?

I wanted to make sure I was still going to be able to “teach.”  I had taken a few online classes in college that were async and kind of ran themselves.  I knew that wasn’t for me.  Fortunately we have sync live classes!


What are the biggest advantages to an online classroom compared to a brick and mortar school? 

I would say there are very few discipline problems.  I can take away chat, microphone, video, and whiteboard privileges easily.  I can remove them from class with the click of a button.  They know that…so I rarely have to do anything more than occasional verbal warning.


Are there any disadvantages compared between online/traditional?

I do miss some face to face instruction.  We have plenty of face to face events throughout the year though.


Are there any myths about online teaching you have found not to be true?

Oh, I think there are a bunch!  The ones that really bother me are the ones that discredit our school.  We are a free online public school.  Therefore, we are held to the same standards (testing, laws, regulations) as any other public school in the state of Kansas.  We have great teachers and amazing students.  I don’t like myths that make us sound like anything less.

Do you see this as the future of education? For all students?

I DO think virtual school is the future!  I do NOT think it is for all students.  Education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.  I am an advocate for school choice.  I do think virtual schooling should be a choice, but just one of many that might fit a particular student.

Bonus! Kat Braden

A while ago, I emailed Kat’s school, the Carmenta Online Latin School, to ask how online Latin classes work, especially in their Latin junior program, where students ages 6-13 can take a beginning Latin course at their own pace. When I emailed the school, I sent just an outline of questions, and Kat took them and gave me her views on online Latin for smaller kids. Her answers are formatted a little differently than the others, but I wanted to include them because A) I’m always interested at how others work with Latin and B) it provides even more perspective on online courses. So without further ado, here we go!

“I taught one section of the Juniors this last spring. It was totally delightful.  The text we use is Lingua Latina Familia Romana. The classes run 45 minutes each, twice/week.  I had only three students. The most advanced was lackadaisacal about his attendance. The other two were avidly faithful.  I would divide the class equally amongst those in attendance.  Each student went at his/her own pace. They were in different places in the text.
I saw my mission as teacher/encourager/entertainer.  Students were free to make allusions to their lives in connection with the text.  I would add history, etymology, and culture wherever possible.
They love making connections from the Ancient World to their own.
We have no tests or exam.  The only HW would be to bone up on a particular weakness.  I supplied teaching videos for grammar and enrichment via email.
Students were bright and engaged. Best of all possible worlds.
Rarely, I would do a screen share.  Mostly, we pushed through the text and tried to make it fun.
The biggest difference from a regular classroom is the class size and the amount of time one can give the students.”


I want to thank Karen, Ashley, and Kat for taking the time to get back to me! They’ve only made this experience all the better!

Want to Know More?

Websites from all of these interviews and much more about virtual schools can be found on my K-8 Virtual Schools Flipboard. I hope you enjoy and I can’t wait to share my presentation with everyone! Author’s Note: On my Flipboard I put my comments both as a caption and as comment. I found captions either don’t show up or get cut off, so I figured if I put both then they are guaranteed to show up when you investigate a post!




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