(And the reasons I think we made a mistake in doing so)
It is week one. I know I need to take a deep breath, and just go with it. I know I expect a lot. And I also know that I'm probably only really happy with straight homeschooling, where I can control, or eliminate, all of this busy work. But we committed to Connections Academy, our tax dollars have been sent to support this school, and I feel the need to finish this year. I am hopeful that it will improve. If the curriculum does not improve, we will need to supplement a lot so that my kids do not fall behind where they should be academically, but that is not really a problem. This is why I am so disappointed with our switch so far, on week one.
Why We Switched:Last year the IA2p's in the self paced classes were over the top. Long, difficult, and worth very few points. They were almost always unrelated to the curriculum, and took up way too much time. Several people we knew were going with Connections Academy this year, so we decided to make the switch as well. I expected it to be similar to PA Cyber, but with "portfolios" instead of IA2p's, and supposedly the portfolios are not mandatory. (I've come to find that what is mandatory changes by teacher, class, and apparently hour in Connections. My daughter did her first lesson in Physical Education yesterday, and started to track her exercises. Later she took the live lesson, and was told that wasn't necessary. So although the live lessons are also "not mandatory", if you miss them, you won't know what the teacher actually expects you to do. AND most of the teachers are giving extra points for attending live lessons.)
We've avoided a lot of Virtual Classes at PaCyber because of the time commitment. We like more flexibility in our schedules than Virtual Classes allow. At this point, after realizing that we will waste far more time in live lessons than we ever would have in Virtual Classes, I'm really wishing we had just went with PACyber and went with more Virtual Classes, where the IA2p's are not required.
Connections has an awesome home page set up. When I log in, I see a to do list, have access to my webmail, the kids grade books, the kids calendars, and see which assignments need to be submitted. This is awesome. I really, really like seeing the kids assignments each day, having them split into days, and knowing exactly what they have to complete. (This schedule does not, unfortunately, include live lessons, and I cannot find a way to combine my students schedules to see them all on one page - but it's still a great concept)
It appears they have local field trips that may be fun & interesting. There is one later this month on the Hiawatha in Williamsport. - Update - My daughter was really excited about the Poe field trip, for her English class. We received the email about it and replied immediately, only to be told it was already full. Students were allowed to bring their entire family, so just a couple of families attended, including small children, leaving no spots available for the students actually taking the class. We had no luck attending any field trips the entire year - they were almost always full within minutes of being announced.
They offer sign language. My daughter is really excited over this option!
1. The Live Lessons are a mess.
A. In one, my son had 70 other students with him, in one class. Seventy. They spent the entire class discussing iphones vs android. A discussion we could have debated better at our own dining room table, and completely unrelated to anything in the curriculum. The teacher was all over the place and obviously had no idea how to handle 70+ students in one class. (I do not blame her. I can't imagine trying to do a live lesson with that many students chiming in) There was a 4 page handout the kids were told to print before the class. That was a complete waste of printer ink, and a waste of the teachers time to prepare.
Update - to clarify from employee Mr Duran's reply to my post below, there were 70 children in one live lesson because it was two classes combined. Yes, there are no more than 40 children in a class, but they can combine classes for live lessons.
B. Another live lesson had 4 teachers teaching in one room, at the same time. There was so much background noise that it was pretty near impossible to pay attention and follow along. (My daughter took a virtual Italian class, live from Italy, in PA Cyber that was much better quality. From Italy.) Update - I'm sorry if this conflicts with Mr Duran's school logs, but I was here with my daughter when this occurred. I can not speak for the schools logs, only for our experiences with the school. Geometry was the most confusing live lesson for her,as there were 4 different teachers who taught at different times (each live lesson she logged into may have a different teacher) - and they did not teach in the same methods, or with the same standards.
C. You do not receive a live lesson class schedule until school starts. Allowing for no advance planning, we received notice as little as 2.5 hours before a class began. I know they say that's ok because the classes "are not mandatory", but if the teachers are giving important information (like changes to course requirements, varying from the lessons the kids have done on their own - this happened for my daughter yesterday.) and awarding points for attendance, the least they can do is give us the schedule a week in advance. Then to make it worse, there is no standard for how long the classes last, and some of the classes overlap, so it's not possible to be in all of them. The one class, that we received an email for 2 hours before it occurred said to watch a youtube video before attending. That would have been fine if we had known earlier, but it wasn't possible to be in the two overlapping (one ran late) live sessions already on our sons schedule in that 2 hour period, AND watch a youtube video at the same time. If he left the class that ran late before it was over, he would not have been awarded the points for attending, effectively wasting his last hour completely, since the class had no useful information.
This can all be filed under "well, it's not mandatory", but I think the entire philosophy is flawed. And annoying.
2. Communication Issues
A. In Pa Cyber, we had one IS (Instructional Support) for our family. He'd call once a week, address any issues, give me an overview of grades & progress.. Very organized. Before school began, for every issue I had to call Connections (We had a lot of issues in enrolling, I should have taken it as a warning sign) and specify which state we were from, then sit through a lot of waiting as I was transferred from one person to the next, often needing to repeat which state we were from, and which grade/s our student/s were in. I imagine that now we can just call our homeroom teacher (or the additional "homeroom support" teacher - the purpose of whom is pretty vague) but we have no experience with this process yet.
B. In connections we have one homeroom teacher for each student. (And an additional "homeschool support teacher - which as I mentioned, is undefined in purpose, but I assume is in case we cannot reach the homeroom teacher) Apparently we need to talk to the homeroom teacher on the phone each week. When I missed the call, they called my husband. At work. We returned this obviously important phone call, for her to ask such imperative questions as "What do you like to do in your spare time?" and "What was your biggest challenge in school last year?" Keep in mind that this is a sophomore receiving this call, not an elementary student. We have to talk to each teacher each week - either in a live lesson (which are not mandatory) or by phone. This takes up so much time, and is inefficient. A lot of my issues with Connections involve this busy work to make it look like we are in school a much longer time than we actually spend learning. I'm not a fan of busy work - we can learn more by reading, or experimenting, or even just watching MythBusters for an hour than we can in 3 hours of making phone calls, sitting through live lessons that are off topic or chaotic, and answering emails.
C. I received 24 emails on the first day. Many with attachments that also needed to be downloaded and read. Of those emails, only one teacher thought to include his class/grade in his signature line. For the original introduction emails all the teachers explained who they were and what they taught, and apparently it was important for us to take notes, because their follow up emails (almost all of them changed live session times at least once that first day) they felt no need to remind us who they were. Every email my kids receive is cc'd to me. It's easier for them to figure out which teacher is which, but if you are going to cc the emails to the parents, many of whom I am sure have more than one student, the signature lines should include what class/grade you are referring to. (The second day I received 16 more emails. Most of this could have been avoided by having a live lesson schedule in place, on the calendars, a week in advance.)
D. The honor code specifies that books can not be used for tests and quizzes. One teacher (I'm not specifying - because I believe the teacher is right in their reasoning & do not want them to be in trouble) just specifically told the students to ignore that and use the book. Sign the Honor Code repeatedly, then be told, specifically, to violate it. (Again, only those who attended the non mandatory live lesson would know this...) The Honor Code should be rewritten to allow teachers to overrule that and allow for some open book testing when the teachers decide it is best.
3. The Curriculum
A. It's week one, so I'm hoping it improves, but I have heard, repeatedly, from my kids "We learned this in 3rd/5th grade.", I have one sophomore and one junior. Our neighbors son is also in Connections for the first year, he's in 8th grade, and doing work he did in 5th grade in our local public school. Update - a few of the gems "taught" to my honors student 11th grader included that "many rental cars come equipped with gps" and "Electric comes from power lines". I wish I had kept notes on some of the others. The one great thing this school did accomplish was that our year spent in it made it abundantly clear to my husband that I could not possibly teach our children less by homeschooling them. He always worried that if I homeschooled them they would not learn enough. That concern was completely eliminated by one year with Connections curriculum.
B. The lessons spend a lot of time on one area, then the quiz is on something that wasn't even covered in the lesson. (to be fair, we saw this a lot in PACyber too)
C. The lessons tell you to do things, but if you login for a live lesson, the teacher may tell you not to do those things. Example - log your physical activity. My daughter created a log, filled it in with what she had done so far this week, then went to a live session and was told they didn't need to do that. I'm not a fan of wasting time. Either it needs to be done, or it doesn't - please figure it out and make it clear.
D. Although not specifically a curriculum issue, this best fits here. I'm required to log in each day and submit my kids assignments. The ones that they have already submitted. I can review the lessons, but not see their answers. I can mark a lesson "not complete", but that does not allow them to redo the quiz, so it's rather pointless. Lessons are not submitted until I login and mark each one as submitted. In grade school I can see this as a viable option, but for high school work, it appears to be another pointless time waster. Then in addition to all of this, I need to log how many hours of school work we did each day. EACH day. In Pa Cyber all the kids had to do was login, and it recorded their attendance. In Connections, we spend hours in live lessons, on the phone, answering emails, and submitting work - and yet I still need to tell them we were in school that day.
Side Note for Reference - I found this tweet when searching to see others experience with Connections Academy:" I have officially withdrawn my son from #ConnectionsAcademy because they were bought by @pearsoned promoters of #commoncore! Sad!"
I have no commentary on Common Core, as I don't know enough about it - and from what I see so far, I don't think this has affected the curriculum - although perhaps that is why it is all so dumbed down? I do not yet know, and will research it more later.