Third graders are at an age that is particularly conducive to learning in an online education format; they are beginning to advance their technological skills and understand the benefits of learning on their own. Furthermore, third graders are often happy to demonstrate their mastery of a tool--such as a computer--and to show how proficient and knowledgeable they have become. But does this mean they have the drive or skill set to survive 3rd grade online? Understanding the basics of distance learning at the elementary-school level may be the key to answering that question for your child.
The rise of online 3rd grade programs
The distance learning model is starting to pick up steam across the country, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL:
- Twenty states are providing both supplemental and full-time online learning options
- Twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia provide full-time online schools serving students
- Thirty-eight states have state virtual schools or state-led online initiatives, and Alaska is planning to open a statewide online learning network in 2011
- More than 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in online and blended learning during the 2009-10 school year
As a third-grade parent, the idea of enrolling a child in an online program might be a bit scary. After all, it's seemingly non-traditional and far too heavy on the use of technology, right? Well, yes and no. More and more classroom teachers are using the Internet to deliver lessons, to supplement in-house exercises and to allow students to work on and submit homework more easily.
Some school districts have even moved beyond the mere use of the Web to supplement classroom instruction by sanctioning full-time online learning. Students who study online full-time follow pre-determined lesson plans, take tests, interact with peers and even chat with teachers via one of two distinct formats:
- The synchronous model. Students participate in educational activities in real-time and on a set schedule. At the 3rd-grade level, this could include a group discussion on the three branches of government or on the process of photosynthesis.
- The asynchronous model. Here students work on lessons, quizzes and other material at their own pace. This allows gifted students to move through schoolwork quickly, and those students who may need extra help with a concept are able to spend additional time working toward mastery.
Third-grade online programs that support classroom education, or that provide quality in-home instruction, give students and their parents unique learning options and unprecedented academic flexibility.
Online 3rd grade covers essentials skills
Online 3rd grade programs offer instruction in the same basic skills that are covered in traditional schools. Most notably, the instruction that's designed to meet the goals of national, state and local education policy makers is included in online education. The foundation of a third-grade education can be segmented into these distinct fields:
- Language arts: text comprehension, decoding strategies, chapter books, the ability to distinguish between genres
- Mathematics: multiplication and division facts, place value to thousands or ten thousands, estimation
- Science: basic physical sciences and chemistry, weather and climate, atoms and molecules
- Social studies: culture of the U.S., early U.S. history, Native Americans, the Civil War, outward expansion and the gold rush
Online 3rd grade students can gain the essentials in these areas, just like their counterparts attending traditional schools, but can also explore areas of interest in-depth. For example, a 3rd grade online student who shows interest in the gold rush could dig deeply into this material by pursuing instruction and quizzes geared at this content area.
Finding the balance for 3rd grade online learners
It is estimated that an elementary-school child spends 20 to 30 percent of his or her time online when enrolled in a computer-based learning program. Online 3rd grade students also use time to calculate math problems on paper, draw, conduct science projects and read books. This offline work is considered essential to learning.
Online 3rd grade students still require parental involvement. According to k12.com, a provider of online elementary school instruction, children need basic computer skills, but much of their online interaction is carried out by parents or other caregivers. Parents play additional roles in their child's academic life. They act as guides on assignments, instructions and projects--just as they might in a traditional school.
A U.S. Department of Education study shows that online learning is one of the fastest growing trends in the educational use of technology. As school systems cut budgets and parents become eager to advance learning opportunities for their children, this national trend could prove a benefit. The digital learning model can allow parents of online 3rd grade students to shape their education from a very young age.