How online middle schools offer a viable alternative to traditional schools

College students aren't the only ones benefiting from online education opportunities. According to a survey of educators by the Sloan Consortium (sloanconsortium.org), online learning is meeting the needs of a wide range of k-12 students, including those in middle school. Students of online middle schools are as diverse and distinct as students of brick-and-mortar schools, but many fall into a few categories: gifted and talented kids who need a more challenging learning experience than they can get at traditional school; kids who need credit recovery or extra help from developmental courses; and kids who are homeschooled for a variety of reasons including illness and parental preference.

Tradition meets high-tech at online middle schools

Most states offer some form of online public middle schools, and online private middle schools are available nationwide. Public schools are free of charge, while private schools may charge by the semester, year or class. As with any private school, prices can vary greatly. Minnesota offers a comprehensive online program for high and middle school students called iQ Academy Minnesota (iqacademymn.org). This fully-accredited public school is free of charge and available to Minnesota residents. Grades 6, 7 and 8 are available offering core courses in language arts, math, science and social studies along with elective courses including art, computer, health, French, Spanish, music, physical education, world language and culture.

The 6th grade language arts course at iQ Academy offers some of the traditional elements you'd find at a brick-and-mortar school, but with a high-tech twist. Students study literature, vocabulary, writing and grammar, but they're learning in a way that may engage this generation more than a strictly traditional classroom environment. Students participate in discussion forums where they post their writing for the teacher and other students in the class to see and respond to. Rather than submitting a traditional research paper, students have the opportunity to create a multimedia report. They also create blogs where they can reflect on their independent reading.

Adjustment and socialization for online middle school students

There's always the concern that online students may end up poorly socialized or with a feeling of isolation. Many online schools have recognized the importance of socialization in a child's development and offer several ways for students, parents and teachers to connect. At iQ Academy, every Friday is iQ Live, an interactive online chat where students connect via text chat and webcam. With the webcam, kids can actually see each other and talk face-to-face. Taking advantage of extracurricular activities is valuable in socialization as well. Henry, an iQ Academy student, is involved in several extracurricular activities including dance, theater, boy scouts and soccer.

While an online school may suit some students who have had problems in a brick-and-mortar school, it's a misconception that most students of online schools have trouble functioning in a traditional classroom environment. Lauren, a student at iQ Academy, is a fashion model who travels frequently for her job. She was missing a lot of school because of the travel, so now she's an online student. One of the things she likes best about attending school online is the ability to ask her teacher a question without worrying about what other kids in the class think of her or the question. Her dad said she's shy, and this style of learning gives her confidence to study and learn.

Some online students flourish, others don't

Online learning may not be for everyone. Students who do best in this format are good time managers, able to work independently, able to follow written instructions, aren't afraid to try new things, and are able to take responsibility for their own learning process. Those who learn better with face-to-face interaction, have trouble reading and writing, need teacher feedback immediately before they can move on to the next task, or require close supervision in the learning process may not be candidates for an online middle school.

As new technological advances add more layers to the online learning experience, online education will become even more widely available, comprehensive and accepted as a legitimate form of education.