Public Schools Go Virtual; Compete for Tax Dollars

There’s something a bit creepy about a 10 year old that hasn’t been to school and chooses to toil alone in front of the flickering screen. But then again, maybe I’m old school.

Across America more and more K-12 kids are opting to attend online schools virtually and for a variety of reasons. Parents and their school districts are supporting this rise of for-profit K-12 virtual schools. What’s more, is that the schools are funded by taxpayer dollars and, in some cases compete with the traditional school system.

I sat down with one of the largest of these companies: K12.  The company caters to more than 80,000 US students by offering virtual education as an alternative. If you put its classrooms together, says the company, K12 would be one of the nation’s largest school districts.  K12 programs today are in nearly all states and span entire states, school districts, cities, and individual schools.

The company’s marketing materials suggest that “some kids need a different kind of classroom”. Included in the list are home-schoolers, kids with individual learning needs, troubled youth, bullied kids, religious families and yes, even gifted kids. What they share in common is the need to move beyond the one size fits all model of education.

At my meeting was a  young seventh grader who was touring with her mom on the press circuit, extolling the virtues of virtual learning.  She said that she choose a K12 virtual school because she could spend more time learning, and learning her way. Her mom said that the daughter had learning issues made it easier for her to work on her own , in a structured environment with lots of feedback.

Whether you love or hate the idea or hate the idea of a virtual school for young kids, the program is nothing short of impressive.  In order to overcome the objections rely too heavily on a “kid who sits at a computer all day” the program ships tons of manipulative and hands on lessons along with the curriculum. The curriculum contains over 200 courses. Field trips, assessment systems, and teachers on call round out the offerings.

Educators, as you might expect, have their issues with virtual schools. Some of the most outspoken critics are captured in this article which appeared earlier this month in Bloomberg News. The article looks at the Michael Milliken backed K12 and concludes that more research is necessary before giving out a grade for K12 success or failure.

Summer Tips for Preserving Your Memories Without Wrecking Your Vacation

Summer is fleeting.  You want to spend a good part of it enjoying, not documenting it.  We have some suggestions to let you capture that special summer feeling without making memory-keeping a chore. And the whole family can get in on the fun.

Tell a Story. Blurb Mobile is an iPhone app that lets you capture your vacation photos and videos, add audio music or narration, a few well placed captions, perhaps and then share it on Facebook, Twitter and email. Your readers will get a link to your book. The free version is limited in the amount of images and audio you can use.  The Plus version is only $1.99 at the iTunes store.

Wear Your Gear
The photographer in the family is code named “the schlepper”. Scottevests, turn you into a sort of human pack mule, which is considerably easier than lugging stuff in a backpack or bag.  With 22 pockets but an amazingly slim fit, these vests pack enough storage to weekend on any island, anywhere. They  come in both men and women’s sizes and start about $130.

Your Body, Your Charger
The Npower Peg, just launching, won’t do you much good on car trips, but if you power your vacation under your steam (hikers and walkers alike) you’ll love this. Npower turns your kinetic energy into power that it stores in its own battery.  The more you move, the more you charge the Peg battery.   Available  for preorder for $159.

Keeping Focus
GorillaPod Magnetic The tripod is essential for low light and those wonderful self- timed family photos, but ugh, but they can be bulky.  Ubiquitous amongst the travelarati are GorillaPods, with their unique robotic- looking chains of beading.  The latest iteration of the product has magnetic feet.  So not only can you wrap them around posts and fences, but you can stick them to a fridge or vehicle. Personally I’d be the standard version unless I was planning a trip to Detroit or Pittsburgh! $24.95

Cameras are as personal as anything else but most vacations involve choosing something simple and lightweight with good results.

Still Cameras: Panasonic has a lot of experience making “lifeproof” cameras.  I know.  I lost my first Lumix in a kayak (they don’t bounce back from the bottom of the sea). That said, they score quite well on the “rugged” test. With the TS2, for example, you head dow to 10m and the cameras are shock proof, too Read more about it here.

Mobile Phones: According to an NPD survey, digital cameras still take the lion’s share of the photos but mobile phones are gaining fast. But which mobile phone is right? If you are travelling solo or want to pack light with good image quality then consider the HTC EVO . 4G is fast,  it shoots in HD video, had front and back camera facing cameras. A safe bet is always the iPhone 4. If you’re heading outside the US try the Samsung Galaxy with T-Mobile service. (Just make sure you get a plan that supports data outside the country).

Your camera can take decent (but not great videos). If its video you want then you need some control of jitters and movement. One of the best compromises in the SONY Bloggie with hi definition, a bit swivel LCD and immediate upload to social networks.  It’s ($350). For the next level up in features look at Canon’s FS series.
Now get out there and start snapping!