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As the Howard County Public School System's school year kicks off today 100% virtually, we have decided to analyze the benefits and the drawbacks of online school.

First off, we are going to analyze the format that the Howard County Board of Education has approved. In short, it is a 4 by 4 schedule. What this inherently means is that a student will participate in the same four classes each day for four days each week. The student will participate in these four classes for the entire duration of the first semester. In the second semester, the same process is repeated. Each day, every student meets for 45 minutes with each teacher for a total of 3 hours of synchronous instruction each week per class.

In addition to synchronous instruction, each class will offer additional support times twice each week. For Periods 1 and 3, these support periods will occur on Mondays and Thursdays. For Periods 2 and 4, these support periods will take place. on Tuesdays and Fridays. Provided below is the image of the bell schedule for all Howard County High and Middle Schools (according to the info we have collected). The exact schedules for elementary schools vary from school to school and grade to grade, so we would recommend checking in with the school via their website or making sure you are keeping up with school emails.

Across the county, no instruction will occur on Wednesday. On this day, students will be given the opportunity to work on their assignments. Implications of a mixed day will come up later in this writing piece. For high school and middle schoolers, teachers are advised to assign between 2 to 3 hours of homework each week. Homework assignments will be posted on Canvas each Monday and will be due the following Monday. With these assignments, teachers are allowed to assign smaller assignments due at the end of each day with the week-long period being given for larger assignments such as essays, projects, and huge tests.

Moving on to the benefits:

  1. Best way to limit the spread of Covid-19 Kids are messy and forgetful, especially when they are younger. When they see their friends, they forget about the precautions that their parents have warned them about. They are focused on having fun and interacting with their friends. And teenagers going through their rebellious phase will often disregard parental guidance, which may include not wearing masks and not adhering to social distancing policies when they are at school. As a result, to limit the spread of Covid-19, online schooling remains the best option. It gives students the opportunity to see their classmates while also ensuring that students do not have the chance to spread Covid-19 by accidentally breaking social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

  2. Allows students to be more independent Learning from home forces students to be more independent. When completing assignments, they will no longer have the option of relying on their classmates to do the work for them. Instead, students will be forced to learn to accomplish tasks for themselves. Although this may be challenging for some, we view this generally as a positive development which will prepare students a lot more for life after school. If a student really does need help, they can always seek help during each class's additional support period, but the process of actually seeking help is also helping the students become more independent as they learn to make decisions based on what they need.

  3. Forces students to develop good time management skills Homework will be assigned Monday and due the next week, so students will have ample time to complete all of their work. However, their work will be graded on quality, not completion. As a result, in order to successfully complete all 12 (roughly) hours of homework assigned each week, they will need to develop good time management skills. We are predicting that procrastinators are going to find that bsing their way through online school this year will prove much more difficult than during the previous spring. As a result, students who are big procrastinators will be forced to work on their time management skills, or else their grades will suffer. This benefit will be one many parents will be excited about.

  4. Allows high school students to take an extra class For high schoolers, they will be able to take four different classes each semester. In the normal, in-person school year, each student is given the chance to take 7 classes (less if involved in an Academy). This year, they will be given the chance to take 8 classes. This one additional class can be used to get ahead in any core subjects (Math, English, Sciences, Languages), to take classes students could otherwise not fit in their schedule, or to take an additional AP class to demonstrate college readiness. Overall, this opportunity to take an extra class in high school is a great one that can really go toward showing colleges how prepared a student is to take on college life.

But there are also many drawbacks. Here are just some of the big ones:

  1. Less Classroom Instruction Across the board, all students will receive half the exposure to classes than they would during a regular school year. We can only hope that teachers have recognized this and have designed a curriculum that will allow the same amount of material to be taught in half the amount of time. One thing we predict that we may see will be the elimination of homework, quiz, and test reviews during class; instead, teachers may offer to review the information for students who would like the review during the additional support periods. This would effectively cut down on time, but I guess we'll have to wait and see. We will break it down more specifically for high schoolers. In the regular school year, each student attends five classes every day for 50 minutes (about 40 minutes of instruction) and one class every other day for 90 minutes (about 80 minutes of instruction) each time. This year, students will meet for 45 minutes for four times a week in four classes for just one semester. In the regular school year with 180 school days, the total amount of instruction for each class that occurs every single day is 9000 minutes (approximately 8100 minutes of instruction). With the new virtual learning model, a student will only receive 4034 minutes of instruction in each class, which is not even one half of the amount of instruction in a normal class. This disparity is even greater for middle schoolers as they usually attend six classes every single day during the regular school year. However, this statistic is not exactly accurate as the 8100-9000 minutes include the minutes spent taking tests and quizzes, reviewing for tests and quizzes, reviewing homework assignments, working on group projects in class, and free days, which will most likely not be included in the virtual learning model.

  2. AP Classes The biggest group of students who will suffer this year are students taking Advanced Placement classes. For those of you who don't know, Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses that students can earn college credit for if they receive a score higher than 3 on a scale from 1 to 5 on the AP exam administered by the College Board during the first two weeks of May of each year. The deal with these classes is that if a student in high school takes an AP class during the first semester, from January to May, they will no longer take the class which may lead to some students forgetting the material. However, if they take the AP class in the second semester, they will have less time to learn the material since the second semester doesn't end until late June, a full month after AP testing has occurred. There is one plus side for AP classes though. With the new virtual model, students have more free time. This extra free time would be extremely beneficial to any student who decides to self-study for AP tests. Overall, for students taking AP classes in school and planning on taking the AP tests, virtual learning is not the best way to go.

  3. Students will feel more isolated Humans are social creatures who love to interact with others. One great place for children to interact safely with others their age is at school. With schools closed, many children, especially those without siblings around their age, are isolated. This sense of isolation in teenagers experiencing hormonal changes can even trigger depression, so for parents and students alike, please be on the lookout for signs of depressive behavior in your children and/or friends.

  4. In order for students to learn, they must be actively engaged in class This last note applies mainly to younger students. While most high schoolers understand the importance of maintaining their grades, a lot of younger students have not yet been exposed to the importance of doing well in school. In addition, younger children tend to be more energetic and hyper. As a result, it is hard for younger students to sit down and remain actively engaged in online instruction. Putting it simply, there are too many distractions at home that prevent these students from focusing all of their attention on the teacher. In the classroom, the students are influenced by each other and by the fact that the teacher is present to guide them. At home, many parents are not available to make sure that their student is paying attention and the teacher's influence is greatly limited, so it is extremely difficult for many younger students to actually learn anything through a virtual model.

Be on the lookout though for new information. Under pressure from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, the Howard County Board of Education has been pressured to reopen schools immediately. The Superintendent claims that this will not affect anything as of now, but the Board of Education is meeting in mid-October to discuss the next steps. The decisions reached in this meeting will for sure determine how things will look in the second semester and may even allow for students to return to school as early as the second quarter in a hybrid model.

Once we find out any new information, we will keep you all updated!

  • Writer's pictureGirls in STEM

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

The Inaugural Summer Session Program at GIrls in STEM blasts off today, August 1, 2020, with a total of 17 students, 19 tutors, and over 30 classes scheduled!

Our dedicated tutors are ready to start guiding girls of all ages on their journey to become more comfortable learning about STEM topics ranging from engineering to computer programming to advanced competition math.

As one of our students being tutored in computer programming said, "My tutor was really nice and willing to work around my needs. I'm actually looking forward to continuing classes to develop my skills. My goal is to be able to create a game from scratch by the end of the month."

Good luck to our tutors and students during their first month with the program! We look forwards to seeing all the progress you'll make during August!

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