Why Your Kids Should MOOC


It’s an absurd little word that sounds like the mating call of a moose. In truth, it’s an acronym for an online educational resource that’s trending in universities and becoming a valuable educational tool for students of all ages. It’s also a tool you might consider utilizing as a parent, especially if your child needs skill supplementation, enrichment, or merely an outlet with an educational spin.

MOOC stands for massive open online course, a concept developed by George Siemens, a Canadian educator and Stephen Downes, an information architect (someone who organizes shared information into meaningful order through websites and other multimedia). In 2008, they introduced the first MOOC, a free course that was open to the public, the international public.  Like a traditional college course, course information was delivered by a credible professor with distinct difference. Students, tens of thousands of them, listened to the professor lecture through a series of short, online videos. To test comprehension, students were given assignments, online quizzes, or writing assignments and discussions that had to be developed or posted online through the MOOC.

The MOOC, innovative as a design, was meant to give greater access to students who wanted to learn but because of financial or geographical constraints couldn’t take a college-level course. But it had limitations. Without face-to-face contact with a teacher, it was thought that many students wouldn’t complete the course. And those that did wouldn’t be able to develop a real concept mastery.

Since the first MOOC in 2008, the number, quality, and diversification of the MOOC has expanded. There are MOOCs offered by almost every major university in the US and internationally and on any possible subject. While some MOOCs are designed with more general interests in mind, others address technically intricate subjects such as computer programming. The best part about MOOCs is the cost. Most are free and those offered for a fee are more affordable to the masses. Some universities have designed entire accredited programs in the MOOC platform. And, for those parents of young or adolescent children, MOOCs are now made with primary and secondary school children in mind.

Some schools are already using the MOOC to help students learn basic skills. In certain cases, schools have redesigned the classroom to include the MOOC. Known as a “flipped classroom” format, students watch short videos at home that cover new concepts. During the school day, the classroom is where homework and higher-level thinking is taught. The teacher’s role is less of a lecturer and more of a guide, one who teaches students how to integrate new concepts into big ideas and into problem-solving techniques.

Results from flipped classroom are remarkable. For those schools and teachers who use the MOOC as part of the classroom approach, test scores have improved by nearly 25 percent. Students learn better in this open-exploration type of learning, feel less stressed with the “home work” put before them, and really feel that they’re learning during the classroom period.

Even if your school district or individual school doesn’t use MOOCs as part of its curriculum, there are a number of reasons why you should consider introducing it at home as an educational resource for your child.

It enriches and challenges. Is your child on the upper end of the spectrum and a behavioral problem in class? Does he seemingly ace tests? Does he need little time to master concepts? Does school seem boring or do the teachers seem stupid or incompetent to him? For some children, those whose neurological processing places them in the top ten percent of the population, the traditional classroom where your child sits for seven to eight hours of lecture can be downright boring and non-productive. For this type of child, a challenge or an intellectually stimulating activity might be a solution. Getting your child registered in an emotionally/intellectually appropriate MOOC can enhance and spark excitement. It can also challenge your child, build confidence, and jumpstart his love for learning. In some cases, a MOOC offers college credit.

It encourages independent learning: Has your child ever complained “we don’t learn anything,” or after an exam, “the teacher didn’t teach us that?” Well, most likely the teacher did teach your child the concept, but in many cases, a child doesn’t have the skills to actively learn the material. And from personal experience, many kids don’t know how to be independent learners. As a teacher, I frequently meet students who are used to being spoon-fed concepts and expect those same concepts to be tested and regurgitated on exams. When test questions ask students to analyze concepts learned or to apply those concepts to higher-level problem solving, many of my students freeze. The MOOC, by its design, encourages students to work independently, provides online assignments that frame the information in such a way that students process and apply knowledge to more global problems. Some MOOCs include discussion threads where kids can post assignments and receive immediate feedback from the MOOC instructor and from other students taking the MOOC. Imagine how excited your child might be to receive feedback from a student in Singapore?

Here’s another consideration. If your child can teach what he knows to someone else, if he or she can explain a concept, that child is actively learning and integrating knowledge. It’s what’s known in education as metacognition. That’s where you want your child to be.

It supplements a weak student: Some students simply can’t learn in a traditional classroom where the instructor lectures and the student is responsible for passively taking notes. Sometimes, my students couldn’t keep up with the lectures, couldn’t figure out how to summarize or pick the most important details for note taking. If a child isn’t an auditory learner (one who learns through listening) or if a child has a processing disorder, material delivered through lectures can be lost. MOOCs break down material into short lectures on videotape. The student learns basic concepts through the lectures and then practices these new concepts through interactive assignments or games.

One great MOOC, one I recommend and view with students struggling to master new concepts is Khan Academy. One of the earliest MOOC examples, Khan Academy offers hundreds of free videos that cover science, technology, mathematics, English, social studies, analytical reasoning, and standardized test preparation. It offers videotaped instruction for kids as young as kindergarten and well into college. (Honestly, I watch those videos too, especially before coaching a student.) Recently, I used it to help a student who simply couldn’t understand the rules of exponents, and how and when to apply those rules. The videos didn’t simply provide lectures. Using an black board drawing tool, the instructor presented the rules, showed different exponent problems, and applied the rules as he solved the problem. By the end of the videos, my students had a proverbial light bulb over his head and was willing to test out what he’d learned on his homework. (Note: the Khan Academy video might load slowly depending upon your browser. If you want to see the Rules of Exponents videos at Khan Academy, click here.)


Khan Academy also encourages STEM learning, a nice acronym for science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Any MOOC or course that encourages a love of STEM in my child, I want to be part of. And you should too.

The reports on education in the United States are abysmal. In a test given to 5,100 15-year-old students from 65 countries, the United States ranked 23 or 24 in most subjects and 27 in math and science. What this means is that your child will probably be ill-prepared to compete in the global economy. (NYTimes. 12/7/10). Forbes Magazine reported that girls are truly at a deficit with a STEM education. “Women hold nearly half of all jobs in the U.S., but less than 25 percent of all STEM jobs. The study cites a lack of female role models in STEM professions and gender stereotyping as key reasons for gender disparity in STEM-related fields.”

As a parent, those results should disturb you, especially if you’re raising daughters. The report further states that more female role models in STEM careers are needed to encourage more girls to enter those fields. Registering your child on MOOCs that focus on STEM education is a first step and a way to send an important message to your child. Science and math-based subjects are important and girls can be just as successful as boys.

Now that you know the benefits, how can you find MOOCs that fit your child’s emotional/academic needs? While most major universities offer MOOC-type courses, for primary and secondary targeted students, you want to check out MOOC repositories. Companies such as EdX, a joint partnership between MIT and Harvard University offers thousands of courses. Also, one website, MOOCs.com, provides current news on the MOOC industry, what’s new, what’s good for your child’s age group, and what courseware companies have what you’re looking for.

Despite criticisms you might hear about the MOOC, it has tremendous educational benefit, especially for primary and secondary school students. And even if your child’s school doesn’t offer the MOOC as part of its curriculum, as a parent, you should consider introducing it at home to your child. You can do much to foster a love of learning in your child. For not much expense, you can also enrich or support your child’s education.

EDUReview 3/13/2014


The latest trends in education and parenting  March 13, 2014

Book News

The art of reading actual books with actual pages is in extremis. Some of us parents wish it weren’t and try to find ways to get our children to read—and not on a Kindle, either. One good way to turn them into bookworms is to buy them awesome books they’ll want to read. Another way to get kids to read is to set an example. Kids who see their parents reading are more likely to read, themselves.

Alas, the Internet allows us to make all sorts of claims without having to back them up. Remember those Facebook quizzes that were going around where you had to check off how many books you read out of someone’s random selection of 100 books? Did any of your friends have a score that made you well, suspicious, (though you couldn’t actually accuse anyone of anything—there’s no way to really know if virtual people are telling the truth).

(photo credit: Neftali / Shutterstock.com)
(photo credit: Neftali / Shutterstock.com)

It’s the memories of boastful Facebook readers that made us like this piece over at The Federalist which opens with a poem by Joseph Bottum called Reading By Osmosis. The first stanza:

Mark Twain, Hart Crane,

and Ursula K. LeGuin—

We’ve mastered their books with a difficult trick:

We’ve read them outside in.

It’s a long article, but one we think you’ll enjoy. The best part? The next time someone makes a dubious claim about reading, you can show that person this article (you’ll remember to bookmark the piece, of course). So very handy to have on hand for those virtual braggadocios in your life.

Baby Clothes News

If you have babies or are expecting a baby (or perhaps even a grandchild), you’ll want to read this piece which makes infinite sense if you’ve witnessed the frustration of a little one that got all tangled up in his or her clothing. You’d think that clothing manufacturers would think about this stuff! What this is, is a list of clothing styles that make no sense for babies, yet persist as infant clothing trends long after you’d think someone would finally complain loud and long.


Long dresses, for instance—babies just learning to crawl find their knees pin down the fabric so that forward movement is impeded. The result? Horrible frustration and sometimes a baby that gets stuck or tumbles. Happily, the author, Eliza Parker, suggests clothing styles that actually work well and are functional for babies. A must read.

Signs Of Creativity

It’s natural for parents to scrutinize their children to see what special talents and skills will emerge. Some parents go a little overboard and imagine signs of genius in their oh-so-normal children. Here’s a piece about creative people and the things they do differently than others.

Falling Water

Who knew that daydreaming, for instance, was a sign of creativity? And here you thought that dreaming in class was about a wandering attention span. No doubt your child’s teacher did, too, during that last awkward parent teacher meeting.

Especially enjoyable are Carolyn Gregoire’s fun vignettes about famous creative people. Have you found it irritating that your child wakes you up at 3 AM? Be irritated no more: Frank Lloyd Wright did exactly that, although he was an adult at the time. Who knows? Maybe your child’s persistent requests for a drink at that ungodly hour foretell an architectural future, the next Falling Water in the making.

You’ll find this a fascinating read and will no doubt be nodding your head thinking, “My kid does that!” or perhaps even, “I do that.”

Technology Safety News

Last but not least, a cautionary piece about infants and technology. According to author Chris Rowan, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics have issued guidelines relating to children and the use of technology. Infants, for instance, until the age of two, should not have any exposure to technology whatsoever.


Most babies find mobile phones and iPads fascinating and will grab at them. Many parents find it cute to allow babies to pretend to be talking into their phones. After you read this article, you’ll want to think twice about that. The list of dire results that may occur as a result of using handheld devices is really, really scary.

Of course, you can always buy your child a fake phone or remove the battery of an old phone and let a baby have his or her way with it. It won’t be quite the same, but it may ease your child’s frustrating desire to mimic everything you do. You may want to bookmark this piece for future reference.



EDUReview 3/6/2014

The latest trends in education and parenting  March 6, 2014

Winter break has come and gone but your nightmarish memories of traveling with your little ones are still as fresh and as painful as ever. Can Spring break be far behind? Yikes. The good news is this resource of 50 ways to keep your children occupied during a long stint of traveling by plane or by other means.shutterstock_44043907

The bad news is that most of the ideas here are impractical to say the least. Playing with Play-Doh on a commercial airline? Oh my. Those folding trays are awfully small. Methinks the airline will not appreciate getting bits of modeling clay ground into their carpet.

On the other hand, the very first idea on the list is wonderfully educational. Called Travel Tickets, parents are directed to this website, where “tickets” can be printed out and cut into individual tokens. You give your child a bag of these tickets and have her give you a ticket every half an hour (or whatever predetermined time period you decide on) until all the tickets are gone. This helps orient your child to the true length of the trip. It’s both a kinesthetic and a visual means by which children can gain understanding of the passage of time during travel.

As of this writing, Huffpo blogger Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis has 311k Facebook  likes on her article 10 Common Mistakes Parents Today Make (Me Included). It’s a darned good list. I totally related to Mistake #10: Worshipping Our Children. My house has always been child-centric. Kubiszyn Kampakis makes the point that we’d do better to take the focus off of children, thus promoting selflessness rather than selfishness. I would have added yet another parenting mistake to the author’s list: Over-Praising Children. When we tell children that everything they do is wonderful, they end up with an unrealistic inflated sense of self. I’ve seen it. It’s not pretty. Especially when said children grow up.Languages

Do you have preschoolers at home? The best way to prepare them for school is to let them hear and experiment with all sorts of sounds. Here’s a woman with a remarkable talent for languages. Well, kinda sorta. She’s not actually speaking any real languages, just has a remarkable facility for mimicking sound impressions based on various languages heard during her travels around the world. I think it would be great to play this for children and then practice fake-talking in various languages. It’s fun. And believe it or not, it’s honing a child’s preliteracy (pre-reading) skills.

Do you worry about your child getting enough sleep? Is your child struggling to keep up in school? It may be she needs to eat more fish. Of course, if your child hates fish and doesn’t mind swallowing capsules, she can just chug down fish oil capsules to improve the quantity and quality of sleep she’s getting. That’s according to a study out of Oxford University in the UK. Children aged 7-9 years judged as both poor sleepers and struggling readers were given Omega-3 supplements or a placebo for 4 months. Getting more omega-3 fats in their diets did the trick—helping them sleep better and improve their reading scores in school.


Have you been following the coverage of the Rachel Canning trial? What’s your take on this 18 year-old who demands emancipation from her parents while at the same time expecting them to give her weekly child support and cover her tuition? Being a parent of many, I couldn’t help but take the parents’ side. Adolescence is rough and even the best parents can have a rocky road. I felt for them. My take is that Rachel is doing something incredibly hurtful to her parents by putting their parenting skills on trial in front of the entire country. Not nice. I hope they manage to work things out and get back on track. I hope that someday Rachel will understand the difficulties of parenting and will apologize to her mom and dad for the way she treated them.

But of course, that’s just me. Watch the clip and leave a comment to tell me what you think. Spoiled brat much? Or righteous abused child doing something canny and clever?