Jan 312013

MOOCs - Bringing college to a laundry room near you!

MOOCs – Bringing college to a laundry room near you!

The latest trend in higher learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide college-level courses in many subjects completely free. Top level universities, such as Stanford, CalTech, Duke, and more offer videos of courses taught on campus by high caliber professors. The courses are enhanced by cutting-edge online learning interactive tools; they almost feel like video games! (Know any kids who’d be down with that? I do!) Anyone can sign up completely free, and watch the identical presentations that on-campus students pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend.

Colleges don’t offer credits for these courses yet, complains the news report I’ve linked below. But they’re forgetting about CLEP exams.

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers testing in various general courses for college-bound students. A passing score ensures college credit in that subject at many colleges and universities. (Not all accept CLEP, so be sure to check.) Our local junior college, Cabrillo, accepts many CLEP exams. Instead of paying for a course, students can take an $80 test. As I see it, students could take one of these free courses in preparation for a CLEP exam, pass the exam, and save both money and time on general ed undergraduate courses. I assume this approach would also work for SAT subject tests.

For more information about CLEP, visit the College Board website, here.

To see the news report about MOOCs, click here.

Follow these links to check out three innovative suppliers of MOOCs here:




Don’t forget about CollegePlus, for personalized career direction and assistance with CLEP planning, jump-starting higher education at a fraction of the cost. Click here.

And, of course, there’s also the Khan Academy.

As the news report points out, the main drawback is lack of community and face-to-face interaction. However, this can be mitigated with study groups. Perhaps local high school homeschoolers can create a group learning situation centered on these courses. As the mom of three computer-savvy kids, I’ll be giving this serious consideration. Let me know if you’re interested!

By Columba Lisa Smith

Nov 062012

High school transcripts intimidated me to no end as my oldest child entered 8th grade, so it was a relief to learn that they are a simply a logical continuation of what I’d already been doing. Amazingly, I did not have to change my homeschool to fit a transcript mold. In fact, there is no normal for high school transcripts! A transcript does not have to be “accredited,” and no special format is required.

I found this relief, along with detailed advise, in Lee Binz’s excellent book, Setting the Record Straight. Lee’s two homeschooled sons secured full-ride scholarships at their first-choice universities, so I figured she had something to say about it. You can purchase her Total Transcript Solution here.

In brief, your transcript can be as wonderfully unique as your homeschool – many colleges will love it! (Just make sure you type it. Handwritten transcripts are hard to read and will not usually be well-received.) Lee refers to transcripts as the “love language” of colleges; an effective transcript translates your child’s unique experiences and accomplishments into “college-ese,” summarizing recognizable course names; well-thought out, honest grades; and any important test scores and other achievements. Mind you, even grades are not a requirement. Some homeschoolers present high school transcripts in narrative form, and some colleges love this creativity. If you’re interested in exploring this option, contact Wes Beach of Beach High School.

Setting the Record Straight offers in-depth strategies to help parents learn homeschool-to-college translation skills. To build an impressive transcript through the high school years, record your child’s activities and accomplishments. Keep up with grading. List any awards, including sports awards, 4-H projects, honors societies, county fair prizes, and so on.

 Click on book to purchase.

Don’t assume something isn’t worthy of high school credit just because it doesn’t sound official. The trick is to translate your child’s range of passions and experiences into the language college admissions offices understand and appreciate. I created an after-the-fact English class out of my son’s love for science fiction. I listed all the books and movies he’d enjoyed. I had him watch a DVD analysis of science fiction, and then he wrote an excellent term paper on the sub-genres of science fiction. Another child doesn’t realize he’s doing schoolwork as he researches and builds a computer from scratch. His many invested hours, both earning money for the parts and researching the how-to, translate to both technical and life skills. I don’t want to waste this, so I’ll record it, have him give an oral report, and assign a grade.

Lee offers a variety of transcript templates, but you can also design your own. An appendix in the back of Setting the Record Straight lists the components of a transcript: the title, student name, gender, date of birth, parent names, name and address of the school, names of the courses, the graduation date, credits, grades, grading system, and test scores. Lee also provides samples of her sons’ completed transcripts (adapted, of course, for privacy!).

That’s the low-down on transcripts. I recommend Lee’s book for more detailed instructions on assigning grades, calculating high school credit, deciding on a grading scale, naming high school classes, and much more.

By Columba Lisa Smith

Nov 042012


Homeschooled kids need transcripts to enter college, right? In some cases. Teens who plan to enter a four year university immediately after high school will need the following records in order:

  • Transcripts
  • Course descriptions
  • Test scores, such as PSAT, ACT, etc.

Test scores, while not always needed, help to “prove” the legitimacy of homeschool grades. It’s also important to have the child’s schoolwork in order, in case it’s needed for further evidence.

If you’re homeschooling through a public charter school, your school is responsible for these records. If you operate your own private school at home, you will want to consider high school records carefully.

The good news is that transcripts and course descriptions are fairly easy, especially if you’ve kept a record. More good news is that you may be surprised at how well your child is prepared for the tests. I was certain I hadn’t prepared my son adequately, yet he scored in the 90th percentile on the PSAT his sophomore year! If my homeschool could produce that result, yours can, too.

Perhaps the best news is that none of the above records are needed if a child takes the junior college route. California’s 112 community colleges require only one of the following for admission:

  • Your child has attained the ripe old age of 18, with or without a high school diploma.
  • He or she is a high school graduate.
  • He or she has the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Community college students can apply and transfer to four year colleges if and when they desire. (By the way, tonight Cabrillo College is hosting a College and Career night. See the Be There! Events Calendar for details.)

One last tip: If you do nothing else towards preparing transcripts, keep everything. Keep schoolwork, learning records, test scores, certificates of achievement, awards, papers –  everything. If and when you need to write up transcripts and course descriptions, these items will be invaluable.

Ciao for now!

By Columba Lisa Smith