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Technology + Public School = Connections Academy

When they hear the word “homeschool” many people immediately assume we’re talking about extremely religious parents who educate their children at home by themselves, or at the other end of the spectrum, extremely flaky parents who throw together a hodgepodge of books and multimedia and call it an education. Yet most people know that plenty of college students are now “distance learners”, taking their classes and exams online, so it should come as no surprise that technology can also bring real, credentialed teachers and a real, accredited public school curriculum into your home through the internet and a computer.

What may come as a surprise is that it can be done at NO COST to the student’s family, just the same as “regular” public school.

 

 

My Connections Academy Experience

Connections Academy is one of several online public schools, but since it’s the only one with which I have personal experience it’s the only one I’m sharing today.

For kids who aren’t well-suited to the usual public school system, whether due to illness, learning disabilities, or a youth “career” in athletics or the arts, Connections Academy can be the ideal solution. My son was a Connections Academy student for grades 4 – 6, and we both loved it. When he returned to the “regular”, brick and mortar public school system in the 7th grade, he was actually quite far ahead of the educational curve compared to his peers.

The main reason why he left CA is that while CA does its best to provide students with social activities like clubs and outings, his father and I felt it was important for him to have the typical public school and classroom experience from middle school on. CA can match up students who live in the same geographic area and want to meet as a group for their schooling, but in our case the closest CA families to us were still about an hour away.

 

 

How Does It Work?

On paper (e.g., permanent school records), Connections Academy looks just like any other public school. Each regional “campus” has a rigorous curriculum that’s been designed to not just meet, but exceed state and federal public school requirements. At the start of the school year, CA ships the grade-appropriate curriculum materials to the student’s home, including textbooks, workbooks, laboratory supplies (for science) and even art supplies. CA will even provide a computer for students whose families don’t have one, plus a stipend for families that need help affording in-home internet access. Every student also receives a supply of folders and pre-paid envelopes for mailing completed assignments to teachers for hands-on review.

There’s a set curriculum and each student is assigned to one or more credentialed teachers. The parent or guardian at home serves as a “learning coach”, responsible for ensuring that the student logs into CA’s sites each day to receive and complete assignments, assisting with science and other projects as needed, keeping in touch with teachers and CA administrators, and mailing those pre-paid envelopes with each month’s written assignments. Students keep in touch with their teachers via phone, email and videochat. A portion of the lessons are completed totally online, while others are completed in hard copy for teacher review.

CA students are given free access to numerous premium, online educational subscription services that everyone else has to pay for out of pocket, like BrainPop educational videos and the Discovery online catalog of articles, research materials and television programs.

 

 

The CA curriculum is considerably more robust than the typical “regular” public school curriculum, but this doesn’t pose the challenge you might think it would. Since a CA student’s schooling is completely customized to the student, it’s incredibly efficient. He can go at a faster pace in subjects where he’s strong, then spend extra time on more difficult subjects. He never has to wait for others to ‘catch up’, or worry about falling behind while others are racing ahead of him.

When the student really takes a shine to a given subject, there’s plenty of time to delve into it as deeply as the student and learning coach want to, and the rich variety of learning materials CA provides offers more than enough fodder for research and independent study.

Apart from special projects, a CA student never has homework in the traditional sense. Once a given lesson has been delivered, whether online or through assigned reading in CA’s provided textbooks, the student immediately completes any assigned exercises or writing. By the time his peers are leaving their brick and mortar schools and preparing to do the standard 3 or so hours of homework, the CA student is finished with his schoolwork for the day.

 

 

Furthermore, the student and his family set their own schooling schedule. While there are deadlines for assignments, just as in “regular” public school, it’s up to the student and family to determine what their school schedule will be. Students can log in to CA’s sites at any hour, on any day, and from any location with internet access. Earlybirds can get started at dawn, and night owls can treat CA as a “night school”. Some families pack all of the week’s schooling into just a few days in order to keep the rest of the week free for athletics, arts training or the like.

 

What About Grades and Standardized Tests?

CA’s grading works the same as any public school, and all of its coursework and credits are totally transferable to any other public or private school.

CA administers all the same standardized tests as any other public school, and it’s one of the few times students must be taken to an actual classroom for testing. In states where parents are allowed to opt out of standardized tests for their kids, CA families have that option as well.

If/when your child makes the transition back to a brick and mortar school, she’ll be right in step with her peers in terms of grades and testing. She’ll also probably be at least a few months ahead of her peers when it comes to subject matter learning because of her more personalized, intensive educational experience through CA.

Students who are with CA during high school even have the option to start taking college courses in tandem with their high school courses during their Junior and Senior years, or complete their high school education a year early to get a jump start on college. Just as with other public schools, CA provides students with academic advisors to help them stay on track to meet college entrance requirements, as well as for assistance with completing college and finanical aid applications. Again, on paper their CA transcripts look just like any other public school records, and since CA is fully accredited its coursework is recognized by colleges, trade and technical schools.

 

 

How Can This Possibly Be Free?

CA is funded by tax dollars, just like any other public school.

 

If you have a child with special learning, environment or schedule requirements, or if you feel your local public school simply isn’t meeting your child’s educational needs, consider making the switch to Connections Academy.

 

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At Long Last, HBOGO Is On Its Way To The Fire TV Streaming Box

When Amazon first released its Fire TV streaming box, a lot of HBO subscribers were disappointed to learn it would not include support for the HBO GO app. After all, Amazon had just inked a big contract with HBO to add a bunch of HBO content to its Prime catalog, and incuding HBOGO on its brand new streaming box seemed like a no-brainer.

Well, CNET reports that HBOGO support is in the works and should be there for the Fire TV streaming box by the end of this year (2014). No specific date has been announced, but everyone who’s reporting on this agrees that it will happen (via an automatic software update) by the end of the year.

If the lack of HBOGO was the dealbreaker for you, you might want to rethink buying the Fire TV box.

 

If You Already Have Fire TV, Don’t Use the “Mosaic” Screensaver

According to a report on The Huffington Post, Amazon is acknowledging that there’s a bug with the “Mosaic” screen saver option on the Fire TV box that can result in huge data usage:

If a customer uses the “mosaic” screen saver — which shows images scrolling from left to right — there’s a chance that the images won’t get cached, or stored, to the Fire TV. So each time the screen saver runs, it’s actually downloading the images from the Internet, which can take a huge toll on your home network.

The “mosaic” setting isn’t the default, but if you’re a Fire TV owner and you’ve changed the screen saver, you may want to change it back. To do this, simply scroll down to “settings” on the home screen and select “display & sounds.” Then click “screen saver,” scroll down to “slide style” and select either “pan & zoom” or “dissolve.”

In a statement, Amazon said it’s working on a software update to fix the issue. It’s not clear if Amazon will reimburse people who may have been billed by their Internet service providers due to the bug. An Amazon representative told HuffPost that customers having issues should contact customer service.

Amazon is saying they have only heard of one customer who was charged for huge data overages as a result of this issue:

There is a small possibility if a customer uses the “mosaic” feature (not the default setting) on the screensaver images will not be cached. We’re working on a software update that will fix the bug, and in the meantime customers can turn off the mosaic view for the screensaver to avoid the issue. To date, we have not heard about this issue from other customers.

 

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Is It Dangerous To Leave My Laptop On A Bed?

Posted August 12, 2014 By Mom
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“I Heard Leaving My Laptop Turned On, On My Bed, Can Start A Fire. Is That True?”

Yes and no.

Your laptop has little heat vents on the bottom and anything that blocks those vents can cause the laptop to overheat. Leaving the laptop powered on, on a soft surface like a bed, sofa or pillow, can definitely block the vents and lead to overheating. Overheating can damage the laptop’s wiring and rechargeable battery, either of which can cause a fire. However, when a fire is actually caused by an overheated laptop it’s usually because the laptop was very old, had faulty wiring, or had a faulty/damaged/leaking battery.

Modern laptops, by which I mean any major-brand machine manufactured since about 2010 or so, have a built-in safeguard mechanism by which the machine will shut down if it starts to get too hot, long before a fire could occur.

A Snopes article addresses an urban legend that circulated back in 2010, about a house fire that was supposedly caused by a laptop left on a bed, summing up with this:

While it is generally not a good idea to leave unattended powered-up laptops (or indeed most any other electronic devices) perched upon pillows or mattresses or surrounded by easily combustible materials (such as comforters and blankets), or to fall asleep while using portable computers in bed, most of the inherent danger comes from the risk of one’s personal computer being one of those rare units that has a bad battery or has been wired improperly.

 

So while it’s not likely that leaving your laptop on your bed, pillow or sofa will cause a fire, it is possible. Since you can’t know for certain if your laptop’s wiring or battery may be faulty, it’s safest to only use a laptop on a hard surface with no vent blockage.

 

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While there’s been alarmingly little press coverage of this, Hold Security has reported, and Wired magazine confirms, that a Russian hacker group has gotten its hands on over 1.2 BILLION username/password combinations from websites all over the world, both large and small. Hold Security will not release a list of all the sites it has identified as vulnerable to the specific hack, saying that they don’t want to put any sites that have not yet been hit at higher risk of an attack. However, Hold does say “the list includes many leaders in virtually all industries across the world, as well as a multitude of small or even personal websites.”

 

Aw, Man! Do I REALLY Have To Change All My Passwords AGAIN?!

I know, I know. It seems only yesterday you were mopping up after the Michael’s, Target or Heartbleed breaches, and here’s a new one that looks to be much WORSE than any that came before. Making matters more complicated, Wired reports that a joint study conducted by Microsoft and Ottawa’s Carleton University has found: “Randomness is the key. But the problem—and it’s a near-fatal one—is that humans are really, really bad at generating random passwords.”

Never fear, because DMM’s got you covered. See my DMM post Hacker Defense: Password Creation & Management for the very easy to use system I employ for my own passwords, which GUARANTEES every password will be absolutely random.

 

Is There Any Way To Make My Passwords Unhackable?

No, there isn’t. This is because the sites where you use passwords have to store them so the sites can verify whatever password you enter against the one they have stored on the site. One way breaches like this happen is that hackers steal the entire username/password database for a given site or service, then run it through their de-crypting and password-guessing software programs.

Making matters worse, some smaller, mom n’ pop type sites don’t even bother encrypting usernames and passwords in their databases in the first place. Large, online vendors like Amazon and financial companies like banks and investment firms routinely use very strong encryption for this kind of thing, but not every site administrator has the skills to do it themselves or the money to hire someone else to do it for them. If a hacker gets his or her mitts on the username/password database for that type of site, there isn’t even any need for decryption. The usernames and passwords are all there, stored in plain text.

 

How To Greatly Reduce The Odds Of Your Passwords Being Stolen

You’re not going to like what I’m about to say, but it’s the truth.

The best way to proactively defend against this type of attack is to ROUTINELY change your passwords for sites where any personal or financial data is stored every 2 – 4 weeks.

Yes, I know it’s a major pain. But if you were already in the habit of doing this you’d have little to fear from those Russian hackers. Also, you shouldn’t be allowing MOST sites to store your sensitive personal or financial data to begin with, so you should only have a handful of passwords that require this level of maintenance. Just make it a part of your regular to-do list, like paying bills or filling out your time sheet at work.

Some sites, like Amazon, will require you to keep a credit card on file for purchases. In those cases you have no choice but to add the specific site to your list of sites needing frequent password changes. You’ll also have to include your email account(s), banking/financial sites, any sites where you routinely pay your bill online using bank account information that’s stored on the site (e.g., utility bills, cable bill, cell phone bill), and the sites for retailers where you have a credit account (e.g., Kohls, Macy’s, etc.). You may want to include social media sites like Facebook, where you probably have at least a little personal information stored, on the ‘frequent change’ list as well.

Ultimately, for sites where storing your billing information is optional, you may decide it’s less of a hassle to manually re-enter your bank account or credit card number whenever possible, rather than allow the sites to store that information.

 

A Tiny Bit Of Good News

The GOOD news is, when it comes to sites where there’s no personal or financial data stored (e.g., online discussion boards, etc.), even if a hack should occur the worst case scenario is that the hackers will get your email address and username/password combo for accessing that specific site. It’s still not a good thing, but the sense of urgency and risk are both lower for those kinds of sites so it’s probably okay to change those passwords less frequently.

 

For any site where your personal or financial data may be stored: CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD TODAY!!!

 

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Free App Friday!

Note that due to some technical difficulties, this post is going out a day early. But don’t worry, all of the apps featured below are regularly free, these aren’t one-day-only deals.

Since many of you have only recently begun checking out Free App Friday (FAF) here on Digital Media Mom, and I try very hard to avoid sharing free apps I’ve already shared in a prior FAF post, it’s likely that a lot of you missed that very first Free App Friday. So today, I’m bringing it back! All of these apps are still free, and still rated 4/5 stars or higher.

Remember that free apps may include in-app purchase (IAP) options or be ad-supported, but given that these apps have been given very high ratings by MANY consumers, where IAP links or ads are present they must be pretty unobtrusive. Descriptions below are from the apps’ product pages.

Slots – Age of the Pharoahs  •12+ unique slot machines with various features •Tens of unique mini games you can’t find in any other slots machine

My Dolphin Show  It’s time to become a real dolphin and make a splash! Let the show begin! The hoops are in place, the audience is waiting: jump in—the water is warm. Become a Sea World star…without even getting wet! Follow the trainer’s directions to flip and frolic your way into the people’s hearts. Start training to learn jumps and tricks, then impress the crowd in the big show.

Word Chums  If you like Words with Friends or Scrabble you will LOVE Word Chums. Find out why people are saying “Once you play it, you can’t go back to your old word game.” “This game takes it to another level with fun graphics and sounds, a built in dictionary, team mode, 3-4 player mode…”

Calculator Plus Free  I’m Calculator Plus – the perfect calculator for Kindle Fire. I’m easy to use and beautifully designed to do things better than your handheld calculator ever did. I love saving you time and effort. I remember everything you calculate, and let you review it anytime, making me perfect for adding up receipts, balancing checkbooks, or even calculating taxes. And if you quit the calculator and go do something else, it’s all still here when you come back. You’ll never need to type the same calculation twice again.

What Food?  What is the [name of the] food you need to find? Look at the picture, find out what they are and write them. If you need help, reveal letters or remove letters. Find them all and win!

Laudate  •Get Catholic prayers on your Android device anytime. •Listen to the Rosary and Stations podcast •Read the Bible offline •Bookmark prayers, or create your own

LDS Tools  LDS Tools is an official app of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that allows you to download directory information and the events calendar for your ward, branch, stake, or district. Bishoprics, branch presidencies, and stake and district presidencies, as well as clerks and executive secretaries, can also download additional membership data and reports for their units.

JW Library  JW LIBRARY is an official app produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a specialized reference and study tool optimized for research on mobile devices. It has navigational features that are specially designed to look up Bible verses quickly and to compare verses from multiple versions of the Bible.

Houzz Interior Design  Called the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design” by CNN, Houzz has the largest database of home design ideas on the net, with over 1,500,000 high resolution photos. Browse photos by style, room and location and save them to your virtual ideabook — it’s the equivalent of clipping design magazines to a scrapbook — making ideas easier to search, save, and share.

Ultimate Jewel  Simple rules to play – match 3 or more same colour jewels vertically or horizontally to clear all the tiles to get the golden key and bring it to the bottom.

Wattpad – Free Books and Stories  Pick from over 10 million FREE books & stories: the best of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, romance, fan fiction, thrillers, and so much more!

 

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Minecraft Pocket Edition is the only official mobile version of the hugely popular online world-building/sim game, created by Mojang, the makers of the original game. From the developer: “Minecraft is about placing blocks to build things and going on adventures. Pocket Edition includes Survival and Creative modes, multiplayer over a local Wi-Fi network, and randomly generated worlds. You can craft, create and breed anywhere in the world so long as you have hands to spare and time to burn. Since the first release of Minecraft – Pocket Edition, we’ve added heaps of new features and made massive improvements to the way things look.” This app trailer gives a better idea of what Minecraft is all about:

 

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