I’ve balked at reviewing Online G3 publicly. Not because I have any reservations about it, but simply because it’s a finite resource, and I’m hesitant to see it flooded with users with whom I’d have to compete for spots. It’s quickly become a family favorite, and I’m feeling a bit selfish. But share I will.
Online G3 hosts online classes in Language Arts, History, and Critical Thinking for gifted children. Headmistress Guinevere (aka Jamie Smith) teaches all the courses herself, and, as the parent of a gifted child, she understands the need the younger gifted set need for in-depth, appropriate material to think about and discuss. She also understands this same set of kids is rarely ready to produce the long papers and projects that older students would be able to do, and her assignments are relatively short but allow for a child who is a prolific “producer” to show his or her stuff.
The online portion of the classes, 50 minutes in length, take place on Elluminate, an online meeting and class host. Elluminate is easy to use for parents and children alike (okay, easier for my kids than for me, but that’s true with quite a bit of technology in our house), and is Mac and PC friendly. During the class, Mistress Guinevere has the controls, meaning to speak to the class, kids have to electronically raise their hands and receive permission to use the mic. Anytime, they can pose questions or give answers on an instant message frame on one side of the screen. She’s also ready and willing to turn that screen off if conversation there gets distracting or irrelevant. There are times she “turns on the tools”, allowing students to write an answer or highlight a response on the electronic chalkboard region that takes up most of the screen. Participation is easy for all students, whether they’re typing skills are emerging or proficient.
Homework is listed on the website after each class, and generally consists of videos on BrainPOP and Discovery Education (which are free subscriptions with each $199 18-week class), quizzes and practice on Quia, book chapters to read at home, and short written or multi-media assignments to turn in on the class forum. For most of the written (typed) work, the children must also constructively comment on 2 or 3 of their classmates’ work in the forum. Once assignments are done, they are automatically marked as done on the child’s class page (reading and timeline work is marked by the student), and a complete sign appears when the work is done. Additionally, there are a dozen or so moderated forums on topics ranging from reading to story writing, to LEGOs, all available for students 24/7. For the interested child, there is plenty of interaction available, at least for an online class. The kids are also free to explore other parts of BrainPop and Discovery Learning outside of the assigned videos.
But it’s not the resources that make the classes a favorite, especially for my younger son, now 9. It’s Headmistress Guenevere herself and the amazing students in her classes. She’s welcoming, informative, interesting, and appropriately challenging, especially for the precocious 7 to 12-year-old children that seem to make up the bulk of her classes. There are older students enrolled, and a few of her courses specifically are for kids 12 and up, but the content and assignments are the same as those for the under 12 group. (She had parental requests for classes for the older gang, and my 13-year-old prefers to be with those kids. He says they are less likely to be distracted and go off topic. This amuses me greatly, since he’s so often distracted and off topic himself.) Aside from those courses (and older kids may be in the sessions listed for 12 and under, if necessary), there are no age requirements, and children younger and older participate.
Make no mistake. This is truly a set of courses designed for the gifted learner. The pace of the classes is brisk, with many of the courses taking a year of material and fitting it into a semester. This compression of material is welcome to many gifted learners, who can generally digest information at an amazing rate. Additionally, conversation level is also much higher than what you’d find in an average elementary classroom, and the assignments focus on higher-order thinking skills, like analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking. In my 9-year-old son’s US History course, a recent assignment asked the students to identify the main reason they thought the US entered World War I (they’d discussed many reasons), if they thought the US should have entered or not, and what the outcome might have been had the US not entered. The children’s answers were thoughtful and generally well-reasoned, as well as beyond what you’d expect for children largely in the mid-elementary years. It’s a hit for my budding historian eager to discuss the topic with other historically minded kids.
Over the last two semesters, we’ve experienced five different Online G3 classes. Three have been combinations of grammar and vocabulary, all relying on Michael Clay Thompson’s books on the same (the writing and poetics portions aren’t included in these online versions). US History 2B (1900 – 2000) relies on Joy Hakim’s History of US series, volumes 8,9, and 10. Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings (reviewed here), requires the LOTR books and a student manual with the same name, published by HomeScholar Books. Books aren’t included in the course price, but are generally reasonable and are high-quality materials with great resale potential (or, in our house, reusability).
Online G3 isn’t for everyone. It’s clearly tailored to the young gifted learner who craves a quickly paced class with a virtual classroom with other exceptionally bright, articulate, and opinionated learners. It’s been a hit with my children, especially my younger, who stalks the site, hoping to find the next week’s homework before the current week’s assignments are due. If only he had the same drive for math, or perhaps Online G 3 could offer those classes next. Oh, Headmistress Guinevere…