Media Monday: Zoom in on culture with Google

Today’s Media Monday is for parents and kids looking for a way to expand and enrich their learning about art, history, archaeology, the natural world, and that big mishmash that makes up our shared human culture. Google Arts and Culture is both an online site and an app for phones and tablets (both iOS and Android) that brings a VAST collection of art, historical and natural objects, museums, parks, and more to viewers through high-resolution images, sound, and 360-degree virtual reality video.

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The idea is to allow learners to get as close as possible to the process of creating batik cloth in Ghana or Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering creations. We can see art, architecture, and historical objects that we might never have the chance to look at and learn about in person, and through these superb images and sounds—all accompanied by expert narration by historians, scientists, and museum curators—we can see much more than we would be able to see even if we were at the museums ourselves.

Kids interested in art can almost touch Mary Cassatt’s brush strokes and colors, and kids interested in dinosaurs can watch The Giraffatitan come to life, as its skeleton is covered with flesh and skin and it begins to walk around Berlin’s Museum of Natural History.

The thing that struck me most when I was exploring the website and app myself is the advantage of the zoom feature. If I were at the London Natural History Museum’s exhibit on butterflies in real life, I couldn’t get close enough to really see the changing colors of the wings the way I can by zooming in on my screen. And as someone who lives in Washington, DC, with easy access to the Smithsonian’s amazing collections, I have to admit that the advantages of using this tool are nothing to sneeze at: no crowds, no waiting, you can stay as long as you like at each exhibit—and they’re all open 24/7.

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Each week new experiments and collections are featured. The Voces Oral History Project, based at the University of Texas, is featured this week. The project documents and creates a better awareness of the contributions of U.S. Latinos and Latinas of the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War generations.

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Clearly, this will send you down some fun rabbit holes, so allow plenty of time the first time you and your kids dig in. Yes, I did look at the life story of a pickle—I’m not ashamed of it! I especially enjoyed the collections of London’s Museum of Natural History and exploring the art of China’s Forbidden City. For fun, I also watched YouTube creator Ingrid Nilsen talking about the history of ripped jeans and other purposely tattered clothing that goes back to 15th-century Switzerland. And as a huge fan of volcanoes, caverns, and all things geological, one of my absolute favorite collections is a group of videos of park rangers offering guided tours of U.S. National Parks, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

For a little more context about Google Arts and Culture, check out the Library Journal’s review.

Shelley Sperry


Book review: From Home Education to Higher Education

From Home Education to Higher Education: A Guide for Recruiting, Assessing, and Supporting Homeschooled Applicants

by Lori Dunlap
(GHF Press, 2017)

Buy from an independent bookseller or Amazon.


By all accounts, homeschoolers tend to show up on campus as self-directed, self-motivated learners
who have a sense of ownership and personal responsibility for their learning and their lives.

—Lori Dunlap

Lori Dunlap’s enlightening and important new book is clearly aimed at two distinct but related audiences: (a) college admissions officers who want to better understand homeschooled applicants and (b) homeschooling families who want to be well prepared and positioned for college admissions. I would suggest that there are at least two more audiences that could benefit from reading this book: (c) families of students who have attended small, alternative (and perhaps unaccredited) private schools that do not produce conventional transcripts and (d) guidance counselors and administrators who work at those same alternative schools and want to help their decidedly nontraditional students find success in the traditional college admissions system.


Dunlap is an education and career adviser at Teach Your Own near Portland, Oregon. She has served as a career development program director, adjunct faculty member, and admissions committee member at Arizona State University. The book is informed by her professional experience in admissions; her personal background as a homeschooling parent; her analysis of multiple scholarly studies of homeschooled and unschooled students’ outcomes as college applicants, students, and graduates; and her own research, including recent surveys she conducted of both college admissions officers and homeschooling families.

Published last summer, the book begins with a straight-talking overview of contemporary homeschooling and homeschoolers. The author explains that there are as many approaches to homeschooling as there are homeschoolers, and she describes a continuum, from highly structured (also known as “school at home”) to unstructured (best known as “unschooling”), with most practitioners falling somewhere in the middle as “eclectic” homeschoolers.

Dunlap goes on to examine and debunk the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers:

  • Homeschooled children are unsocialized.
  • Homeschoolers are religious.
  • Only wealthy families can homeschool.
  • Parents cannot teach better than licensed teachers.

She also discusses the most obvious reasons for, as well as some likely underlying causes of, the rapid growth of secular (nonreligious) homeschooling in the United States. Paramount among these is dissatisfaction with the quality (and, with the rise of high-stakes standardized testing, the quantity) of meaningful learning experiences in public schools.

One category where homeschoolers tended to outperform their [college] peers
from other schooling backgrounds was campus leadership—homeschoolers were
significantly more involved in leadership positions for longer periods of time.

—Kunzman & Gaither 2013, “Homeschooling: A Comprehensive Survey of the Research”
(quoted in Dunlap)

The book distills the findings of numerous studies that show homeschoolers to be just as successful in college “across all measures of success” as their conventionally schooled peers—and in some measures, such as leadership, even more so. This data is echoed in survey responses from admissions officers and administrators at colleges and universities small and large, public and private, including Ivy League and other highly selective schools.

These kids are the epitome of Brown students. They’ve learned to be self-directed,
they take risks, they face challenges with total fervor, and they don’t back off.

—Joyce Reed, Associate Dean, Brown University

Dunlap presents a set of “Common and Best Practices” derived from a series of interviews the author conducted with admissions professionals at a wide variety of colleges and universities in 2016. One of these recommended practices is the portfolio submission option, which is gaining in popularity for all types of students because it allows them to present a more robust picture of their abilities and accomplishments than the cold, hard numbers of test scores and GPAs.

The final chapter turns those best practices into actionable recommendations for admissions professionals. Dunlap’s suggestions include expanding admissions websites to include specific (and welcoming) instructions for homeschooled applicants, thoroughly educating admissions staff about the college’s policies and procedures for homeschoolers, designating a staff homeschool specialist, providing an online transcript template, and many more good ideas. The book’s appendices provide more details about Dunlap’s survey process and lists of helpful resources for both college admissions staff and college-bound homeschoolers and their families.

A personal note: This book couldn’t have landed on my desk at a better time for my family. As a parent of an alt-schooled senior in the thick of college applications, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to soak up Lori Dunlap’s insights. As an educational consultant, I look forward to displaying From Home Education to Higher Education prominently on my office bookshelf and recommending it to my clients.

Teri Sperry

Is your teen ready to take the dual credit plunge?


About 40 percent of all US undergraduates are attending community colleges today, and that percentage is on the rise for many reasons, including lower tuition costs, smaller class sizes, and the ability for students to explore several interests before deciding on a major and transferring to a four-year college or university.

Zach Denton, ACC’s Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach

Zach Denton, ACC’s Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach

Here in central Texas, the Austin Community College (ACC) system is especially robust, with many opportunities for students who are still in high school as well as those who’ve just graduated. Currently, about 7,000 students are enrolled in high school “dual enrollment” programs, in which kids are able to pursue college credit and high school credit simultaneously. Zach Denton, Manager of High School Programs – Enrollment & Outreach at ACC, estimates that around 10 percent of those in dual enrollment programs are homeschooled.

According to Zach, the overwhelming majority of dual enrollment students are taking Core Curriculum courses, which cover a broad variety of traditional academic subjects, including math, English, history, life and physical sciences, foreign languages, and psychology. “The advantage to taking Core Curriculum courses is that they are widely transferable to other public colleges/universities in the state of Texas, as well as many private institutions.” And these courses are often eligible for reduced or waived tuition fees.

Camille North, homeschooling leader, consultant, coach, and parent

Camille North, homeschooling leader, consultant, coach, and parent

Camille North, whose three homeschooled kids all took advantage of ACC in different ways, now provides help for students grappling with college decisions through workshops, coaching, and lots of resources available on her website, Brain Bump Consulting. Camille warns parents and kids that going to ACC isn’t what they may imagine—it’s not all 18- and 19-year-olds out on their own for the first time. “The problem I’m seeing most,” says Camille, “is that kids are getting interested in going to ACC at younger ages, and they may not be ready socially or emotionally, even if they’re ready academically.” Most ACC students are adults, not teenagers, and therefore younger students have to be comfortable hearing adult language, possibly sitting in a classroom with other students who are trying to start over after having been in prison, being “hit on” by people five or ten years older, and lots of other things that could be a shock.

Zach agrees. “It’s one thing for a test to say you are college ready,” he explains, “but there are many other characteristics and skills that will determine whether a student (regardless of age!) is truly ready for college and will be successful.” Time management, maturity, attention to detail, and personal responsibility are all vital.

Both Camille and Zach also emphasize that students and parents have to understand that ACC courses stick with students as part of their college transcripts forever. Zach advises young people that “this is not a situation where you can just simply dip your foot in the water to see what it’s like—you have to be ready to jump in head first and swim!”

All these warnings aren’t meant to discourage kids, but to make sure their eyes are wide open. Camille adds, “I’m a big fan of community college as an option for kids who want to move ahead academically, but it’s not for every student. And that includes online courses, which some families opt for instead of on-campus classes.” Self-directed learning, she says, is a big transition for young people who are used to one-on-one guidance and learning in a close-knit community or family.

One of Camille’s own kids has chosen the “2 plus 2” option of living at home and completing a full two-year course of study at ACC after high school so he can make sure he knows what he wants to study before committing to a four-year college or university. This option, she says, is a nice, “gentle transition” to life away from home for students who don’t want an abrupt change at age 17 or 18.

Overall, says Zach, there are some clear positives for students who decide to attend ACC before moving on to a four-year school: 1) the cost, 2) smaller class sizes (which are usually capped at 36 students), and 3) lots of convenient locations. If you have (or are) a teen who is interested in “jumping in head first and swimming,” check out these ACC sites:

Shelley Sperry

Redefining “merit” in our education system


Kristin Kim, founder of Austin OneHeart School, has dedicated the past 20+ years to creating a new paradigm for learning. Along the way she has served in multiple roles: educator, online education company CEO, Harvard program director, attorney, entrepreneur, nonprofit board member, parent, and many more. She joins us on the blog today to announce a new merit-based scholarship program at her school and to explain why she decided to create it. [The school website is under maintenance this weekend, so if you get an error message, please check back in a couple of days.]

Starting a new alternative school in Austin has taught me a lot. Austin, with its freedom-loving spirit and progressive mindset, is an ideal environment for alternative education. As many of Austin’s alternative school founders have shared with me, it takes hard work and love to create and sustain a school. And I am happy to add my voice and vision and serve families who are seeking more than what traditional schools offer.


The most enjoyable part of my job is meeting and getting to know students and families who leave the conventional school system. The students are incredibly creative, inquisitive, and intelligent, and they are an inspiration for me. I treasure sharing our respective learning journeys, and I respect their boldness. It takes guts to listen to one’s heart and go against the current!

As I thought more about our new school, Austin OneHeart School, and its mission, the more I wanted to celebrate students choosing alternative education and their amazing talents. The National Merit Scholarships, for example, recognize and award academic achievements, but they measure academic achievements almost solely by grades, ranking, and test scores. Just as alternative education has redefined “learning,” I want to change how we all view “merit” and celebrate excellence that goes beyond grades and test scores.

I am happy to announce that Austin OneHeart School will offer full and partial merit-based scholarships for its Upper School (11–18 years) starting in early 2018. The OneHeart Scholars will be selected based on their scholarly achievements, extracurricular leadership, and good citizenship.

Scholarly achievements will include not only school evaluations or their equivalents for homeschoolers but also a student’s record of self-directed and holistic learning. We will consider academic curiosity and innovative ways a student has engaged in learning.


Extracurricular leadership will include activities outside the school, such as athletics, student-led volunteer work, and charity work. We want to see how a student has channeled his or her energy outside of school.

Lastly, good citizenship will include anything students have done to better their community in some way. We are interested in finding what they care about in their environment, in and out of school.

I believe these merit-based scholarships will also make a statement to college admissions offices. Yes, alternatively schooled students are also merit scholars, and it’s time we recognize and celebrate their amazing accomplishments!

For more information on the OneHeart Scholarships, please contact Kristin at The deadline for applying for a 2018 Scholarship is November 30, 2017.


Austin OneHeart School is located in South Austin, at 8601 South 1st Street (near Slaughter), and offers lower school (ages 3–6) and upper school (ages 11–18) programs. Austin OneHeart School is a part of and is not affiliated with any religious, ethnic, or political organization.

Kristin Kim

Media Monday: The ocean is telling us something. Young people are listening.

I never imagined I would be thinking about how to approach another crisis like Hurricane Harvey in a Media Monday post within only two weeks. We live in such troubled times. I’m writing this as Irma has just crossed into the Florida Keys, and as yet we really don’t know the extent of the devastation that will be visited upon millions of Floridians and others in its wake.

As we watch and wait, I want to use this opportunity to focus on the issue of educating our kids about the oceans and their powerful, vital role on the planet. There are many excellent and easy-to-find resources about the what, how, and why of ocean science out there from nonprofits, the government, and universities, so I’d like to zoom in today on ocean advocacy organizations that are not just educational, but created and driven by children and teens.

Please visit Alt Ed Austin and Alt Ed NYC on Facebook to let us know how your own kids are showing their interest in oceans, climate change, and the environment. One resource for kids who want to start a small environmental project of their own is

Kid-Created Ocean Projects

The Sink or Swim Project was launched by Florida teen Delaney Reynolds, who speaks to kids and adults all over the world about the science of rising sea levels. The project has some terrific books, infographics, and a comic book that will appeal to young people who want to learn more, and Delaney’s blog touches on many current climate change issues. Her TED talk explains it all:

Ella Van Cleave, now a student at Quest University, works with The Dolphin Project and Gale Force Films. Ella began her advocacy for oceans at age 12 with a love for dolphins. Today she is making a crowd-funded documentary film called To the Sea. The film aims to tell the “stories of the frontlines of the battle against climate change.” Ella explains, “I believe that one of the biggest steps we can take to ensure environmental sustainability is to get a firm grip on issues that affect the oceans, namely ocean acidification, pollution, and over-consumption of aquatic species.”

Heirs to Our Oceans is a California-based project that includes kids of all ages who want to stop pollution, bleaching of coral reefs, and other environmental disasters. As they explain it, “We have studied what is happening to know why action is needed to end the human impact on our planet’s oceans. We are sad.  We are mad.  We are motivated.  We are inspired.  We are hopeful.  We are tenacious.  And together we are taking action.” The group was featured recently on the “Loudest, Smallest Voices” episode of the Stepping Up podcast about climate activists.

Nine-year-old Milo Cress started the Be Straw Free Campaign in Vermont in 2009 after learning that hundreds of millions of plastic straws used each year eventually end up polluting our oceans. The campaign now organizes kids across the country to be part of the campaign and holds beach cleanups.

The Alliance for Climate Education includes hundreds of kids working in activist roles. One of them is Victoria Barrett, a New York City teen whose home and family were dramatically affected by Hurricane Sandy. Victoria joined 20 other kids in a lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust that’s designed to “highlight the threat of rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges” and to force government action.

For older kids, the Sustainable Oceans Alliance is “a youth-led organization that empowers Millennials to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of our oceans.” High school and college students are encouraged to start their own chapters.

Finally, if your kids are curious about the science behind hurricanes, I just found a nice set of brief, illustrated explanations about storm surge, how hurricanes form, and more from Web Weather for Kids, a site created by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Shelley Sperry

What should I be listening for?

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Guest contributor Emily Cohen, MA, CCC-SLP, received her Master’s of Speech-Language Pathology in 2008 from Eastern Michigan University. She is a Hanen-certified SLP specializing in working with children with early childhood language delays. Emily owns a private practice called Tandem Speech Therapy, where she provides in-home services in south and central Austin, Westlake, and Dripping Springs. You can read more about topics related to speech and language development, including her series Playing with Purpose, on her blog.

As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I get questions from parents on a nearly daily basis about speech and language development. They are trying to determine if their child is a “late talker.” While it's true that all children develop at their own rate, there is a set of developmental milestones that I look for in children.

First and foremost, if you suspect your child is struggling, then trust your gut. Some kids will catch up, and others won’t. How do you know, though, when your child would benefit from seeing a speech-language pathologist? For quick reference, I have developed the 1, 2, 3 Rule. This rule states that at 1 year old, a child will use 1 word or single words; at 2 years old, a child will use 2-word phrases (e.g., “mommy go”; “eat apple”). And at 3 years old, a child will use 3 or more words together to form simple sentences.

The same applies for following directions. At 1 year old, a child will follow a 1-step instruction, such as “go get your ball.” At 2 years old, a child should follow a 2-step direction, like “go get your ball and bring it to daddy.” And at 3 years old, a child should follow more complex, multi-step directions.

More specifically, it is typical for an 18-month-old child to use at least 20 words and have different types of words in their vocabulary. This includes nouns (ball, book), verbs (eat, sit), and social words (hi, bye). At 2 years old, a child should use at least 100 words and combine words into 2-word phrases. The phrases can be combinations the child puts together, like “eat apple.” This does not include common phrases such as “all gone.” A toddler (18–30 months) who has limited vocabulary based on his/her age is often a late talker.

A late talker can have difficulty specifically with spoken or expressive language. It is important to keep in mind that children who are late talkers will have typically developing play skills, motor skills, comprehension (receptive language), social skills, and thinking skills. The idea that “boys talk late” is, in fact, a myth. Development is not gender specific. Boys and girls develop at the same rate despite anecdotal experience saying otherwise.

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What should you do if you suspect your child is a delayed with their speech and language skills?

Your first step is to contact a speech-language pathologist like myself. It's never too early to begin intervention. In fact, research indicates the importance of early intervention (i.e., before the age of 3 and as early as you suspect your child is experiencing challenges) for increased long-term success. Lots of speech and language deficits remediate very quickly, and others take time. If you are worried, seeking the expertise of a local SLP as early as possible is the best pathway to language development for your child.

To get started working with your child now, try one of my favorite strategies, called “Offer a Little Bit, Then Wait”:

  • By giving your child just a few crackers, instead of the whole package, you give your child an opportunity to request more.
  • After you have given those first few crackers, wait. Be sure to have the rest of the crackers in sight so your child knows there is more to come.
  • When your child gives you a message that they want more, provide them with a few more crackers. Pay attention to different types of messages. Some children may use eye contact or eye gaze, while others may use words or word approximations.

By immediately giving your child more crackers, you reinforce the communication. The more positive reinforcement your child receives for communication, the more they will send messages to you!

Emily Cohen, MA, CCC-SLP