Welcome to The Virtual High School

A Week in the Life of a VHS Student

Monday Study Hall | 50 minutes

On Mondays, my 2nd period is study hall. I go to my school’s computer lab and log into my VHS course, AP® Environmental Science.

First, I always read the news feed where my teacher posts updates. She reminds us that we are starting a new group project that will last for several weeks and to stay on top of our work.

I go to this week’s Wiki and find out what group I’ll be working with. Wikis are websites that allow people to collaborate and edit together (like Wikipedia and Google Docs). Since my classmates and I log in at different times of the day, the Wiki lets us work together on the same document.

Last week my class had to share our thoughts and observations about the assigned reading in a discussion thread. Our initial thoughts were due Friday, but we also have to read what our classmates have written and respond to at least two other people. My friend Madison commented on my discussion, so I answer her and respond to two others.

Finally, I send my teacher a message using the Private Topic tool. Each of my classmates has a Private Topic so we can ask questions without the whole class knowing. I want to tell my teacher that my school is going on a field trip this Friday, and I won’t be able to log in.

Monday Night | 1.5 hours

Right after school I have track practice. That lasts for about an hour until I have dinner and start my homework.

My AP® Environmental Science class is taking water samples from our local rivers and streams. I grab my gloves, goggles, and the water monitoring kit that was mailed to me and walk to a brook near my house. I asked my friend from school to come with me since we should never work alone. I draw samples, and my friend helps me record the results of my experiments. I have a bit more to do, so I carry some of the samples home to do more labs in my kitchen.

When I get home, I finish my lab work and submit my findings to the dropbox. Since my classmates are from all over the world, we might get very different results. For instance, I know one of my new friends lives in California where the climate is much drier, and the soil is different. I’m curious what his results will be when we get to share.

Finally, I check the threads where I have conversations going with my classmates. My teacher read through my conversation with Madison and complimented us on our thoughtful discussion. I take a few minutes to review my chapter notes and worksheets before my quiz tomorrow.

Tuesday Study Hall | 50 minutes

When I log into my VHS class on Tuesday, I see that my teacher responded in the Private Topic thread. She tells me to enjoy my field trip and to pay attention to any due dates. Our assignments are flexible, but some of them are due on specific days of the week, like Friday. I’ll have to work a little extra to do those parts early.

VHS courses run Wednesday-Tuesday, so this week’s assignments are all due tonight at midnight. I spend my study period taking my end-of-week quiz and practicing for the Environmental Science AP® exam at the end of the school year. Every week we practice multiple choice and short answer questions like we’ll see on the exam. It’s also good practice for our unit tests, which we have every few weeks.

I finish my exam practice with a few minutes left, so I begin making an outline for our group research project. I leave a comment asking everyone which sections they want to cover and pick one for myself to start on. As I work, I add my notes to the Wiki page. My study hall period is first today, so when I’m done I log off of the computer and go to my next class. 

Tuesday Night | 1 hour

When I get home after today’s track practice I check on my biosphere bottle. Some people think that an online class is just sitting on your computer all day, but my classmates and I do lots of hands-on experiments. I got a lab kit in the mail and I have to use materials from around my house. In the first weeks of AP® Environmental Science, we all built ecosystems using soda bottles. Since then, my class and I have been monitoring the changes over time and posting updates in our weekly blog. The biosphere bottles have 3 chambers and over the past few weeks mine seem to have stabilized into very distinct ecosystems. I add some fruit to the bottle to keep my plants and snails alive and record my observations. I also check on the changes to my fruit fly chamber and my biodiversity plot in my backyard.

Also, in our blogs we discuss the impact that natural disasters would have on our local environments. One of my classmates lives near the equator and just experienced a flash flood because of monsoon season. He didn’t have to theorize because he witnessed it firsthand. Another one of my classmates lives in a touristy part of Shanghai, China and talks about the damage an earthquake would cause to their high rises and subway system. Monsoons and earthquakes aren’t common where I live, but we do get blizzards. It’s so interesting that my classmates and I live in such different climates and face different natural disasters.

Wednesday Study Hall | 50 minutes

Wednesdays are the start of a new VHS week. The first thing I do when I get to study hall is look at the weekly overview and print out the assignment checklist. I use this to help plan my week, so I don’t procrastinate. I know I have a field trip on Friday, and some of my assignments are due then, so I plan to work a little extra to submit my work on time.

In the news feed, my teacher has posted a link to a YouTube video that one of my classmates shared with her. It’s a really interesting video about how much food we waste. I like that my teacher reads our messages and cares enough to share cool articles with the rest of us. 

I plan to do my assigned reading at home and instead start my “Measuring Your Impact” assignment. This week we are calculating the amounts of energy that get transferred through the food chain and how many humans the world can sustain. We’re always learning about our ecological footprint. Other weeks we’ve calculated how many trees were cut down to make the amount of paper we use, and the calculated the money, energy, and resources needed to make bottled water vs tap water.

I don’t fully understand the worksheet and get stuck on one calculation in particular. I use the Private Topic thread to ask my teacher about it, knowing that she’ll get back to me by tomorrow with an explanation.

Wednesday Night | 1.5 hours

Tonight, I get comfortable on the couch and start this week’s assigned reading. We have digital textbooks, so we can read them on our laptops or phones wherever we have internet. I have to take good notes because there’s a test next Tuesday and I will use them to study. On those days when I have a proctored exam, an adult will come to the computer lab to supervise my test.

After an hour of reading and taking notes I put my ebook aside and start on a creative writing project. Our task is to write a riddle about one of the Earth’s biomes using that biome’s identifying characteristics like temperature and rainfall. It’s more challenging than I expected, but really fun. We post our riddles in the “study lounge” which is a casual discussion area where we can discuss our reading or ask questions. It’s less formal than our normal discussion threads which are about our assignments. I’m one of the first people to post, so I’ll have to check back later to guess other people’s riddles. 

We have another discussion area called the “student lounge” where we can just hang out and talk about anything, even if it’s not related to our lesson! My class is mostly high school seniors, but a few juniors are talking about their SATs and college applications in the lounge right now, and us older students are sharing our experience with them.

Thursday Study Hall | 50 minutes

When I log in to VHS, my teacher has left me a message about yesterday’s “Measuring Your Impact” assignment. I forgot a key step in my calculation! In her message she explains the parts of the equation and what that step accomplishes. With my teacher’s help, I’m able to finish the assignment today and submit it during study hall.

When I first enrolled in VHS I was nervous because my teacher wasn’t physically with me, but not once have I felt alone. I know my teacher will get back to me quickly and I’m getting to know my classmates well through our weekly discussions.

Some of my friends think I can goof off during study hall but taking a VHS class—especially AP®—is a lot of work. It would be easy for me to procrastinate, so I’ve had to learn time management. My school has a VHS Site Coordinator to oversee and help the students taking VHS courses. Since our VHS teachers aren’t at our school, my Site Coordinator will check on anyone who might be struggling in their course. He knows which classes we’re taking and sometimes talks to our teachers to make sure we’re doing well.

Before I log out, I double check which assignments are due on Friday. Since I’ll be busy the whole day, I need to submit them tonight so they’re not late. I can continue to work on my group project more on Saturday.

Thursday Night | 2 hours

After school I have a track meet in a neighboring town, but I can do my work on the school bus if I use my cell phone. VHS is available anywhere I have internet access. I open my ebook on the bus ride and continue reading where I left off last night. Then I post my reflections on the chapter which are due tomorrow. Other people will read my reflections over the weekend and comment on them next week. We also post our notes online. It’s interesting that we read the same chapter, but our notes are all different. Sometimes we take away different points, so it’s good to check with others.

Since I’m going on a field trip tomorrow and won’t be online, I need to finish the assignments that are due before then. When I get home after my track meet, I learn how to interpret climate diagrams. For practice, I choose two of the diagrams and have to decipher what they say about wet and dry periods, rainfall, temperature, and seasons. Then I have to make an educated guess which biomes they depict.

I continue to research for my group project and make an outline for my part of the report in the Wiki page, being sure to keep good notes and write down all of my sources to cite later.

Saturday | 2 hours

In addition to my usual AP® Environmental Science homework, today I’m making up my class time from yesterday.

My grades get emailed every other Friday, so when I turn on my computer I check my email first. Next, I follow up on other people’s posts and acknowledge the comments to mine. Reading and responding to other people’s notes on this week’s chapter helps me review for the unit test this week. I also have to leave comments on several people’s climate diagrams. Some of us chose the same ones to work on, and for the most part we arrived at the same answers. My favorite thing to do is read my classmates’ riddles, which are very clever!

I take a break to check on my experiments, adding fruit to my fruit fly chamber and my biosphere bottle to keep them going. Then I go back to my group research project and continue adding to the Wiki. I see that one of my partners has written a lot since Thursday. I use my notes to start drafting my section of the report and add all of my sources.

Before moving on to the homework from my other classes, I take a few minutes to read over my own notes from the past few weeks. I think I’m in good shape for the test on Tuesday.

 

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