Sora’s Online High School Experience: An Inside Look from Carolyn

What makes Sora’s online high school experience unique? It’s the people. It’s the passion and commitment to constant innovation from Sora’s staff, faculty, and students. We’re concluding our Inside Look series, where you’ve heard straight from Sora’s faculty members about what sets Sora apart. This week, we’re taking an inside look into Sora from Carolyn’s perspective.

Who is Carolyn?

Carolyn has worked as Sora’s STEM Expert since its founding. In addition to her seven years of high school teaching experience, she holds eight years of real-world experience in the software industry. Students affectionately refer to Carolyn as their STEAM Expert, as she marries practical math skills with creative applications in courses like Pixar Animation. 

She discovered Sora not as a teacher looking for work but as a mother searching for a better education for her son:

He had such a hard time in regular public schools and private schools. He didn’t have an outlet [for his interests]. He’s very intelligent, but he felt like a failure because he wasn’t thriving. He wasn’t able to demonstrate that intelligence in a traditional classroom.

But when she found Sora, she realized that it fit her vision for teaching as well. She shares her previous experience teaching in traditional classrooms:

I was not happy in the classroom. A lot of what we did was just have students memorize things and regurgitate them.

Students would ask, “When am I ever going to use this math?” 

Sometimes I felt like saying, “Hey, you’re going to use the math on your test in two weeks.” 

I didn’t believe that was the way to engage students. So I started some project-based learning opportunities in my classroom. But that was frowned upon by the administration because you were supposed to read your script and be on the same page as everyone else.

How Does Sora Support You As a Teacher?

For Carolyn, teaching at Sora has been a revolutionary experience:

I’m allowed to be creative. I get to drive things based on students’ interests and my own interests. I geek out about marine biology, so I’m usually offering something related to that topic. It’s just awesome. Only at Sora could I be playing with a Stirling engine after dissecting a shark and then watching a Marvel movie for my job. And that comes through to the students. When you’re excited about what you’re doing, they get excited.

What Does STEM Look Like at Sora?

Students have been asking for decades, “When am I going to use this math in real life?” Carolyn answers this question by grounding her Learning Expeditions in real-world topics that require high school math skills:

Math is just a language. It’s the language of science. When we do these science expeditions, we’re learning the language to help us figure out what we’re doing.

I’m constantly looking out for ideas for expeditions. Let’s say we have a shark expedition. I mail sharks to all the students, and we dissect them. We went through the sharks’ anatomy and how they have adapted through natural selection. We even learned about the physics of shark movement. They had to create a biomimicry project based on shark adaptations. They used algebra concepts like solving linear equations, as well as statistics and spreadsheets. So they’re learning about a project, and they learn the math and science they need to know in order to complete that project. 

Math is just a language. It’s the language of science. When we do these science expeditions, we’re learning the language to help us figure out what we’re doing. They’re able to more easily comprehend math when it’s rooted in a real-world situation. We look at math from an engineering standpoint. We did coastal engineering projects where we were figuring out how to save cities from going underwater in 2040. We studied waves in terms of physics but also in terms of trigonometry. So it’s not just math. It’s cross-curricular.

How Have Sora Students Shaped the STEM Curriculum?

Carolyn gives students the freedom to shape their projects and even co-design Learning Expeditions with her. This way they’re not just learning isolated math or science concepts. They’re also learning leadership and project management skills:

I said, “Let’s develop an app that helps reduce the spread of COVID.” That’s all I said. So they created an app that could help their communities monitor risk for COVID. That’s exponential functions. We talked about exponential growth, as well as exponential decay with the vaccines. While they’re learning this math, they’re also addressing the biology of this disease. 

I had another student come to me to level up in orbital mechanics. He was using a game called Kerbal Space Program. He was landing his rocket on the moon, talking about gravity assist to get into orbit. I suggested, “Hey, maybe you want to help me come up with an expedition. We could play this game and learn about rocket science.” So he came up with an outline for what they would do in the game. He basically ran the whole thing. I came up with the async work, the mini-lessons on rocket science and the math behind it. Students are allowed to come to us with something that they feel like is a good idea. And I can help develop an expedition around that idea.

What Makes Sora’s High Experience Unique?

Carolyn shares how Sora’s support for her passions has led to students discovering their own passions:

We did shark research with Cymri, [one our of graduating seniors], and now she’s going to Jacksonville State for Marine Biology. Knowing that the way Sora operates is what allowed her to discover that about herself–that’s something I never saw in public classrooms. It’s helping students find what they love.

Interested in Learning More?

If you’re interested in learning more about our unique online high school experience, you can start a conversation with our admissions team here.

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