While it is possible in some states to attend a virtual public school full-time, it may not be advisable, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. But if your state requires students to complete at least one class through distance learning (as Idaho, Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Alabama now do), which subjects work best on the computer? There are seven core subjects: Mathematics, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Foreign Language, Health/Physical Education, and the Arts. Of these, Mathematics is the best fit, though it has its pros and cons.
First, once the teacher has explained a section, there is little need for further interaction, unless you have a question. Math consists of concepts which build on each other, and which require practice to learn and understand. Most of this practice is rote, which does not require the presence of a teacher, or discussion with fellow students. The problem is, once you are stuck, you can’t move on until you get some further explanation. If your teacher is not readily available, you could be twirling your thumbs for a day or two, while your homework piles up undone. The good news is that, of all subjects, math is the one with the most help available online. If you should get stuck, and your teacher doesn’t get back to you right away, check online for explanations of your problem. Chances are, someone else has hit the same roadblock as you, and asked the world at large for help.
In the lower grades, Language Arts works well online. Grammar especially is a good fit, because it is also a list of rules that you must learn through repetition. As you move up through the grades, you benefit from comparing other students’ work with your own, so at that level it’s helpful if the whole class has virtual meetings scheduled on a regular basis.
At first, Social Studies consists mostly of memorization of dates, places, and names, again a subject that readily lends itself to working alone. As you progress, though, classes begin to integrate discussions of the whys and hows of history, and again, virtual meetings become crucial to your ability to comprehend this subject.
Health classes, which consist of learning some basic anatomy, hygiene, and nutrition, fare well online. Physical Education, on the other hand, to be most effective, really must take place in the presence of a trainer or coach, who knows the proper moves and positions, who can motivate students to actually complete the work they are scheduled to do, and can determine whether a student has reached his limit.
Science, Foreign Language, and the Arts also provide their own difficulties when attempted online. Science is meant to be experimental, and it is not recommended, can even be dangerous, to perform experiments without adequate supervision. The key to learning Foreign Language is immersion, which is difficult to accomplish online, and while a student can learn which pieces of art are classics, it is difficult to understand why one piece stands out above another without a guide. And it’s really difficult to learn to play the piano without a teacher to correct fingering and pacing in real time. Still, technological advances can negate even these concerns.