After hearing about virtual public schools, many may be left with questions. Do children still get recess? What about homework?

Here is an example of what a recent morning of learning was like for 10-year-old Aiden Watson, of Concord.

About 8:30 a.m., Aiden fires up the upstairs computer at a desktop with her mother, Erinn, while her older sister, Catey, works alone in her downstairs bedroom.

Parents must be involved in helping their children learn in the program, but computers, Internet connection and other materials are provided free.

First up for Aiden is a game to sharpen her multiplication skills. Every time she correctly answers a question, the animation on the screen shows goop being squirted on germs to kill them.

While Aiden plays the game, her mom grades an assessment taken the previous day on democratic revolutions in France and the United States.

Erinn Watson explains that students are allowed to retake the tests, though the questions are jumbled. Students must score higher than 80 percent to pass the assessments. On this particular test, Aiden scored 89 percent.

"It allows them to have that 'ah-ha' moment," Erinn Watson said.

After about 10 minutes of the game, Erinn Watson ¿says it was time for a more serious lesson.

Aiden closes that window and opens a math lesson. On today's agenda is measuring lengths of objects. The screen shows items such as an eraser, the bottom of a milk jug and a bug, with a ruler alongside the object.


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A majority of online school time is spent in front of a computer, but not all of it.

Aiden leaves the computer mouse for a spelling book as her mother gives her a spelling test on words such as "tongue," "interrupt," "decompose" and "New Mexico."

If Aiden misses the words, she has to write them out several times before retaking the test.

Next up, it's back to the computer and reading comprehension. After going downstairs to grab a snack of Goldfish crackers, Aiden begins reading a short story. When she is done, she scrolls down and finds a series of questions to answer.

At 10 a.m., Aiden enters an online classroom, where other students gather for a lesson on ... how to follow lessons.

Each student has an icon on the screen that they click on when they want to talk.

Aiden's daily schedule is set up on a computer folder that reads "Aiden's Plan" with a section called "Aiden's courses," where her mom marks down about how much time is spent daily on each subject. Basically, that is how attendance is counted, Erinn Watson said.

The amount of time a teacher interacts with the students varies. Erinn Watson says she meets with her girls' teachers once or twice a quarter.

Later in the morning, Aiden has to visit "Study Island," a program aimed at getting students ready for standardized state tests. She has to use that program for at least 20 minutes a day.

Meanwhile, Catey's laptop is closed most of the morning as she writes out a report by hand on what she had read: Bram Stoker's "Dracula." Though that is not mandatory reading for the class, Catey is able to get an exception.

"She loves those kind of vampire stories," Erinn Watson says.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.