The first day of school has always solicited a mixture of excitement, nervousness and steely determination. That was true 100 years ago when kids rode the bright yellow school bus to their first day back. And it remains true in 2023, as more students return to their digital classrooms – comfortable in their own homes, but still sitting on the precipice of new scholastic challenges.
Whether you’re new to OES, or returning to the best Ontario online high school, you’ll want to show up for your first day prepared. Mentally, physically and logistically preparing for school can help you start on the right foot.
In this article, we’ve compiled a valuable checklist for students. Below, we’ve divided our list into four categories: administrative preparations, academic habits, supplies and personal well-being. If it helps, copy this checklist into the personal planner or notes app of your choosing so you can tick each box on completion.
Checklist #1: Getting the Administrative Stuff Out of the Way
Let’s get the quote-unquote boring stuff out of the way first. When we say administrative tasks, we’re referring to anything pertaining to forms, requirements, enrollment and course information. Here are a few points for your checklist.
Double-Check Your Enrollment
This one’s simple enough, and there’s no reason to spend too much time on it. Check your email for confirmation of enrollment in your upcoming courses. If you’re unsure where your confirmation is, reach out to us. And if you haven’t enrolled yet, don’t sweat it: our flexible online courses let you sign up any time.
Brush Up on Graduation Requirements
Especially if you’re heading into a junior or senior year at OES, it’s wise to brush up on graduation requirements in Ontario. At the link to the left, you’ll find an OES resource listing the compulsory credits and community involvement required to graduate.
Ensure that Your Course Load Puts You on Track to Graduate/Apply for Your Preferred Post-Secondary Program
With those graduation requirements in one hand and your course confirmations in the other, cross-reference each to ensure that you’re on track for graduation. Moreover, ensure that your course load steers you toward the post-secondary program you want to apply for (if any). For instance, university engineering programs require Grade 12 “U-level” courses like Calculus and Vectors, Advanced Functions and – yes – English 12. Consult the university program website for a complete list of prerequisites.
Review Your Login Info, Teacher Contact Information, Tutoring Process, Etc.
When a student arrives at a new brick-and-mortar school, they often need a couple of minutes to get a lay of the land. (Where are the bathrooms? Where’s the homeroom? Who are my teachers?) Online school is not too different. Sure, you know where the bathroom is (it’s your bathroom, after all). But you might need to spend a few minutes collecting pertinent information like: your login info, teacher contacts, how to access your complementary tutoring services, how to find/use the submission box, etc.
If you have any questions regarding these or other processes, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Optional: Book a Guidance Appointment
If this administrative checklist is causing more stress than relief, you can always chat with one of our professional guidance experts. They can explain, in clear and specific terms, what courses you need to graduate – and what courses/grades you require to apply for your dream post-secondary program.
Checklist #2: Honing Your Academic Habits
With the high-level administrative stuff out of the way, you can turn your attention to the courses themselves – namely, how to hone good academic habits for the highest chance of success. Below, we’ve listed a few points relating to goals, time management, note-taking, etc. We flesh these ideas out elsewhere on this blog; if you’re interested in a deep dive into these subjects, we encourage you to peruse our back catalogue of articles. Here are a few study-related items to add to your back-to-school preparation checklist.
Create S.M.A.R.T Goals
According to psychologists, goal-setting is more than just an empty promise we make ourselves. It binds us to reality, teaches us how to be self-evaluative, urges us to be accountable for our actions (or inaction), and allows us to reframe “failures” as temporary setbacks on the road toward success. The best way to set academic goals for yourself is by using the “S.M.A.R.T” method: setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Sensitive goals. Learn more at the link directly above.
Develop a Time Management Strategy for Incremental Learning
Cramming is never the right way to study. At best, it elicits suboptimal results; at worst, it can fray your nerves, hinder your motivation and hurt your chances of getting ahead.
Instead of cramming, develop a time management strategy for incremental learning. In computer science, “incremental learning” refers to a method of training artificial intelligence. Here, we use the term differently – to distinguish this productive type of learning from those “cram and crash” cycles. Instead of stuffing all your education into a frenzied one-week block, break your course down into increments, studying over time. Research shows that this incremental approach is more conducive to retention and motivation, yielding higher grades overall.
Optimize Your Learning Space
Have you ever been to an office? Maybe a parent’s taken you to theirs, or you’ve toured one as part of a class trip. You’ll notice that great offices pour a lot of effort into making everything efficient, uncluttered, ergonomic and accessible. An office worker should have the tools they need at arm’s reach, in an environment that allows them to concentrate without distraction or discomfort.
Take the “office” approach to your learning space. Whether it’s your bedroom or a common room, keep it tidy, well-stocked with supplies, and free of distractions like game consoles or blaring TVs. Consider also investing in an ergonomic chair and/or keyboard, which can help you stay comfortable during long study sessions.
Figure Out Your Ideal Note-Taking Method
Do you prefer the simple minimalism of bullet point notes or the creative energy of a mind map? Do you learn best by taking structured Cornell notes or writing out full sentences to revisit later? There’s no correct answer. We encourage students to experiment with various note-taking methods to see which one fits. Our personal favourite is the Cornell method (see the link above for a how-to guide), but you might get more mileage from another process.
Checklist #3: Getting Supplies
After you’ve accomplished basic administrative tasks and redoubled your dedication to good academic habits, you can start shopping! Compared to brick-and-mortar schools, your back-to-school shopping list for taking high school courses online is relatively short. Let’s dive in with the third category of our back-to-school checklist.
Ensure that You Have an Updated, Working Computer
Obviously, this is a critical item on your back-to-school checklist. (The most critical item, you could argue). Pick a computer, any computer: desktop, laptop, Mac, PC. Just make sure your computer is working well (with enough RAM to support some multimedia elements) and updated.
While we’re on the topic, get comfortable with backing up documents. Use that “control-save” shortcut with abandon! And utilize cloud storage services like Google Drive or iCloud.
Invest in “Old-School” Supplies Like Notepads and Pens
While not strictly necessary, you might find familiarity and comfort in “old-school” supplies. Physical note-taking and organizational supplies, like notepads and agendas, can be beneficial. Some students like the tactile, external qualities of a pen and paper; it helps them retain information better. Some students like to refer to a physical schedule where they can make on-the-fly pencil marks and edits. Meanwhile, other students are all too happy to centralize their work in digital documents. At OES, we welcome all types of learners. You won’t be getting a “mandatory supplies” list from us. Just do what feels natural.
Go App Shopping for Educationally Enriching Tools
Apps aren’t your traditional back-to-school supplies. But then again, this isn’t your traditional back-to-school checklist. For an online, at-home education, it’s perfectly acceptable to leverage digital tools and resources while you study. Note-taking apps (like Evernote), workflow apps (like Todoist), distraction-blocking apps (like StayFocused) and flash card apps (like Quizlet) are particularly favourable to good study habits. And most of them are free to use.
Checklist #4: Personal Preparations to Greet the New School Year
Lastly, let’s focus on you. You can practice good academic habits until the wee hours of the night. You can meticulously cross-check your administrative tasks, establish a highly optimized work space and stock up on all the latest educational tools. But, at the end of the day, if you don’t take care of your basic human needs, it might all be in vain.
We care about your physical, mental and emotional health. New school years can be taxing transitional periods, so make sure you add these straightforward self-care items to your back-to-school preparation checklist.
Get Plenty of Rest
A brain needs rest to function at its cognitive peak. Like a gaming computer that overheats from overuse, an unrested brain will simply fail on you. You’ll lose focus, lose motivation, become irritable and more susceptible to stress. Let’s avoid that scenario!
Most high-school-aged students need between eight and ten hours of nightly sleep to feel rested. Sleep experts recommend going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning to establish a reliable routine. This might seem inconsequential to your overall academic performance, but studies show that sufficient sleep and good grades are interconnected. If you need to, take advantage of online school’s self-paced flexibility and sleep in past that traditional 8 AM school bell. Your brain will thank you!
Develop a Physical Activity Plan that Works for You
There’s a common misconception that physical activity and mental activity share no common ground – that the two operate in separate, siloed domains. That’s not true. Increasingly, researchers are discovering just how intertwined the mind and body are. And they find that by working on one, you can improve the other.
That’s the long way of saying that physical health has far-reaching positive impacts on your learning outcomes. Exercise increases feel-good dopamine, lowers stress-inducing cortisol, and can help your brain stay sharp and focused. As you prepare to head back to school online, carve out some time for physical health. One of the wonderful things about online school is that it’s flexible enough to facilitate outside activities. Take a block of time in your day to incorporate whatever kind of exercise makes you feel good.
Popular options include running, a solo game of pickup basketball, yoga, swimming and weight training (around a reliable spotter).
Take a Deep Breath
The last item on your list might seem like the easiest on paper, but it’s one that several students struggle with: remaining calm, regulating your work, and taking time for yourself. It’s one of the best tips for back-to-school you can implement.
As much as we love to see a student work tirelessly on their coursework, we don’t want you to burn out. In fact, it’s actually better for your long-term learning outcomes if you balance your studies with rest, relaxation and personal time. As you gain momentum in your first month, build periods of inactivity and personal time into your schedule. Take frequent breaks. Allow yourself to enjoy the brisk air outdoors or get lost in a book. When you return to your studies, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the hard work again.
As you make your way back to online school to begin another successful year, consider writing these points into a checklist. If you can tick off every point in this list, you’ll be poised for a productive, prepared, seamless and happy year at school.
If you have any lingering questions about your upcoming courses at OES, please do not hesitate to contact us. We might not have an office right around the corner from your study room, but we’re always available to help our students. Here’s to another fantastic year of online studies!