A freshman class at Mahtomedi High School is getting a lesson on the benefits of going to class.

When the high school began offering a health class partially online this year, many students thought it was a sweet deal -- they could get school credits in between browsing Facebook and other online socializing.

But they soon realized that having a teacher to ask questions and classmates to discuss course work with actually comes in handy.

"I like having a teacher explain things more in depth where I can ask her questions and have a conversation with her," said 14-year-old Graham Weitala.

The district created the class after officials revamped the school day and realized students couldn't fit in as many electives.

"This is how kids are learning now," said health teacher Lisa Irsfeld. "The Internet is a big part of their world."

The health course is set up so that students meet twice a week at the school with the rest of the course work done online. Teachers realized that in order for students to retain information from the class, there needed to be class meetings with frequent assignments.

On a recent morning, students met in groups to discuss ways to be more healthy. Students then gave presentations to their peers on health issues before the teacher gave a short lecture.

Web assignments include reading passages before answering questions or using a body mass index calculator to determine how many calories they burned in a week.

Students also must post a journal of their physical activities and eating habits online for teachers to review.

More online courses ahead?

Administrators are watching the class to see how they can make online education an effective approach to giving students more options, said Kathe Nickleby, Mahtomedi High School principal. In the future, they're looking into offering other courses online and providing teachers a portal to hold meetings online.

Irsfeld has her office hours set up at night so students can chat with her online.

With the online course, the website doesn't allow for late work. The teacher posts assignments online on Saturdays and gives students a week to turn them in.

The biggest challenge, students say, is managing their time so that they're not doing things at the last minute. That would mean doing homework on a Friday night when students have other priorities.

"I think it's actually a little harder," said Mike McCalib, 15."There's a lot more learning on your own."

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695