When the United States began taking local measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, Ascendly was just finishing up the teaching the winter session at some schools and beginning the spring session at others. We were teaching classes in greater Boston and greater Washington DC, but every school shut down within just a few days of each other. Now what? This is how we transitioned our STEM classes to a live online format and what we encountered along the way.
Whenever it was allowed, we took the existing classes and moved to finish them online. Following the engineering design process (taught in most of our classes) we gathered requirements, planned, built, tested, and improved. It was an amazing process that has led to great new online offerings.
We’ve learned quite a few things
Our families are flexible, caring and accommodating. We found the need to shuffle kids around a bit to make classes happen with low enrollment. We made the effort to not turn anyone away who was interested in taking a class.
Options for scheduling have changed dramatically. With minimal school schedules and the inability to leave the house for such a long time, we were able to schedule classes throughout the day, instead of exclusively after-school.
Expanding our course offerings is essential. Our in-person classes were held once-a-week. With the number of courses available, it would take a year or two to cycle through our classes at each school depending upon the school’s scheduling. Currently, with our twice-a-week format, the kids can cycle through our classes in a matter of months. To date, we have added 2 additional classes and have several more in the works.
Physical boundaries have disappeared. Moving the classes online allowed us to accommodate kids from multiple schools, thus allowing us to include kids from across the United States. To date, we have had students from California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In addition, any of our instructors can teach any of the classes instead of being bound by their geographical location.
Providing high quality classes is our best form of advertising. We are striving to provide high quality classes in hopes that you will tell your friends about your positive experiences.
Early experiments and results
Test Classes: Some of our in-person classes stopped mid-session. Starting with a small test group, we tried some single one-hour sessions. This let us get used to the technology and let the kids, and parents, get used to learning at home. We then moved whole classes from a school setting to an online setting.
Pre-Meeting Tech-Check: We anticipated technical challenges with parents and children using the camera and computer, so we established a standard pre-flight tech check. Although we’re keeping the tech-check in place, we found the kids and parents were experiencing enough video conferencing through school and work, that the technology has been a non-issue. Wow – how times change.
More Time to Build: When we run in-person classes, we need to allocate precious in-class time towards cleaning up. Whether it is a LEGO class, or an electrical engineering class, we always need at least 15 minutes at the end of each meeting. And since at least some of the equipment needs to be shared between multiple groups of students, creations need to be completely disassembled at the conclusion of each meeting.
With online classes, students can…
- Clean-up on their own time, or…
- Keep building after class
Option 2 also allows for projects that span across multiple meetings, which is a nice addition.
Seeing friends and Sharing Creations: Kids still, not surprisingly, love to share their creations with their friends and instructors. Often times their long-lost school friends were seen again for the first time in weeks once they all returned to the same online class. Everyone loved seeing their friends’ creations,.
Not just more Zoom time: We were were concerned that kids would be too sick of being in front of their computer completing their school obligations. We found that with fun topics, and with way less pressure, everyone was happy to do another video call, especially when seeing old friends and happy instructors.
My daughter is normally very shy and timid, especially on video calls and with strangers. She felt so comfortable today that she chatted the class’s proverbial ear off.Cynthia B.
Physical Kits: We love that our online classes have a physical component and that most families can find the needed pieces around their house, or that we can supply parents with a custom kit ourselves. We’re really looking forward to making more and interesting kits in the future.
Next steps after Covid-19
We’re aggressively moving ahead with live online classes and live online summer camps. We’re adapting our current in-person classes to fit into the online world. Our brand new classes will incorporate the new “add-on” kits we have in development to provide even better hands-on experiences. We are excited to share those with you soon.