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Live Online Classes for Kids – the Next Advancement in Distance Education

Rebecca Gray Homeschooling

Online classes for kids are missing an important piece of the puzzle.

Parents all over are getting up close and personal with dozens of online learning platforms.  Khan Academy, Lexia, Freckle, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Zoom, Flocabulary, and Class Dojo are becoming common household words.  Like it or not – it looks like online learning is here for the foreseeable future.  So you better write down all that log-in information and get the living room Zoom ready!

Teachers are doing their best to remediate the “Covid-19 learning loss” students experienced in the spring and summer months – as most meaningful school years were cut short.  Educators are fighting this uphill battle, trying to teach their classes online in a fun way to keep traditional students engaged in their learning while at arm’s length.  It’s a tough job. Lucky for our educators, digital textbooks, online platforms, free resources and interactive websites are plentiful, but there’s still something missing – especially from STEM classes for kids who are accustomed to being together in labs, classrooms, and Makerspaces.  What is this glittering piece of missing treasure in your child’s education?

Hands-On Learning – The Central Theme of Thimble’s Live Build-Alongs

girl holding robot wheel

Hands-on learning is the ticket at every grade level.  We can’t shout this loudly enough.  Our younger kiddos would still be tripping over their laces if we taught them to tie their shoes only by lecturing them. You don’t have to be an educator to know you need to give them a pair of Chuck Taylors to lace up all by themselves.  For little kids, that makes the learning concrete.  This theory follows learning from basic shoe tying all the way up to complex engineering and chemistry challenges.  Doing makes knowledge more real.

A specific form of hands-on learning known as Project-Based Learning involves creating an entire lesson out of the project, rather than assigning a smaller project as a supplemental end to a unit of study.  PBL is a well-known and highly successful teaching method where students are actively engaged in their own learning.  They get to explore learning concepts by getting their hands on enriching manipulatives and creatively thinking about an authentic, real-world challenge.

Buck Institute for Education PBL Works quote, "...Project-based learning engages students in learning that is deep and long-lasting and inspires for them a love of learning and personal connection to their academic experience."

We know kids learn by doing, but most virtual classes involve a lot of:

  • Watch this video on Youtube.Click to discover on this interactive mapTurn in this Google FormComplete these pre-formatted slidesLog into *insert learning platform here* and log 20 minutes of timePlay 30 minutes of this educational game

This type of virtual learning, while providing great material, is missing the mark on experience-based education, because delivering manipulatives to every student’s home is a logistical nightmare for a teacher or school district.  What this means is that their daily activities are limited to whatever can be done on the computer, or with paper and pencil.

Some instructors are providing instructional videos that are pre-taped right in their classrooms so that students who watch the lesson feel as though they are still “in class”.  Unfortunately, pre-recorded class sessions rob students (in K-college) of thoughtful dialogue, and topic expansion through questioning. Thimble’s online courses are so much more than a one-size-fits-all video.

“What if my kids are already attending live homeschool classes?”

girl studying at desk

Some school districts are having their students log-in in real-time to attend live classes. These scheduled “live streams” increase the possibility for interaction, but it doesn’t really lend itself to the flexible schedule that working parents may need in their home.

Parents who choose homeschooling outside of their local district are also enrolling their children in a multitude of online homeschool classes for additional help with each subject. Even live online homeschool classes fall short in most STEM subjects when it comes to trying to actively engage students as opposed to passive lecturing.

A 2014 study by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, US) surmises that “students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes with active learning.” Maybe it’s not always about early bedtimes and big breakfasts?

Think about it – discoveries are made by doing. Real-life problem-solving skills are developed by facing real-life challenges head-on. This can’t always be done with paper and pencil, or a mouse and keyboard. Traditionally, science classes in middle and high school are held in specifically designed spaces that are filled with the equipment they need to test theories, perform experiments, or construct and deconstruct robotics and electronics. So unless your kids are actively participating in their own learning experience by completing science experiments, engineering basic circuits, coding, or building bridges, then they aren’t as invested as they could be in their own STEM education.

While it’s easy to jump to blame teachers and administrators, their hands are often tied by the logistics and resources offered to them by their home district budgets. Thimble’s Live Build-Along feature offers this missing element.  It’s the glittering piece of missing treasure.  (But seriously there’s no glitter in the box.  We’d never do that to you.)

How does Thimble’s Live Build-Along work to keep my child engaged and learning?

kids learning on Zoom

Thimble hosts live “Build-Along” sessions with a knowledgeable instructor and a small class of kids.  (We heart small class sizes!)  These small-group classes are a full hour (longer than most middle school science class periods), and your child learns how to build their project along with other kids who are passionate about tinkering with robotics.  They can video chat with their instructor when they get stumped during the build or congratulate classmates on their own build successes.  Of course, the kits come with written instructions too.  With a multitude of learning styles, written instructions are sometimes exactly what a child needs.  However, if you’ve ever purchased furniture from Ikea, you know that sometimes building with written instructions is the worst. The best online classes offer choices for every learning style.

These live build-along sessions promote serious engagement. They allow instructor interaction, and our small class sizes ensure more one-on-one attention for your student builder. STEM classes for kids don’t need to be lecture style. Our instructors build the project alongside your learners and can troubleshoot roadblocks with them to avoid frustration. Conversations, questions, and discovery are all important parts of the learning process.

“Zoombombs” – Making STEM Career Connections

Thimble engineering showing project

While “Zoombombing” is a relatively new term, thanks to increased work-at-home and learn-at-home situations, it simply refers to an “unexpected guest” in a video conference.  While having your work or school zoom session hijacked by an unplanned visitor might be disruptive and unwanted – here at Thimble it means big surprises for our subscribers.

Once a month, students are exposed to real-world STEM professionals with careers in companies kids know and love.  Think Apple, Minecraft, and Nintendo!  These tech “celebrities” put a face and a voice to a brand that your kids are most likely already very familiar with.  Guests ‘bomb’ our Live Build-Along sessions once a month, and interact with your student.  They share their passion projects, and the journey they took to land their dream job in game design, software engineering, and other interesting STEM careers.

A session with a relatable adult who is a STEM professional can develop career interests in a lucrative field that your child otherwise would not have been exposed to. Thimble students participate in Q & A sessions and have conversations with many different adults.  This dialogue is much more meaningful than talking to an adult to order their own meal at a restaurant.  The ability to communicate with adults in a deeper way is a job skill and a life skill.  Connecting with a game developer or a software engineer makes those careers feel more attainable, especially for older kids who may already be meeting with school guidance counselors to map out college and career paths.

Supplemental educational resources are a dime-a-dozen.  But picking through them to decide which available classes are really going to peak your kids’ interests is difficult.   With Live-Build along sessions incorporating real-time interaction, hands-on learning, guided instruction, and the traditional “career day” with celebrities, it really doesn’t get any better.  But you don’t have to take our word for it – we encourage you to take a look at what homeschool parents are already saying about Thimble’s Live Build-Alongs!