Still grappling with how to make online school work? Here are five things you can learn from a 13-year-old boy about how to improve your kids’ online schooling experience.
After nearly a year of attending school virtually, 13-year old Wesley Kansiewicz has experienced a wide variety of online school options. Some have worked better than others, and in the beginning, Wesley really struggled with Zoom school. Like many tech-savvy kids, Wesley discovered some easy tricks to try to get out of school. He sometimes faked buffering issues or intentionally crashed Zoom by opening a lot of programs on his computer.
Since the early days of struggling with online school, things have improved for Wesley. I sat down with him to find out what advice he has to make online schooling the best it can be for kids.
Here are five things you can learn from a 13-year old boy about how to improve your kids’ online schooling experience.
1. Help kids stay organized.
One of the things Wesley struggled with early on was disorganization. He felt that as teachers scrambled to quickly adapt to unexpected changes, there were a lot of inconsistencies. It was hard to keep track of what was due when. And each assignment needed to be submitted a different way. For Wesley, this led to missed assignments and frustration.
Wesley said that when he was in school in person, he always had at least one teacher who helped him stay organized with his assignments and sorting his papers in his backpack. This was especially helpful for him, because Wesley has ADHD.
But when school went online, not seeing his teachers face-to-face meant the organizational support from his teachers was gone. However, Wesley has solutions for teachers teaching online. He suggests organizing all assignments on one to-do list. For example, Wesley notes that Google Classroom has an option to give assignments and label them in such a way that they populate one to-do list for each student.
2. Be patient.
Although Wesley did sometimes fake buffering and other technology issues, that wasn’t always the case. He found that often, Zoom struggled on his computer, particularly with large class sizes. Wesley says, “If a student asks you to repeat something, it’s not because they weren’t paying attention, it’s because their Zoom just freaked out.”
Between lag, buffering, and the inability to pause or rewind if there’s a distraction, students won’t always catch everything. So have patience, and be kind about answering questions or repeating yourself.
3. Make online classes more engaging.
If you’re teaching over Zoom, Wesley recognizes it’s a struggle to adapt all your training to a new teaching platform. He recommends using Google slides or some other visual presentation to make topics more interesting. He says not to use all grays—make it colorful and entertaining to look at.
Wesley also suggests making better use of breakout rooms on Zoom. He suggests teachers record themselves teaching a lesson, and then split kids into breakout rooms of 3 to 4 each, with an “ask for help” button. This will reduce some of the lag and buffering issues, since computers don’t have to process so many videos at once. But it still gives kids the chance to “raise their hand” by hitting the help button and getting the teacher’s assistance.
4. Keep balance.
Wesley says children’s ministers teaching online can help kids by checking in on their feelings and guiding them on how to manage those feelings. Families may have more complaints about each other as they spend more time together, and frustrations with school may mount. He says to help kids find a healthy balance in how they manage their emotions and spend their time so they still have time for important spiritual practices like prayer and reading their Bibles.
5. Consider schooling alternatives.
The real game-changer for Wesley was when he switched from his regular school’s Zoom classes to an online homeschool program. He says online homeschool classes are more efficient. A Zoom class might take 40 minutes to cover a topic, but with homeschool videos he can learn much faster. And, because they use pre-recorded videos, he can pause, rewind, and avoid buffering issues.
Programs like these can also track students’ progress, and they proceed in a very linear fashion that helps kids stay organized and know what’s expected of them. His classes begin with a video, and then ask a set of questions, much like a teacher teaching and then assigning homework. After each unit, there’s a review and a test, which students can take as many times as needed. (Parents can set limits if they would like to.)
Wesley likes his current online homeschool option, and says he loves the fact that these videos, which were recorded around 10-years ago, were already geared for online learning, rather than in-person teachers trying to adapt on the fly. When he completes his grade level program, Wesley will get a certificate he can present to his school to show he graduated that grade.
Whether you’re a teacher, parent, children’s minister, or you have some other important role in kids’ lives, you’ve probably seen them struggle with school over the last year. Wesley’s advice can help you support kids with patience, direction, and finding options that work best for your kids.
Ali Thompson is a managing editor for Group. She’s also the author of Wildly Creative Puzzles With a Point (Group).
7 Trends to Watch for in 2021 Children’s Ministry Series
This article is part of a series based on the article “7 Trends to Watch for in 2021 Children’s Ministry” by Thom Schultz. Keep watching childrensministry.com for more on each of the key trends that will impact your ministry in post-pandemic 2021. From the article:
“Trend # 3: In-Person Experience
“Parents, and society in general, are showing a growing acceptance—and demand—for in-person learning for children. Meanwhile the deficits of confining children are mounting. Everyone from psychologists to the Centers for Disease Control confirm that in-person learning is much better for children, and it can be conducted safely. So, it’s time for Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools to do what’s best for kids, while following recommended safety protocols.”