Like so many other educational programs, Wealthy Habits had a choice to cancel programs or go virtual. Our mission is to educate students so it wasn’t a tough decision, but our staff was not under any illusion that it was going to be an easy feat.
From the very start, we’ve worked hard to ensure our programming makes teaching financial literacy as fun as possible through hands-on learning, relevant conversations, fun review games and eye-opening activities.
Until this summer, this has always been done in person. Translating what has worked in person, to remote, computer-based instruction seemed almost impossible.
Three of us spent two full weeks (including nights and weekends) focused on altering the current camp curriculum, deciding on and understanding the technology, and switching from local to nationwide marketing of our classes and camps.
We learned some good lessons while switching from in-person to online instruction that may be helpful to teachers, parents and students for the coming school year. Here are a few of them:
Simplify. Make technology and access to class materials easy. No matter how well everything is set up, there will be issues like bad internet connections, unresponsive websites, dead batteries and invalid passwords.
Tricks we learned:
- Zoom has worked for us. We tried Zoom because of its reviews at the time. It hasn’t been without its issues but in all honesty some of those were likely due to user error.
- Technology isn’t meant to last for many years. Our router was five years old and because it was furnished by our internet provider, it took some convincing to get it replaced. Once it was replaced, our slow and spotty connection was much less of an issue.
- Make sure you have a good and preferably hardwired connection to the internet and other devices. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are great for some things but aren’t always reliable. We had wireless speakers that would work some of the time and not work others.
- A few weeks in, we had five classes going simultaneously. It was extremely helpful to have “mobile workstations” that were all set up the same. Each station had its own computer and extra monitor, Zoom account, speakers, other computer peripherals and whiteboards.
- We needed lots of screen space. The smaller the screen space the less you can see and the harder it is to manage your lessons and your class. We used two full-size screens. One was so we could see all the students and the other was for the lessons.
- When the camera is on, show your face and smile. It really does make a difference
Make it fun. This sounds so much easier than it actually is, but it isn’t impossible.
- Remember to be age appropriate. My college-age child was watching her professors do some really “not-so-funny” funny stuff.
- If you want kids to stay engaged, add a little competition. Talking to a screen of blank faces isn’t fun for anyone. We have one prize at the end of each program that the kids compete for.
- Teach the class as if students are in the room with you. Get them talking. They like sharing their opinions or showing what they know. Not all kids are comfortable sharing and we call on the shy kids periodically to make sure they are still paying attention.
- Try to find a dedicated room to go to, set a schedule and stick to it just as you would with an in-person session.
- Use breakout rooms for kids to work on projects together. The Zoom breakout rooms were a lifesaver. For example, we have a Warren Buffet play that we developed that requires us to divide students into two groups. We encourage each group to be creative – dress the part, set the stage, etc. The instructors can end the sessions when they want, which brings all students back to the main session. The kids then present to the other group and instructors. The best play wins extra points.We use breakout rooms because they allow the kids to talk among themselves without feeling as uncomfortable. The instructors can pop in and out of the breakout rooms to check on the kids’ status.
- We encourage the use of chat function. Not all kids like to talk to a screen, so we mix up some activities with the chat box. It registers the first person to hit send so it can be a great way to integrate competitive learning.
- Going virtual meant we had to find an alternative to the workbooks we give the kids to keep everything together. A lot of teachers use Google Slides but we settled on liveworksheets.com. We like liveworksheets.com because we could upload our existing PDFs and add interactive pieces to them, instead of remaking each page.
- Review games are a fun way to make sure kids understand the information and to show them that learning can be fun. Kahoot!, Google jeopardy and many other tools are easy to set up. During in-person camps, we try to stay away from technology, so these online games have been easier for us to use for our virtual camps. We even have a public Wealthy Habits Kahoot! game. Feel free to check it out.
- Embrace the pros of teaching virtually. We have fewer behavioral issues in our virtual classes than we do in person, we can teach students from all over the country and even from other countries, and students can take classes in their homes, which is more convenient for some families.
For many of us, virtual learning will be part of our immediate future. We were fortunate to have a few weeks to make the switch to online learning. Many teachers were forced into it overnight. I hope some of the lessons we learned can help teachers, parents and students make the best of the situation. If we can make financial literacy fun, even online, then there’s hope for everyone else.