We spoke to Femtinos owner, Syd, on how her club has transitioned into the digital world and is incorporating online classes into the clubs long term growth.At ClassForKids, we’ve been busy catching up with some of our clubs to understand how they are adapting to their current business disruption. In a recent interview with Syd from Femtinos - a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics club based in Birmingham with over 70 classes - we learnt that online lessons could become a long term teaching method for Femtinos. Have a read of our latest interview to find out more about alternative content ideas, the different technology platforms that play a role in virtual lessons and how to communicate the benefits of online learning to parents.
Our mission is to get kids to love learning and to inspire them and to keep them engaged - that's the core of our business. With these changing times, it's just about adapting the way that we do that but we're still delivering what we've always done which is getting them to love learning and learn high level content but still be accessible to a lot of kids.
You've been running online classes a little longer than some of our other clients and others in the industry. Can you tell us what the last couple of weeks has been like for you at Femtinos?
“I decided very early on to start online classes. Being a scientist, I looked at the data and I analysed it and I could see it was coming. So I took the drastic decision back then to stop my sessions despite having lots of things planned for British Science week and Easter. There was some kickback from the organisations initially but I was adamant and said, “No, I think I am making the right decision”. I wanted to protect the kids. We do a lot of lab work, we use a lot of chemicals in our sessions with very young kids - we have fire, we have all sorts of stuff - so safety for me is the number one thing. With the virus around, I didn't want to take any risks, especially when they've got extended family members. So it was an easy decision.”
What changes did you make to your business?
“I announced the closure to our parents first and then I made it public. I found a lot of parents to be really supportive. Then over the course of the next 8 to 10 days, we were developing a resource box to enable kids to still be able to do things at home and we put all the stickers on it to keep it really cool. Normally we'd issue booklets weekly and develop the content week to week but we had to develop four weeks of content upfront to put into the box. That took a lot of time and energy on our part, so we spent a chunk of time developing the resources and then with upcoming workshops, we decided to cancel them and add onto the end of the course because we run termly.”
Great! So for online classes, was it an easy decision for you to choose Zoom or are there other platforms that you've already tried or tested?
“I think I've been using Zoom since September for our GCSE online courses. Prior to that, I was really reluctant to move online because I initially thought you don’t get the same level of engagement and I thought the kids weren't going to be as willing as I wasn't going to be able to see their reactions but I was wrong. When I started the GCSE courses, I realised it was so convenient for them and for myself. I could ask them questions and they could still respond - so it gave me a bit of confidence. I was nervous at first, especially with the younger kids. What Femtinos offers is very unique and I was unsure of how it would translate but I was really surprised when I asked the kids for feedback. A lot of them said they preferred online and when I asked why, they said because "we don't have to leave the house, we don't have to travel in the car". They can carry on after the session even though they've been sat for two hours. We still do elements of movement and we keep the activity short so they're focusing on one thing at a time and because we've done the resource boxes, we put little bits and pieces in there for them so they can work on that too!”
Top tip: “I used Bitpaper with Zoom which then allows me to download the PDF notes that I have developed during the session and they get a copy of it. So if we were doing that class in a group, I'd be writing on a whiteboard and the whiteboard would get wiped off and that's it - they don't have the notes that I have. If they haven't copied them exactly word for word, then they don't have the accurate notes. This way they can make notes during the class but then they've also got my PDF notes if they need to refer back to them.”
How do you find the parents are taking to it?
“I found the parents to be a bit more nervous about moving online and for a lot of our families, it was the first time doing an online course. But despite the initial resistance, I saw that kids are resilient and they took it on really well. Parents have had to adapt too because they’ve seen their kids prefer it and there’s no other option for them while at home. I think now a lot of them are finding what we are offering to be very engaging and hands on and their kids are entertained.”
You’ve obviously had success with the online classes but how do you see the future? Do you see online as being a bigger part of your business?
“I was at the point in my business where I was reflecting on how we could be more efficient in our delivery because we do a lot of hands on work - it's a lot of time, effort and commitment. I think online is going to be a bigger feature going forward, especially because it gives us the flexibility to be anywhere in the world essentially and still be delivering online. I think there will still be an element of science shows that we do on mass and workshops that we offer but not as frequent as we have been doing to date. I've now started a YouTube channel and we do daily live sessions prompting kids to make something and then the parents submit the kids entries and we include them into a kids submission video. I'm on day 10 today and we're rotating around science, maths and art so they get a bit of a taster into what we're doing. I’ll be developing longer courses if they want to do something longer with us and to gauge their interest and then they can take part in our online courses.”
Wow, so are those paid courses? Or can people be coming along and joining in to see?
“The YouTube ones are free. ‘Learn with Syd’, everyday at 3:30 and I can do shoutouts to families that are watching and I'm finding that for me, it's keeping me going as well because it's that level of engagement and delivery that I need to be doing every day. I've got a lot of regulars that are tuning in every day - they're submitting work to keep their kids busy for a couple of hours and then they're showing me their work and then I'm putting that into a video.
You’re right, this is life long learning. We can at any age improve our knowledge of bar charts or the universe or any of this stuff, right? There's no age range with learning science!
“Yes! I think we kind of work on the growth mindset a lot within the organisation and with the kids that we work with. We want them to learn because they love it - not because there's going to be a test, not because they're going to get a sticker, not because they're going to get a certificate to say they've done really well. For us, it's about the learning process and participation rather than the end result and this is why we can have kids between 5 and 14 in the same class. They're each going to take away different things from the class - they're not all going to learn the exact same thing. So it's about making them see that learning isn't just for an exam, learning isn't just for a grade, it's not just for a sticker - it's a lifelong thing. A lot of our families now get to see the level of learning with their kids at home, and I get messages saying “Oh, this is really fascinating. I remember researching this and I didn't know any of this stuff!" So I see it as an opportunity to reignite that child-like curiosity to all ages.”
We hope this interview has given you some food for thought - Syda has definitely taken on the virtual world with a can do attitude! We’ve pulled together 3 key takeaway points from this interview to inspire your clubs journey:
- Openness to learn. Syda has made good use of different platforms to help her in her online journey and it may be that for you, there are different ways to get content to your customers that you haven’t yet considered. You may be reading a lot of information about one platform but don’t close the doors to others. Use the different platforms and assess which ones work best for you - you may find that combination will enhance your customer experience.
- Connect with parents. Whilst children may be very resilient and amenable to change, parents may not always see the benefits at first. Syd emphasises the importance of working with customers to help them understand change but also highlights the added value this opportunity presents to learn together as a family.
- Continuation of education is vital. It’s easy to understand from the interview that Syd is really focused on helping the children learn and that learning isn’t simply for a sticker or because you have a test. Learning is not about the end result but it is about the journey and what children are capable of achieving. If you can adopt the mindset that your activity - whilst it is fun - is about learning key skills. Discuss this with parents and tell them why continuation of lessons is important in helping their children retain and develop these skills.
We hope you've enjoyed reading our interview with Syd and that you can take something away from it to positively shape your clubs future. For more information about how to move lessons online and for help on how to future proof your club, head over to our resources page.