Review: Bridgeway Academy

BridgewayReview

Our family was recently given the opportunity to review an online course called Magic Tree House Social Studies- The Middle Ages with Mrs. Kathi Thomas (Grades 1-5)  by Bridgeway Academy . I remember back in about the year 2000 when I was a college student.  It was the first time the idea of taking classes online first started to emerge.  I actually managed to take a one credit course with a title something like Educational Technology.  At the time the system was really just a glorified email program with a bit of a chat feature.  An online class meant we were to read the material and then participate “discussion” via the email/chat program.  Boy have things changed.  But I’m probably getting ahead of myself a bit.

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Here is the Middle Ages course description from the website…

Join Jack and Annie as we travel back in time to visit with kings, queens, lords and ladies, knights and squires! Learn fascinating facts about the lives of ordinary people during the Middle Ages as we journey through the countryside, towns and cities of medieval Europe. Music, art, literature, science and war are all explored as we explore this fascinating period in history using Knight at Dawn to jumpstart our learning.

When the opportunity to review this course came up I was totally excited.  Our family is studying the Middle Ages this year AND I have a certain little boy named Ezra who is just IN LOVE with the Magic Tree House books.  In fact he has read Knight at Dawn more times than I can count.  I was pretty certain this could be a great fit for my little guy.

Bridgeway Academy is an interesting and exciting resource for homeschooling families.  They offer a variety of online courses for multiple age ranges.  In fact, they even offer an entire customized curriculum.  The Middle Ages course is a part of what they call their Learning Labs.  Learning labs are typically 9 week group classes taught live by an instructor.  Students with reliable computer and internet access can participate from anywhere in the world.  Classes come together once a week and the learning continues throughout the week via hands-on homework assignments.  There are learning labs available for children in 1st through 12th grade. Elementary learning labs cost $145.  The learning lab courses are available to anyone, including those who are not enrolled in the full Bridgeway Academy program.

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Magic Tree House Social Studies- The Middle Ages uses the Magic Treehouse Book Knight at Dawn as a jumping off point.  All of the course content revolved around material relevant to the Middle Ages.  The children studied topics related to geography, religion, architecture, culture, education and warfare of the medieval period. We also focused quite a bit on Knights and Castles.  We learned all about the fuedal system and just how hard life was for the average peasant during the Middle Ages.

How Does the Class Work?

The class is taught using a program called Jigsaw Classroom.  With this program the children were able to see and hear the teacher, Mrs. Thomas.  She could also see and hear the students.  A plug in headset and microphone were required in order to participate in the class.  Throughout the course Mrs. Thomas was able gage the children’s understanding of what was happening by asking them to push various buttons in the Jigsaw Classroom. There was an orientation a few days before the class began to help ensure the children understood how to use the software.  Mrs. Thomas even gave me a phone call about a week before the class began to make sure we were all set.

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During class Mrs. Thomas was able to easily manage the class with questions like… “If you can see my map, click the smiley face.”  Or “If you know the answer to my question, raise your hand.” (Which meant the children should click on the hand button).  There was a chat box where children could type in questions and interact with the other children. Mrs. Thomas was able to call up maps, photos, and other such content and all of the children were able to see and interact with the material.  At times children were called upon to circle and fill in text indicating their understanding of the material.  Using their microphones children could verbally participate in the class by asking and answering questions as directed.  My Ezra was able to catch on and follow along with ease.

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Ezra participated in every class entirely on his own although I did sit near by.  He didn’t need me at all.  During the week we’d complete the homework together.  Class often ran a bit over as it seemed the children were just getting going and really becoming enthusiastic about the lesson as the time came near to quit.  They all seemed to enjoy it all.

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Each class began with a quick microphone test.  As the children entered the virtual classroom Mrs. Thomas went one by one helping the children make sure their microphones were working properly.  After that most of the class discussion worked around a slideshow type presentation that Ezra could enlarge and follow along as Mrs. Thomas spoke.  Video links were sometimes an option which allowed the entire class to view a short segment together.  Other times there were photos to view or maps to access.  It was all incredibly well organized.

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During the week assignments were given.  Some included filling in maps, short reading with related questions, researching a topic and writing just a bit about it, and finally… children were instructed to create their very own castle in any way they wished.  Some children used huge boxes, others used Legos, and some even created their castles in the game Minecraft.  Ezra and I made his out of sugar cubes.  What fun it’ll be to see everyone’s castles as we complete the last class together.

The Sugar Cube Castle we built as a family.

The Sugar Cube Castle we built as a family.

Our Overall Experience…

Overall Ezra really enjoyed this class.  The material was on target for his ability.  He was easily able to participate throughout.  The online format worked well for him.  He enjoyed learning so many great details about life in the Middle Ages.  The group class was a new experience for him.  In a format such as this quite a bit of time had to be devoted to teaching everyone how to use the classroom, making sure all of the students were connected to the software and everything was working properly.  Ezra is definitely used to the efficiency of his typical very small homeschool experience.  I think the opportunity to practice patience was a positive one.

Another thing that surprised us was how little time was actually spent on the Magic Treehouse book Knight at Dawn. It was discussed just a tiny bit at the very beginning of the first or second class.  Mostly the cover was shown and the children were instructed to read the book.  We had hoped more time would be spent discussing it.  It might have been nice to tie or compare the content being learned in the class to what was presented in that story.

In the future I think it might be helpful for Bridgeway Academy to provide some sort of website where families can easily access the course syllabus, any handouts the need downloading, the recorded classes and other relevant information.  Mrs. Thomas was very prompt with her emails and she did a great job of keeping everyone informed.  But I think a one stop place might have made things even more well organised.

I look forward to checking out other Bridgeway Academy offerings in the future. 

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