116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
From a makeshift classroom in her Cedar Rapids home, April Tierney is reaching students around the world, teaching math, science, history and 'herstory” through the online platform, Outschool.
Tierney, 39, who has a master's degree in education and has been teaching for more than 17 years, created an Outschool account in December 2019, but didn't act on it right away. As the pandemic descended, however, she applied to join the teaching roster, and by May, was creating her class list, with various dates and times to accommodate students in different countries and time zones.
The live video chats, beginning at $10, offer secure, vetted instruction and clubs for ages 3 to 18, led by teachers or experts in their particular fields. Tierney keeps her class sizes small, designing mostly one-time sessions that can supplement in-school and virtual academics, or let students dive deeper into a particular area that piques their interest, such as her upcoming science session on cockroaches.
She said Outschool usage has 'exploded” during the pandemic, as parents have sought out more at-home learning experiences for their children. Tierney initially approached it as a hobby, to fill the extra time she had during quarantine.
When it became obvious that the pandemic wasn't going away anytime soon, she decided to transition her occasional online lessons into a full-time effort. She's now taught nearly 600 class sessions.
'The great thing is I can teach whatever I'm passionate about ... and that translates even through the screen,” she said. Her current lineup ranges from exploring math and epic failures in history to facts about Venus, accidental inventions and her popular discussion of the 'superpowers” that can accompany ADHD.
But with March designated as Women's History Month, she's also excited about teaching 'herstory,” showcasing women who have been breaking the rules and breaking barriers at home and abroad.
'Defiant Women in U.S. History” offers boys and girls ages 10 to 15 one 50-minute session on a variety of dates and times, beginning at 1:15 p.m. Friday. More slots are available through April 30, for $12. Participants will study 10 strong, influential women, including late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and suffragist Alice Paul.
'Breaking the Rules: Defiant Women in WORLD History,” offers a one-time, 50-minute session for $12, outlining 10 women who forged their own path despite the obstacles. That class, also designed for ages 10 to 15, begins at 12:15 p.m. March 26, with subsequent dates through April 23.
Some of the women Tierney profiles may not be as well-known, she noted, because their accomplishments may have been overlooked.
”Mostly, I hope (the students) are inspired by the stories that they hear (so) that they, too, have the courage to take up space,” she said. 'I think a lot of these women, although they're very different, the thing they have in common is the audacity to take up space in a man's world and do what men already were allowed to do - despite the barriers placed in front of them.”
She also hopes her students will 'be able to think about the accomplishments of women in history and realize, hey, there's probably a lot more accomplishments than we even know of,” she said.
'One of my famous women is Deborah Sampson, who dressed up as a man to fight the American Revolution. And that begs the question, how many other women dressed up as men but were never found out? When you have women publishing books under men's names or under initials, again, that begs the question, how many other women have published books, and maybe some fascinating things we thought were written by a man, but it actually was a woman,” she noted.
'So I'm hoping that the girls in my class are inspired, in particular, to dare and to take up space in whatever field that they choose. The boys, hopefully are also inspired, but I think it's a little different to maybe just have them learn, ‘Oh, this is something that I need to be attentive to, as well - that sometimes women are being overlooked, even today.'
'The message of perseverance is one of the main things,” she said.
Tierney doesn't grade her students, but she welcomes the feedback of parents who 'grade” her through their comments. She takes their suggestions to heart, and tweaks her classes to incorporate those comments.
Education is a family affair for Tierney. She has taught elementary through college classes during her career, and taught mostly elementary classes or mathematics in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She's still certified for grades K to 5 in general elementary, but also K to 8 in social studies and math. Because she especially enjoys teaching upper elementary and middle school, most of her Outschool online classes are targeted for those ages.
Most recently, she served as director for the Cedar Rapids district's home-school program. Before the pandemic, her husband, Elias Coblentz, worked in food service at Jefferson High School, and their 10-year-old daughter, Laura Tierney, was at Truman Elementary.
Because of some family health issues, however, they have quarantined at home, home schooling their daughter until she returns to in-school learning in the fall. Coblentz has taken on most of the home schooling duties, with Tierney stepping in with her forte, math.
'Luckily, it's worked out for us,” she said.
Laura also takes some Outschool courses, including some of her mom's, and enjoys hobby meetup groups, all of which have broadened her world view.
'Outschool has been kind of a godsend for her too, because not only does she get to learn about things she loves, but there's the other thing kids are learning, too - this respect for other cultures. When she has classes with kids from Australia and Dubai and the United Kingdom, it's really great for her to see that,” Tierney said.
'I think that's something she wouldn't even be getting, going to school normally. So, after she is back in school, no doubt she's going to continue to take Outschool classes, because there's such opportunity there that she won't get in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”
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At a glance
Outschool online class: 'Breaking the Rules: Defiant Women in U.S. History”
April Tierney of Cedar Rapids
' Target ages:
10 to 15 years
One 50-minute session
Offered various dates and times Friday through April 30
' Related topic:
'Breaking the Rules: Defiant Women in WORLD History,” one 50-minute session, offered various dates and times, March 26 to April 23, $12