Skype in the classroom connecting students to the worldJuly 2013
The Kiwi teacher: Felicity Davis, Blockhouse Bay School, Auckland
I used Skype for myself to connect with overseas friends a lot. At the U Learn conference, I heard about Skype for education and looked into it and loved the idea of connecting my kids with the world. It also gives the kids a real audience to share and connect with. It was quite awkward at first. We were new to this and the kids were very excited about Skypeing but then felt a little shy and nervous when we went live for the first time.
Our first call with an American school consisted of lots of investigation questions about where we were all from. They asked us questions about our country and we asked them the same. At the current time, we are sharing favourite Kiwi books with others around the world. I knew I had found a digital tool that I would use again and again to take learning deeper for my students. When we hung up from our first call my students said, “wow that was so cool – we just talked with kids in another country!”
I realised, here was a way to open our classroom to the world to share our learning and also learn from others. It is also a great tool for reluctant learners as it hooks them in instantly.
I am lucky as we do have access to Skype and our principal supports the use of technology in our classrooms so I have not faced any technological hurdles. Time zones can also be quite challenging but it just takes flexibility in your programme to make it work for your students. We have had a few hurdles connecting with others from around the world; firstly we set up a call with a school in Chicago and we didn’t take daylight savings into account, which meant our times were well out. So I organised my students to come to school early at 8am one day so we could Skype them at their time of 3pm. Then sadly the teacher’s husband ended up in hospital so my students were very disappointed but understanding. We finally got to Skype with them and it was well worth the wait. It is so important to be flexible and be prepared to face hurdles.
Students came up with their own set of etiquette rules for when they are chatting online such as loud clear voices, no silly faces, no fingers like peace signs, and using their manners. We had a few test calls so that the students got over wanting to see themselves on the camera and their silliness really just being kids. We also worked out the best way to sit so we could all be seen clearly and heard.
As a teacher I have learned that it is all about taking the first step and being passionate about exposing your students to the world to learn. With my classroom forming pen pal relationships and engaging in conversations, they are being equipped with the tools and vision they need to be successful in our global world. The feedback I have had from parents has also been very positive and they are behind the initiative and think it is fantastic we are collaborating and opening our classroom up to the world.
The initial set up got my students very excited about reading as it gave the kids a purpose for what to discuss. My reading groups have been given a book to read and discuss and what made the book so special. The group then gets to share their book and thoughts about it with our Skype classes across the world.
Next term I am hoping to use Skype a lot to invite the world into our classroom while we are doing our Science based adaptations inquiry learning. We are definitely going to continue Skypeing with other schools around the world after our holiday break. The students are also very keen to set up a blog to document our journey with Skypeing. The blog will also open us up to further pathways and connections with others around the world. The kids are also very keen to be experts for others in the world to dip into and it’s a fantastic way to put their learning into action and to give them a real audience.
Two teachers from different parts of the world share how Skype has brought a new dimension to their teaching and their students’ learning.
The USA teacher: Ashley Merced, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago, USA
I have always been interested in connecting to other classrooms throughout the world. I love to travel and have been very fortunate to travel to many countries. At my school, our second grade curriculum includes learning about the continents. This year I made it a goal for myself to really follow-through on my wishes to Skype and connect with other teachers and students in order to give my students an authentic experience learning about the world.
Using Twitter was a great way to reach out and find teachers interested in having a global classroom. I found the first few teachers I have Skyped with this way. Actually this weekend I attended a professional development and learned about Skype in the Classroom, a website that connects teachers globally from around the world. I am excited to use this tool to connect with many other teachers from the around the world and continue this process.
There were some technology glitches along the way; our audio not working, time zone differences, and such but that goes along with the territory of technology. In the end though, all the hurdles are worth it.
Some benefits from students are authentically learning about various students from across the world. It also has been a great way to expand my teaching and the students’ learning about geography and where in the world places are. These experiences with other students across the world will stick in their minds forever I’m sure and therefore they will remember where different countries/states are geography wise.
I have learned that there is an entire network out there of teachers who want to connect globally. I have learned that my students are more involved and interested in learning about the places we are Skypeing with because they are given these authentic experiences. After Skypeing with a class, I try and get my students to become blogging buddies with our new friends. This experience has given my students the opportunity to become better writers because they see that other kids are reading and commenting on their work so it matters more to write well. My next steps are to explore the website and network Skype in the Classroom to connect with even more teachers and students. Next year I plan on developing our Social Studies curriculum in a more authentic way by solely learning about the world through Mystery Skypeing.
How to jump on the Skype bandwagon
Skype in the classroom is a free online platform designed to help teachers connect with other schools and guest speakers from around the world via Skype. It’s easy to use – register with your Skype ID, complete your profile, and you are ready to become a global teacher. You can set up a Skype lesson for others to join, or you can simply join an existing Skype lesson and start learning together. Teachers of all subjects and age groups are welcome to take part.
Skype in the classroom has a range of free Skype lessons provided by their partners, including NASA, Penguin Books, Random House Children’s Publishers, and Microsoft. These lessons allow teachers to bring amazing guest speakers into their classrooms via Skype. You can also visit their collections page to explore the latest inspirational Skype lessons that users have created.
All educators who sign up to our platform can apply for 12 months free Skype Group Video Calling which allows users to video call with up to 10 different classrooms at the same time. You can also share your Skype stories on Twitter @SkypeClassroom or on Facebook at facebook.com/skypeintheclassroom. More information can be found on education.skype.com
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