(This past Thursday, I set up a Skype call for our grade 3 class at ISH to connect with students from Jacksonville, Florida. It was a great experience – you can watch an amazing video reflection from the students at their end here, on the ‘Around the World with 80 Schools‘ Ning.)
Using Skype in class…
‘I thought it was over-rated…Maybe just an over-hyped novelty…Probably end up being a one-time thing…’
Boy was I wrong.
It was worth the hype and more.
The students level of excitement, the wide eyes, the ooohs and ahhhs.
This was definitely a memorable experience for these kids – one that had them making connections and asking questions, and learning from each other. They were carrying on a dialogue over thousands of kilometres. A dialogue that saw them looking at kids their age in a different part of the world, different cultural and religious backgrounds and realizing – they had just as much in common with these kids than their neighbour sitting next to them.
I was very fortunate that the teacher at the other end had lots of experience conducting these kinds of lessons, and I was very happy to follow her lead. They asked and answered great questions that highlighted both the differences (geographically and culturally) and similarities – this was so key. The similarities now seem insignificant – two kids on opposite sides of the ocean have art as their favourite subject – both groups of kids like pizza, the same TV shows – and the same Hannah Montana song. But these seemingly insignificant shared pieces of pop culture astounded and united the kids who were oceans away from each other.
In order to do a better job of this next time , (and there DEFINITELY will be a next time), I’m reflecting on how I prepared, what I loved, what I learned, and what I would do differently next time.
What I did to prepare:
- I ‘test-called’ the other teacher in Florida to make sure I could get a good skype connection at school
- Informed students and ‘hyped’ them up
- Sent home a letter (email) to parents asking permission for students to stay after school to skype and included information (website, etc.) about the school we would be communicating with
- Tried to prepare the students for our call by using ‘Google Earth’ to find both Helsinki and Florida on the map and compare. Looked at photos of our school and of their school and compared
- Made a list of different nationalities represented in our class. (13!!!)
- Talked a little bit about what the call would look like (but I wasn’t very helpful…this was my first time too!)
- Set up the video camera – (ended up being useless)
What I loved:
- The excitement in the room
- The anticipation
- The faces of the kids in the room
What I learned (or re-learned):
- How important it is for kids to connect with other kids
- Kids can learn from each other
- Kids can teach each other
- Connections are powerful
- I would prepare the kids better (inquire into the places we are skyping to)
- Set up a ‘hot seat’ for the person speaking
- Get a better external microphone that can pick up the whole class, but is still able to clearly pick up the person speaking (any suggestions?)
- Get a tripod for my video camera and have a designated camera person
- Maybe figure out how to ‘tape’ the webcam feed (on both ends for video making purposes)
- Have students rehearse asking and answering questions
- Talk about ‘good’ questions
- Talk about behaviour expectations
- Have students record what is going on during the call (back-channelling, photos, videos)
- Have a student introduce the class
- Prepare something special for the class to show the school we’re skyping with
- Debrief students immediately afterwards
One big thing I learned after this lesson, (that is completely unrelated to Skype), is that I have zero video editing skills! This is something I plan to change.