Inviting the world into our classroom
Some of the most fascinating academics, artists and writers in the country have taken the time to talk with my middle school students. Skype made these conversations possible.
Students talk to Chef, Ann Cooper.
We have had Skype video calls with Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law professor and co-founder of Creative Commons, about copyright laws and remix culture. We’ve had multiple video conversations with Marilyn Horowitz, an NYU film professor who has worked with Hollywood scriptwriters. To get tips for a recent animation project, we interviewed Mike Rauch, from the acclaimed Rauch Bros., the duo behind the amazing StoryCorps animation series.
So when my students and I recently started a documentary project, I knew Skype would play a crucial role. I have 18 groups, in three classes, each creating documentaries on different topics. We had to find experts for each group to interview. We had face-to-face conversations over Skype video with some 15 experts for the project.
For our exposé on school lunches, students interviewed Chef Ann Cooper, known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady.” Another group, working on a documentary about how the lack of sleep negatively affects school performance, spoke with Cornell psychology professor and international sleep expert Dr. James Maas. Dr. Maas also speaks with professional sports teams about the importance of getting enough sleep. His college classes are so popular that he holds the world’s record for the number of students he has taught.
A third group of students, who are working on a documentary about the dangers of concussion from youth football, spoke with three doctors from the Defense Centers of Excellence, a leading traumatic brain injury treatment and research center. One of the doctors, James Bender, was the psychologist for a brigade of 4,000 soldiers in Iraq. He had just returned.
I could go on and on because we had so many wonderful conversations. Skype is a great resource that gives students opportunities to talk with people from all walks of life about real issues that matter. The best part: it’s free.