Just over a year ago I discovered that Skype could transform my classroom and not just help keep me in touch with my brother. Inspiring my students by introducing them to others around the globe and encouraging them to be curious about the world has had an amazing unintended consequence; I myself became more curious about the world.
So, this past July I found myself waiting nervously on the edge of a boat clutching onto the railing as I peered into the Indian Ocean. I’m not sure if I was more afraid of what was beneath the water’s surface, or if I was more afraid of missing a once in a lifetime opportunity. Then, I heard the command:
“Spotter in! GO! GO! GO!”
But I did not travel to Australia to swim with sharks. It was May 30, 2013 when the familiar sound of Skype rang in my classroom. It was 8:00pm for myself, over thirty students and their families in Grove City, Ohio. Nearly one hundred of us gathered to participate in a three-way group video Skype call with students in Perth and Japan. Questions were asked about each other’s daily lives, different school activities, and favorite hobbies. We sang a song together, shared artwork and some students participated in activities that showcased their different talents. When we said goodbye at the end of the call it was actually just the beginning.
Over the past year, the teacher from Perth (Miss Korten) and I have created a ‘global classroom.’ Through the use of email, video, and of course Skype, we have blended our curriculum to provide daily, weekly and monthly communication to our students. Most times I forget that our classrooms are over 11,000 miles away from one another and that we regularly transcend a twelve-hour time difference. And so I traveled to Australia for the first time not to swim with whale sharks, but to meet these students and Miss Korten in person.
The class in Perth is just one of over 30 different classes and guest speakers that my students and I have collaborated with in just over a year using Skype in the classroom. We have spoken with people on all seven continents from 14 different countries.
My fifth grade students have learned from and been inspired by paleontologists who made the dead world of fossils and dinosaurs come alive, a research biologist from the Bahamas with a passion for shark conservation, an oceanographer from England who shared her journey to Antarctica, and a Yellowstone National Park ranger who taught us about adaptations of the different animals who live in the park. These are just a few of the guest speakers my students spoke within just one week during our ‘Skype-A-Scientist’ series this past May.
All of these experiences have not only inspired my students, but they have consequently inspired me. Swimming with whale sharks is by far the most exhilarating experience of my life. But in fact, one of the most rewarding experiences is seeing the excitement on my students’ faces during a Skype call. And it’s not just me. Teachers from all around the world are connecting their students to the world, with a click of a button, using Skype.
As many of us prepare for the beginning of a new school year, it’s worth spending a few minutes joining education.skype.com for free to discover thousands of like-minded teachers and guest speakers. Wonderful connections can be made, lessons learned and opportunities provided, that would not be possible without this easy-to-use technology. The opportunities really are endless. Don’t hang on the side of the boat – let go of the rail, take a chance, and dive into the vast ocean that is Skype in the classroom.
Trust me, you won’t regret it!
To learn more about my journey as a teacher using technology to flatten the walls of my classroom, you can connect with me on Twitter (@ArinKress) or read more on my blog: hatechalk.blogspot.com. Finally, be sure to follow @SkypeClassroom and #SkypeAtoZ on Twitter. Over the next month, many more stories and tips will be shared by other teachers about their experiences. Join us on our journey to create a global classroom.
Ms. A Kress is a 5th grade teacher (at Park Street Intermediate School) in Grove City, Ohio, US. She uses to connect her students with classes and guest speakers from all around the world.