The beauty of Skype in the classroom is that it truly takes the world and puts it into my students’ reach. Although my students live in London, many of them rarely leave their local borough of Enfield. And some have no recollection of ever doing so. I find that school trips are tough to organise and if I take a whole class out for the day I might risk not being there for my other classes. But I still need to take my students out of London, out of school, and allow them to wonder at the glory of the world. If I don’t, how can I encourage curiosity and creativity, and inspire the heroes of tomorrow? By bringing expert speakers or other classes from all over the world into my classroom via Skype.
On the 23rd June this year, my class and I virtually traversed the North Atlantic Ocean and dived 63 feet into the deep 9 miles off the coast of Key Largo, Florida to meet Fabien Cousteau and his crew of aquanauts. When my GCSE students walked into the classroom that day, and saw through the window of an underwater laboratory, scores of fish floating by, some of them were doubtful that what they were seeing was real. “That window is definitely a screensaver” whispers one of my more cynical students to the others. Another peers intensely at the interactive whiteboard and whispers back – “It could be, but it’s still sick.” Sick is good, possibly excellent – and I, their science teacher for the past year, beam with pride.
To my students, ordinarily educated in a typical (if a little messy) science laboratory in North London, this window is magic. It transports them to a world of incredible biodiversity, a world of science, exploration and conservation that we had, previously, only learnt about in books.
Even better than the underwater view from the window is the ensuing conversation that Fabien Cousteau has with my students. He gives my class a tour of Mission 31’s home for the month – Aquarius, the world’s only underwater marine laboratory – and then patiently allows them to ask questions. They have so many. They ask how it is possible for the internet to be underwater, what Fabien thinks about his grandfather’s legacy, whether underwater cities are the future, and how the aquanauts can possibly go to the toilet! It is so rare that they get to converse with any practicing scientists, let alone that they’re talking with this famous explorer who’s thousands of miles away and living underwater! It was as inspiring for me as it was for my students, and a memorable way to learn about the science of discovery.
On my 18th birthday, my hero – Claire Bertschinger – told me to “Think globally, act locally.” This is something I try and think about as I begin to prepare my vision for the next school year. What will I do next year in my local community that will make the world better? I think using Skype in the classroom and opening the door to this extraordinary, somewhat chaotic and multicultural world we live in, is what being a teacher of future citizens of the world is all about. After all it was Fabien’s hero and grandfather, Jacques-Yves Cousteau himself who said “However fragmented the world, however intense the national rivalries, it is an inexorable fact that we become more interdependent every day.”
That day, Skype transformed my classroom into an underwater science laboratory. To learn more about how Skype can help you teach your students about the world, Skype in the classroom is free, easy and takes just a few minutes to join. It’s also worth following #SkypeAtoZ on Twitter, to catch up on 26 days of lesson-inspiring stories and tips, from A to Z, as we go back-to-school with @SkypeClassroom!
Mrs Katy Hardman teaches 11-18 year olds science at Kingsmead School in Enfield, North London, in the UK. She is a Teach First teacher who uses Skype to broaden her students’ horizons and show them there really is life outside of Enfield.