Stumbling upon Skype in the classroom last year transformed my classroom. It flipped my teaching style on its head, blasted the walls of my classroom away, and enabled my students to stamp their digital footprints across the globe. It made me rethink what was possible in the classroom and ignited a passion for learning in my students that once started, couldn’t be extinguished. And the best part: it’s easy, and you can do it too.
Our Skype Connections Map by the end of the school year.
I’m an avid scuba diver and when I learned that Skype in the classroom was lining up a group of some of the leading ocean experts from around the world to connect with classrooms, I set about securing as many of them as I could. I have to be honest; it was as much for me as it was for my grade 6 students. I have a life-long passion for learning and when you’re excited and enjoying what you do, it can’t help but rub off on your students. Over the course of the month my student’s critical thinking skills grew leaps and bounds. “What’s your favourite type of shark?” quickly developed into “What kind of symbiotic relationships have you observed in the coral reef ecosystem?”
Our Skype connections were such a hit that we set off on a challenge to connect with 50 scientists, explorers and conservationists over the course of the school year. This meant joining an expedition on an active volcano in Italy, talking conservation with Celine Cousteau, hanging out in an Adele Penguin colony in Antarctica and taking a virtual deep-sea dive on a submersible in Roatan barely scratch the surface of our eventual 52 Skype calls. This form of experiential education was as easy to weave into the curriculum as it was impactful for my students. Take our space unit for example, we chatted with a Canadian astronaut, virtually toured a telescope on the top of an extinct volcano, mused about extraterrestrial life with an astrobiologist and broke down the Curiosity rover with a member of the Mars Science Lab.
What other platform can make experiences like this possible? The Skype in the classroom website makes it easy to find and arrange guest speakers and lessons from all around the world. You can quickly search by subject area and filter for the newest additions. The new interactive map allows you to scan the world to pick guest speakers and teachers with the click of a button. Register for any lessons you are interested in, and send a quick message from your profile page to the speaker and you’re good to go. I send a message to the speaker in addition to registering for their lesson, as I’ve found I received more responses from the guest speakers.
One of our first guest speakers was Sharks4Kids founder Jillian Morris. She surely sparked my student’s passion for learning, altered their perceptions of sharks and convinced them that they could use their voices to stand up for sharks. When they learned that Western Australia was going to start culling sharks they wrote an open letter to the Premier. The subsequent back and forth exchange made local and international headlines, with Jillian cheering us on the whole way.
Photo from a stop on the Sharks4Kids Guelph Tour (photo: Nancy Giovinazzo)
Our learning spilled from the classroom, into our school, throughout our entire school board and around the world. That’s what makes Skype in the classroom unique, it’s not one teacher and one class anymore. It’s a global community, sharing genuine learning experiences with no limitations. What I’ve shared here is merely a small snapshot of some of our learning experiences. Although this may seem daunting to wade into at first glance,
I’m serious when I say that it’s easy to do. If you don’t believe me, take five minutes out to join Skype in the classroom, send a few messages and see what happens. Be forewarned, the journey Skype in the classroom will take your class on is exciting, addictive and unpredictable, and my students and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To catch up on our past experiences and keep up with our ongoing classroom adventures, follow me on Twitter @GrabowskiScuba and check out my classroom blog. For the latest inspiration and information, follow #SkypeAtoZ if you are on Twitter for 26 days of lesson-inspiring stories and tips, from A to Z, as we go back-to-school with @SkypeClassroom.
Mr Joe Grabowski teaches grade 8 Science and Math at St. John Catholic School in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He believes students should experience hands on learning and have opportunities to make their own discoveries.