Todd Flory is a 4th grade teacher in Andover, Kansas, and a Skype Master Teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and the PBS Digital Innovator Kansas lead for 2016. He believes in creating global citizens in a global classroom.
Years from now, when my students look back on their 4th grade year, I want them to remember connections that helped them grow, learn, and be inspired. Using Skype in the Classroom for global collaboration projects helps sow the seeds of being life-long learners and a feeling of interconnectedness with the surrounding world.
Participating in global collaboration projects helps students to be authentic learners, doing first-hand research instead of simply looking up information in a book or online.
Connecting with others through Skype helps my students become emotionally engaged in the academic material. They are much more interested in learning and better able to retain the information if they are able to have real-world, authentic experiences.
Collaborating with peers in different parts of the world teaches my students to be creative problem-solvers, using communication and critical thinking skills to tackle real-world problems, and empowering them to know that they can change the world.
One of our classroom themes last year was learning about global education access and educational systems. We made several connections to explore this issue. During a Skype call to a class in Guinea in West Africa, my students witnessed first-hand the stark contrast in educational resources, as they saw peers an ocean away huddled around one computer in a room with crumbling walls.
On a call to a school in Nigeria where many students’ families were directly affected by terrorist activity and kidnapping, my students heard testimonials of students risking everything for an opportunity to get an education.
During a Skype call for a writing exchange project with a class in the United Kingdom, one of my shy students was pulled out of his shell by a total stranger who looked and sounded different than he did by a simple compliment on his writing in front of the entire class.
A cultural exchange with a class in Turkey gave rise to two groups of students a world apart sharing traditional songs and dances with one another.
And a Skype Around the World Day, with my class globetrotting to every continent on Earth until midnight, allowed my students to see how students in other countries learn. They saw traditional dresses and games in action from students in India, took a sneak-peak into an after-school cooking class in Uruguay, learnt how to play rock-paper-scissors in Japanese, learnt the rules of cricket from an Australian student, saw first-hand the harsh Antarctic landscape, and learnt how to say “hello” in a dozen different languages.
Midnight Skype-a-Thon finishers
All of these experiences give my students a glimpse of the world around them, a world that they are a part of and will help shape. We do our students a disservice if all we teach them as educators is what to learn instead of how to learn. By connecting with classes and peers from around the world, students gain a better understanding of our common humanity and realize that information is at their fingertips, just waiting to be seized.
As an educator teaching 21st century learning skills, it is my duty to teach my students to become global citizens. As technology advances, the world is becoming smaller and our students will have greater access than anyone before them to connect with others around the world. By exposing students to other cultures and viewpoints, we are helping to make the world safer by breaking down the barriers of ignorance, fear, and the unknown.
Students learn that there is no “us and them,” but only other peers who have the same hopes and dreams, interests and values as they have; that there is far more that binds us together than keeps us apart. Skype in the Classroom helps to bridge the physical divide of oceans and continents by allowing students to connect on a personal level, developing empathy and learning to recognize a person for the character of their heart.
Skype Collaborations are a type of Skype lesson that enable teachers to connect their students with other classrooms around the world to work together.
Parents: Why not ask your school to get involved with Skype in the Classroom so your kids can experience the world live from their classrooms?