We recently caught up with Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Skype Master Teacher, Paul Watkins from Swansea, UK. Mr. Watkins started a Skype Club in his school to raise aspirations, educate and inspire his students.
The Skype Club is an opportunity for students to travel and learn about the world, not only during their curriculum subjects, but as an extra-curricular activity too. It is an opportunity for everyone in the school to use Skype in the Classroom.
“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things” – Nate Berkus
Why did you decide to start a Skype Club in your school?
Last year, during the last week of term, I organized a 12-hour Skype learnathon. This event had a greater impact than I could have possibly imagined. Throughout the day, I thought about how Skype could be used not just in different curriculum subjects but also in extra-curricular activities. At the end of that term the school closed its doors for the final time, before merging with three others schools to form Ysgol Bae Baglan—a Microsoft Showcase school that was opened in September 2016.
The staff were asked if there were any pupil enrichment clubs that could be offered and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start a Skype Club. With it being run after school it meant that many of the virtual field trips, Skype lessons and guest speakers that would not normally be accessible due to the time difference could now be accessed. This club would give pupils opportunities to see and hear things that they would normally not have access to. The aim was always to raise aspirations, educate and inspire, but I wanted to also reach the teaching staff and provide them with an opportunity to experience for themselves how powerful and engaging Skype in the Classroom truly is. That is why we extended our Skype Club to Wednesday lunchtime too.
How do you organize the Skype calls?
Whenever I organize something I like to give it the opportunity to grow. I decided to start the Skype Club on an alternating week basis: one week at lunchtime, and the following week after school. The lunchtime sessions are predominantly open door Mystery Skype sessions. The club is promoted through the school’s intranet as well as out Twitter account, and pupils can come and eat their lunch whilst engaging in a game of Mystery Skype. It is during these sessions that staff also like to come along and see what’s going on.
The after-school Skype Club looks to introduce pupils to new experiences, improve knowledge and inspire. We have so far had an introduction lesson on Micro:Bits, spoken to a ranger from Mount Rainier, and connected with classes and individuals from across the U.S., Cyprus and India—all while playing the amazing Mystery Skype game. Using the Microsoft Educator Community makes finding these connections easy. We document our travels on our Skype Club notice board and pupils are creating a Sway presentation of our ongoing adventures. We have some amazing connections planned leading up to Christmas, and we’ll be involved in the Skype-a-Thon, which we are all excited about!
Geography teacher holding his first ever Skype lesson with explorer Justin Miles
How do students feel about the Skype Club?
I love being stopped in the corridor by pupils every day asking me “is Skype Club on this week?” When I stand outside my classroom door at the start of lunch on Wednesday I can see the pupils running up the corridor towards my room. Even the staff comment “There they go, off to Skype Club” even when they are at the opposite end of the corridor. There is a buzz in the room when the call takes place.
This club attracts pupils of all ages and ability which makes it a very special group. To have 40+ pupils come to a classroom during their lunch time, and 25+ stay behind after school, shows how much they enjoy it. They love to calculate the miles at the end of each call as we pin the location on our map and deduct the miles from our challenge to travel 100,000 virtual miles this academic year. I asked one pupil to tell me what he thinks about the Skype Club
“I like a lot of things about the Skype Club, such as meeting people from across the world and learning things about where they live. I love Mystery Skype as it’s fun and entertaining. The Skype Club gives me a better understanding of the world and what we learn can help us make the world a better place.”
What do other colleagues say about it?
I have been thrilled to have colleagues ask to come along and join in with the Skype Club. Two of them were kind enough to share their thoughts:
“Pupils attended this club during their own lunch hour and were very excited to be part of it. The classroom was full and all children were engaged in the call. There were pupils from all year groups coming together to do a Mystery Skype. I was excited to find out where the pupils on Skype were, and they were just as excited. They had a world map with them to use to eliminate the countries we were not in. They were learning through this process without realizing. They love this club.” – Mrs Summerfield (Religious Education Teacher)
“A superb idea that engages all pupils, gets them using thinking skills and research skills when asked to guess the country that the other class were in. Oracy skills are also developed while pupils are having fun. Attendance at the Skype Club is high showing how popular the activity is. I can’t wait to use this in my classroom!” – Mrs Morgan (History Teacher)
I have been encouraged to see how the teachers that have come along have now started to talk to me about using it in their subject areas and as part of their lessons to enrich teaching and learning. For me, it has been far more effective than running training sessions after school for staff. This way they got to experience it and, more importantly, have seen how the pupils are engaged and learning.
What impact is it having on the students and the school?
If I am honest I didn’t expect the impact it had. Numbers are growing session by session, and already (seven weeks into term) departments have, or have planned to, use Skype in the Classroom in their lessons. We have big plans for the Skype-a-Thon and are looking to get more subject areas engaging with this powerful educational tool.
Writer F. Sionil Jose said “The influence of teachers extends beyond the classroom, well into the future. It is they who shape and enrich the minds of the young, who touch their hearts and souls. It is they who shape a nation’s future.” That is why we have a Skype Club in our school.
This year’s Skype-a-Thon is on November 29th-30th. It’s a great way for new teachers to get involved. Find out more on our Skype-a-Thon page.
New to Skype in the Classroom? If you are a teacher interested in learning more about Skype in the Classroom, register for the “Virtual Adventures with Skype in the Classroom” broadcast on November 16th. Skype Master Teacher and MIE Expert Jed Dearybury will be talking through how to get started, and provide general advice on how your students can get the most out of it.
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?