From paper cut-outs to live adventures with Skype in the Classroom

We spoke to Skype Master Teacher Jed Dearybury about his experiences before and after getting involved with Skype in the Classroom. Read on to learn how it transformed his teaching and his students. Jed is also giving a live webinar for teachers new to Skype in the Classroom on November 16th. Check out our website for more details.

Could you tell us a bit about how you taught before Skype in the Classroom?

Fifteen years ago when my career in education began, the most innovative technology I had access to was a magnetic dry erase board. I remember my second year of teaching when the district maintenance crews mounted the board on the wall very distinctly. It felt like my birthday and the holidays all rolled into one. There were endless possibilities that filled my mind as I thought about all the lessons that I could enhance with this new-found technology. I knew then that my teaching would never be the same, and that my students were going to be greatly impacted by this new addition to our classroom.

Skype in the Classroom
A magnetic dry erase board: the most innovative technology Jed had access to in his classroom when he started teaching fifteen years ago

That same year, there was a student named Mary in my classroom whose family was from Central America. She was the sweetest student—always eager to learn and very happy to be at school. Her dad ran a small grocery store right across from the school and their family of five lived in a mobile home just behind it. Her world was a very tiny place. Each day she travelled from home to school to the family store and back home. The total length of her daily travel was about 2,500 feet (or 762 meters).

What sort of projects did you use the magnetic board for?

One of my first teaching experiences using my new magnetic technology was a unit about travel and world cultures. I printed pictures from various parts of the world and placed magnetic strips on the back to proudly display for Mary and her classmates to see. For weeks I added more images as we talked about the wonders of the world, cultures from around the globe, and all of the sites we could see if we travelled around the planet. Even though we lived in a small, Southern town in the US, where there wasn’t much diversity at the time, I brought in special guests who were from other countries. Mary’s parents came to talk about their home country, as did other parents who had lived outside of the US.

What was the result?

As a culmination of that unit, I asked my students to write about any place in the world that they would like to travel to. After weeks of studying the globe and all it had to offer, I just knew my students’ writings would be filled with many of the interesting places that we had learned about during our unit on travel. When they turned them all in, I was giddy with excitement as I began to read. Then, I came upon Mary’s writing. Her first sentence said, “If I could go anywhere in all the world, I would go to Hardee’s.” It broke my heart as Hardee’s is a restaurant about a mile from our school. On a nice sunny day, the walk from school to this place would take about 15 minutes, but to Mary, the walk seemed like the other side of the planet. Out of all the places we had learned about and visited on our fancy magnetic dry erase board, Mary just wanted to go down the street.

I almost felt like a failure as a teacher. I had hope that all my students would connect with my images of Paris, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, and write about those unique places. Sadly, this was not the case. All of the students mentioned local places except for a few Florida amusement parks and Hollywood. For some reason all of my magnetic bells and whistles didn’t stick. In an ideal world, I’d charter a plane and take them around the world to see these places first hand!

Skype in the ClassroomHow have things changed now that you use Skype in the Classroom on a regular basis?

I no longer have that magnetic dry erase board, but an interactive white board connected to my computer and the Internet. My students no longer use notebooks, but tablets and laptops. They no longer view printed pictures of the world hanging on walls, but instead beam their faces to locations around the planet in mere seconds, teleporting themselves anywhere they can fathom. My classroom is a different place as I’ve learned to charter “virtual planes” and take them anywhere I want!

I took my first virtual field trip that year to a school in Kenya. For the first time in my students’ lives their eyes saw people who live in another land. They don’t look the same, they don’t talk the same, yet the differences don’t matter, because kids are kids. Very quickly their similarities came out and there was an instant friendship. We called them back several times that year and my students have been traveling the globe via Skype in the Classroom ever since.

The human connections, the real-world experiences, and the empathy for mankind that has been brought into my classroom as a result of Skype in the Classroom has transformed the hearts and minds of my students. Interacting with real live people was impactful in a way that cannot be compared with magnetic pictures hanging on a board. When writing at the end of our unit on travel and culture today, students aren’t writing about amusement parks, but the Kibera Slums of Nairobi, and how they can help their friends there. They aren’t wishing to go to Hollywood and see movie stars, they are wanting to raise money to save penguins from South Africa. They no longer want to go just down the street for dinner, but are eager to learn about honeybees in Maryland, sea turtles in Florida, or sloths in Costa Rica. They desire connections with their friends in the cornfields of Iowa, the busy streets of India, and the islands of Japan. It is the power of experiences and connections like these that are changing the world one Skype call at a time.

Virtual field trip

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Teachers: Find out more about Skype in the Classroom and get started with an introductory call with one of our Skype guide lesson, or register here for Jed’s webinar on November 16th. If you can’t join live, a recording will be available afterwards. Our Skype-a-thon, on November 29-30th, is a great way for new teachers to get involved. Check it out!

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?