Skype-a-Thon: a teacher’s experience

Steve Auslander is a 5th grade teacher in Indianapolis, IN. He is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Skype Master Teacher. Today he shares his experience with the Skype-a-Thon 2015, why he’s excited about this year’s Skype-a-Thon (November 29th-30th), and why any educator around the world should give it a shot too. 

Why did you participate in the Skype-a-Thon 2015?

When I heard the term Skype-a-Thon, instantly I was intrigued. I’m always searching for authentic experiences for my students that extend beyond the four walls of our classroom. Anytime they can be part of something way bigger than just our school, learn relevant information, and practice important skills along the way, I’m in! And that is exactly what the Skype-a-Thon offered.

So what exactly is a Skype-a-Thon?

The Skype-a-Thon originated last year through Skype in the Classroom as a challenge to encourage educators to connect their classes with other classes and experts around the world, and travel over one million virtual miles—all within forty-eight hours. Well, not only did we surpass our one million mile goal, we shattered it, journeying over three million miles!

Skype virtual field trip
Counting the miles we traveled on our Skype-a-Thon virtual field trips

Tell us about your Skype calls during Skype-a-Thon

Of course my class alone didn’t rack up anywhere close to one million miles, but we surpassed thirty thousand, and each call was unique and memorable. We started our Skype-a-Thon by chatting to a colleague from South Africa. We discussed colonization, a topic we’d studied recently in Social Studies, and one that is extremely relevant in South African history. He also taught us Math tricks, brainteasers, and optical illusions.

Optical illusion
Practicing optical illusions after our call with South Africa

Next up was a call to my friend and fellow Skype Master Teacher, Stacey Ryan from Andover, Kansas. Our classes played an interactive game I created called “Mystery Decimal Area Code”. The game is played similarly to Mystery Skype, except instead of finding each class’ state, they have to find your area code as a decimal. For example, my class’ area code is 317 so we became 0.317. We asked questions like, “is your decimal number less than one half” or “is your tenths digit even”. This game really tested our place value and number sense skills, while also provided us with logic, teamwork and problem solving practice. After finding out each other’s area codes we searched online to discover their location and we shared about our communities.

After playing Mystery Decimal we played another brand-new game, but this one was with the managing editor of CBS in New York City, NY. We played “Mystery Job”. I’ll never forget the excitement on one of my students’ face when he figured out that the person we were talking to worked on the news.

Staying in New York City, we then met the Chief Digital Officer on the Metropolitan Museum of Art and learned a great deal about several of the works in the museum, and how they use 3D printing to recreate famous works. This really interested my tech savvy crew!

The Skype-a-Thon didn’t end there! We continued our whirlwind educational world tour with a stop at Twitter’s Headquarters in San Francisco, where we prepared for the Hour of Code with one of my friend who writes code for Twitter. My students were very interested in his work and in his advice to them.

Another incredible experience was still to come. One of my friends lives in a kibbutz in Akko, Israel. He’d previously filmed a walking tour of his beautiful kibbutz. After viewing the video, we were prepared with substantial questions about life on a kibbutz. To make his kibbutz even more interesting, it is right on the border with Lebanon. He even showed us on the video a buoy floating in the water behind his mother’s backyard, and explained that the buoy served as the border between the two nations. He also taught us how to play dreidel, a skill we used later in the year when we played virtual dreidel over Skype with a class in Israel.

Skype video call
During our call with a class in Israel

Finally, the Skype-a-thon 2015 wrapped up for us with a very brief Skype exchange with fellow Skype Master teacher, Anne Mirtschin from Australia. We called Anne right before dismissal on Friday afternoon, and my students were absolutely blown away that it was Saturday morning where Anne was sitting. She had to show us the date on her mobile phone to prove I wasn’t joking. Anne showed us her farm animals and taught us about the weather in Australia.

As you can see, we traveled the world and learned from so many amazing people. These lessons are priceless and ones neither my students nor I will soon forget.

Why should teachers and students participate in the Skype-a-Thon 2016? 

The Skype-a-thon is a time when one can be part of a special global initiative. It’s incredible knowing that my class’ virtual miles will add on the cumulative total of classrooms all over the world. You don’t want to miss out on the fun or the learning! If you can’t participate the whole day, maybe take part in just one or two calls and know you were part of a global event. Or go for it, and rack up miles on an exciting and memorable tour of the world, all from the comfort of your classroom!

Skype-a-Thon

Teachers: Break down the walls of your classroom with Skype in the Classroom! If you are new to it, get started with an introductory call with one of our Skype Guide live connections. This year’s Skype-a-Thon is on November 29th-30th. Travel the world without leaving your classroom in celebration of global learning! In case you missed last year’s Skype-a-Thon, or to re-live the experience, check out the action in the wrap up video and Sway presentation.

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?

Guest speakers/partners: To share your expertise and inspire the next generation of students, you can apply to become a guest speaker. If your organization is interested in hosting virtual field trips or having a guest speaker program, learn more here.