Andrea Friend is a Science Teacher, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher and a Skype Master Teacher from Andover, Kansas. She has created a Skype collaboration activity on the Microsoft Educator Community to help her students understand the different biomes on our planet by connecting with classrooms around the world. Many of her students have not traveled outside of their biome, but through this activity they can compare and contrast what biomes look like in other communities.
From Mystery Skype to “Mystery Biome Skype”
Welcome to Mrs. Friend’s Science class! This is how most Skype calls begin in my science class. Today’s call, however, is a “Mystery Biome Skype” call. Years ago, I was trying to find a way to make the very large concept of biomes more personal for my students. In my past attempts, we would discuss their vegetation, their locations in the world, and then took a test.
Often, during a Mystery Skype call, they would ask a question about the biome without remembering that they had already talked about it, or the question they asked was too basic. I knew I needed to find some way to make biomes real for my students. So, out of direct need for my classroom, “Mystery Biome Skype” began.
The “Mystery Biome Skype” call
The prep work for today’s call began weeks ago. My students and I had discussed the very basic information about each of the biomes and added that info into a flip book which allows them to quickly jump back to it at any time. We often refer to this information as “Bing questions” (questions I could search on Bing).
Then, they worked in groups to create questions about tallgrass, rain forest (temperate and tropical), deciduous, mountains and ice, desert, boreal forest, and tundra.
They must consider different perspectives while creating their questions: when it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit here, many people wear shorts. In other parts of the world that may be the coldest it gets and it is pants weather. To ask, “Is it cold there?” is not very informative. The kids have realized that they must reword their question to ask for a more complete answer.
We, of course, began with tallgrass because that is our biome. My kids worked to become experts on our area, knowing that other parts of our world have different types of tallgrass, and wondering if theirs is similar to ours. This is one of my favorite parts! I love it when my kiddos see how beautiful and resourceful our biome really is!
Using all the new information, they build a PowerPoint presentation that uses pictures and text to show our biome to others. The last step of their work is to create their Yes/No questions so that they can determine the other class’ location. They work very hard to make sure that if they receive a Yes answer, they know the exact biome. Armed with their PowerPoint presentation and questions for each of the biomes, they are finally ready for a “Mystery Biome Skype” call.
“Do your leaves turn different colors and fall off in the fall?” “Yes!” My kiddos then asked, “Are you in a deciduous forest?” “Yes!” The excitement was contagious! We waited for a few more minutes while the other class figured out our biome. When they asked “Are you a savannah?”, my kids knew that a savannah is another name for tallgrass, and told them, “Yes!”
My students then shared their PowerPoint presentation and answered any question the other class had. The big question from my class was, “What are your forests like?” My students were amazed to hear how tall and lush their forest is during the summer. Our class was asked, “What do you do during a tornado?” My students were happy to explain that they go to the basement and get in a room with no windows. We continued to ask and answer each class’ questions. Our call ended with big cyber high fives and my class wondering if there are tornados in other savannahs.
The impact of “Mystery Biome Skype” calls with my Science class
Over several years of doing “Mystery Biome Skype” calls, I have seen my students develop their inquiry skills, create higher level questions, tackle public speaking, and use information discovered during the calls in our discussions relating to plants, animals, heredity, weather, and ecosystems.
My students have visited all biomes in the world and can put together a mental picture and a personal experience from each location. With each Skype call my students say, “That was fun!”, and then I ask, “What did you learn?” Each experience is different, but the rewards are innumerable. Fun and learning at the same time, what a concept!
Teachers: Break down the walls of your classroom with Skype in the Classroom and if you are new to it, get started with an introductory call with one of our Skype Guide live connections, or take the Introduction to Skype in the Classroom course.
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?