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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Reach Out and Skype Someone

Before the holiday break, I had opportunities to video chat with some friends in other parts of California.  Neither situation had much preparation – in fact, one was a bit of a surprise – but both were worthwhile experiences for all the students involved.

My friend Sean teaches fourth grade in Orange County, California.  He and I arranged for his class to “call” one of my classes – a mixed group of about sixteen seventh and eighth graders – one morning to just talk.  His students asked my students some questions.  I challenged Sean’s youngsters to answer some on-the-spot math problems I made up for them about our class.  We laughed and had a little cultural exchange between my Bay Area private school adolescents and his younger public school kids down in the OC.  My kids “awwwed” at how cute his kids were.  It was nice.

A few weeks later, I got a Skype chat request from my friend John in King City.  I had a room full of third graders with me, and we had just begun a project connected to their social studies unit on California Indians.  I did not tell my students where his class was.  Instead, I asked his eighth graders which tribal groups had lived in their area.  My students were instantly engrossed.  They don’t really know much about California geography yet, so upon hearing “Salinan and Chumash” they started guessing all kinds of cities and towns south of us, so at least that was a start.  I ended up having to give them a big hint: the name “Ciudad del Rey” as the Spanish equivalent.  None of the kids in my room spoke Spanish, so that ended up not helping.  But I think John’s kids may have been impressed.

Again, it was fun.  A momentary diversion from the everyday that, I hope, helped kids on both ends of the webcams understand that someone they don’t know, maybe really far away, is interested in them, their homes, and what they learn in school.

Most “global education” exercises conducted via video chat warrant more preparation than these examples, of course.  You don’t have to only interface with teachers you already know.  There are many educators out there, worldwide, who want to get their kids communicated across the miles.  There are a few online place to find classes to connect with.  I’m writing this on a plane, so I can’t go hunting for links right now.  But you could do a Google search for “Skype in education” or “skyping with other classes” (try it with or without the quotes), and you’re bound to find a wiki or other online community where you can post a request or browse what others have already written to find a class (or many classes!) for your video conferencing needs.

Wondering why you might want to do this with your students?  Ask others who are already doing this (or hoping to get started). What are their goals?  My short answer is that learning should not be confined to a classroom.  The more we knock down those artificial boundaries – the classroom or school building walls – the more we help students see that learning is an “always on” endeavor.  They can start reaching out and expanding their own learning beyond what they do with you.  School no longer remains an endless stream of “is this going to be on the test?” and becomes “what are we learning today, and with whom will we share it?”

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