I’ve often read on twitter and blogs about how teachers have used Skype in their classrooms to connect their students with that strange and terrifying thing, ‘the outside world’. Whilst I’m always interested in their experiences, my response is usually ‘le sigh’. Why? Because I knew I couldn’t use Skype with my students. At my school we don’t have the permissions to add programs to our DER laptops and since my mac has been unable to connect to our school’s wifi, I thought I was doomed to be caught in the Skype-envy limbo forever. But not anymore!
About a month ago I tweeted that my Year 8 students were working on a project studying the films and style of auteur Tim Burton. I was excited to receive a reply tweet from Christine Wells whose class in Auckland, NZ was also studying Burton – she asked if our classes could Skype … and that was just the catalyst I needed to prompt me to probe further into my Skype dreams. I went down to our TSO (technical support officer, who unfortunately is only with us until the end of the year due to the Liberal government’s cuts to education) and asked him to connect my mac to the wifi. And guess what? He did it! I then raced upstairs to my staffroom, jumped onto my mac and tried out Skype. The only one of my contacts online was Darcy Moore, so I clicked that little green phone icon and within a few rings I heard the dulcet tones of Darcy’s voice. I swiftly shared my exhilaration with Darcy by saying (and I quote), ‘Oh my god Darcy! Skype works! I’m so excited I could shit my pants!’ Haha – yeah, I know … shocker! It was pretty cool that Darcy was the first person I skyped with from school because his experience with Year 10 skyping with a games designer was something that had got me interested in Skype at the beginning of the year.
So the time came for my class to connect with Christine’s class. The night before I skyped with Christine to check it all worked and then on the day I spent a bit of time organising my classroom to suit the activity. I moved all of the tables to the edge of the room and made a big space in the middle for my students to sit on the ground together. You can see my classroom layout below.
I invited my HT in to watch us Skype – we haven’t done it before in our faculty. He was keen to come and watch and I thought his presence might make my students less silly … well I was wrong about that, they were too excited to be sensible! I spoke briefly to my class about the expected behaviour and the proper etiquette of turn taking when asking and answering questions. Once the connection was made, the students were awesome. Christine’s students had chosen to come in during their lunchtime, which was adorable. In between questions about Burton, the students managed to ask each other questions about the food in the canteen (or ‘tuck shop’ for the Kiwis, lol), how close they are to the beach and whether they like Gangnam Style. The latter resulted in the clip being shared from the Kiwi side and the Aussies showing off their dancing skills, see pic below.
After we said our goodbyes, I got my students to write a brief reflection on the activity: what they loved, what they learned from their new Kiwi mates and what they would like to do better for the next Skype. They were all very confident that they had learned a bit from the chat, especially about the genre of Burton’s films – dark comedy with a touch of fairytale-esque romance. This we had not covered in class, but they felt was important to note for their own short films in Burton’s style. They also decided that the Kiwis would become the audience for their films – cool! Finally, we all learnt that a bit more order was needed for a Skype chat to be truly productive. They felt that they needed to plan their questions in advance and to decide on an order of question asking and answering. I think this is important too, but I also think that your first connection needs to be playful – they were all engaged and having a great time and I think that’s pretty cool.
Thanks so much to Christine and her students – we had an awesome time and can’t wait to do it again.
Really, with Skype in your classroom the potential learning experiences are almost limitless.