One of your goals this new school year may be to “flatten” your classroom walls by making more global connections. “Skype in the Classroom,” which I blogged about earlier this year, is a great way to get started. The site now offers Bingo Cards as a resource that you can print out for your students to keep track of all of the fantastic Skype experiences they have throughout the year. You can also use a bingo card to get a nice collection of ideas for Skype sessions! There are teacher instructions, and there is even a set of cards that you can use for professional development. All of these downloadable PDF’s are free, and just the tip of the iceberg when you explore everything that “Skype in the Classroom” has to offer!
Last year, one of my fabulous Twitter connections, Andi McNair (@mcnairan3, http://ameaningfulmess.blogspot.com/), mentioned that she required all of her students to interview an expert for their Genius Hour projects. Previously, this was one of the mystery challenges on my Genius Hour Challenge Cards, but not a requirement. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of building this into all of their projects.
My biggest class is my 5th grade GT class – 18 students. They rocked Genius Hour in 4th grade last year, so I thought they would be the best class to “pilot” this idea. Since many of the students are working in pairs, this meant we would need at least 9 experts.
We discovered that finding an expert to interview isn’t easy. We learned pretty quickly that calling the names on websites wasn’t going to work very well. As soon as the person on the other end heard a child’s voice, my students weren’t taken very seriously. So, we decided to try e-mailing people to ask if they would Skype with us. That has elicited a better response, but still requires persistence. (The students typed e-mails from my account requesting help with their projects and for the expert to please contact their teacher if interested.)
Our first expert helped a group of students with a project they were doing on wild animals in captivity. We found them through a contact I had made when we did our Cardboard Box Arcade earlier this year.
Then, through a comment made by a teacher in a Twitter chat about her students’ Genius Hour projects, I was able to connect another group who is studying the impact of divorce with two students who have experienced it first-hand.
Last week was one of my favorite Skypes. Some students who are studying global warming talked with an expert who was not only very knowledgeable but also extremely good at explaining his topic to young people. The students were glued to the screen for almost 45 minutes, covering pages of paper with notes. However, I couldn’t tell if the students were just being polite or really engrossed in the conversation.
Afterward, I tentatively asked them their impressions of the interview.
“It was great!” “We learned so much!” “He really explained well!”
They had graciously thanked him at the end of the interview, but I ended up sending my own e-mail of profuse gratitude for him taking the time to explain such a complicated issue to my students.
Not all “experts” are great at speaking to students. However, the process of taking their research out of the classroom and getting a professional perspective gives the students an idea of the relevance of their work, making it much more meaningful to them.
You can learn more about using outside experts in the classroom from Andi’s post – which gives great, specific advice and links to other posts on this topic.
To find out more about Genius Hour, check out my page of resources here.
For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over. Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year. This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year. Today’s post is about using Skype in the classroom.
I say that I am going to do it every year, and I never do. I tried it once a few years ago, and it was a bit of a disaster – completely disorganized, kids who were bored watching other kids doing it, kids who were doing it with nothing to say.
I love that the site deals with the logistics, like assigned roles for the students, and possible questions. I really could have used both of those things during our first experience!
I definitely plan to try this with my first graders next year. Our theme is “Folktales” and we read stories from around the world. At that age, even gifted first graders are still trying to figure out the differences between cities, countries, and continents – and they are absolutely fascinated with looking up locations on the globe and on Google Earth.
I’m trying to think of other ways to use Skype besides the typical ones (interviewing an author or learning about an international classroom). One way that I am considering is to bring it in to our Systems Thinking unit by having the students from different countries respond to a global issue and the way they see it effecting them. Along the same lines, they could discuss their reactions to an event in history. It might be fun to take some common idioms from different cultures and have the students complete or interpret them. I’d also like to get some people to speak to my students about their passions, and Skype could open this up to more than local leaders.