We have been asking to be able to use skype as a tool in our classrooms for many years. If you're not familiar with skype, it's a free software application that allows it's users to make audio and or video calls online. Our district has not had the bandwidth or security features they needed to feel comfortable to release this to us. With all of the budget cuts in education, it has complicated the problem even more. So we were thrilled to learn recently that we could begin testing skype on our system.
Our first opportunity to skype came with an administrative leadership team meeting. One of our team members had to stay home with a sick child and we were able to skype her into the meeting so that we were still able to complete her portion of our agenda. What a simple solution! In the past, we would have had to have an additional meeting or add more items to the next agenda.
To get started on skyping in the classroom, I read Sylvia Tolisano's post about skyping Around the World with 80 schools. I signed up immediately to make my contact information available to other schools looking to participate in this project. Before I had time to even think about what we wanted to do first, I received an email from a teacher in PA. Her class was participating in the project and wanted to set up a time to meet with a third grade class at our school. I videotaped our meeting so that the class could share it on their blog with their parents:
Skype with PA from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.
The kids loved this virtual meeting and I learned a lot of things I never even considered when using skype personally. Here are the things I need to fix before skyping with a class again:
* Get an external mic. I never thought about the fact that the kids couldn't all get close enough to the computer for the other class to hear them. I should have had an external mic ready.
* Bring in my webcam that is not attached to the computer to use. The other teacher had her webcam placed up high so we could see a large portion of the class. I'm not sure how much of us she could see with the limitations of the webcam on our laptop.
* Have a place ready for the laptop that reaches all the cords and locations it needs to be. This hadn't occured to me when I went into the 3rd grade class and I ended up using books to prop it up. Which worked, but...
The kids on our side were adorable to watch. They waited for each word the other class said and ooohed and ahhhed at their answers. It surprised me when they got so tickled to hear students' names from the other class that were the same in their class. They thought that was so cool that kids in other places had their name. They were very interested to hear that we didn't have the same exact subjects and resources in school.
If you watch the video, you'll know that with just this one exposure, the kids were able to see the possibilities for how skype connects us to the world. They are ready to skype other classes and scientists that can answer their questions! The possibilities are endless. I can't wait...