Skype in the Classroom

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...


Graduating to Nintendo DSI

A little over a year ago, my 6 year old twins got Nintendo DS games.  I never really knew much about videogames, so what they could do with them surprised me

I think my husband is reliving his childhood through the twins because he is constantly buying them new games before they even ask!  Recently, he decided they needed to trade up for the latest version Nintendos (which I must say, they knew nothing about...).  So he took them up to Game Stop, our favorite used videogame store, and traded the Nintendo DS machines in for Nintendo DSIs.

My son and daughter were immediately able to figure out how to work the camera in the DSIs.  They've watched mommy taking a lot of photos lately and couldn't wait to have command of their own picture taking.  They cracked me up taking pictures of their toys:
A special blankie:
Things in stores that they want to buy:
And using the camera edit features in the game:
It wasn't 24 hours before I had to tell my son not to surprise people in the bathroom and take their picture.  He was so proud of himself for the capture that only promise of consequences got that rule to sink in.

Of course, all of the games that they use and love from their old Nintendos still work with DSI, but I really need some help with what I should be showing them to do.  I put parent controls on downloads and wifi.  I have no idea what to download and can't really find any good ideas online.  I can absolutely think of what to let my kids do on a computer, but the screen is so small on the game that most of the websites they love won't work properly on a DSI.  Can you help me?  Any suggestions?