Saturday, October 3, 2009

The BEST Reason to Skype

Today I told my favorite teacher about using Skype in our classroom. Since she has been out of the classroom for many years, she was really astonished that our computers are used to talk to someone outside of our building - especially for the reason I was telling her. Everyone needs to be doing this - she insisted - you need to tell them. Although I know of others who indeed do, I promised that I would give it a try.

We have many classroom conversations on the web using Skype. In the past years my technology classes have had many good reasons to hold conversations on the web: Native American studies, water conservation, weather, goals for the future, insects, our state, other states, another country, our schools, field trips, animals, poems, and a variety of books. With kindergarten through fifth grades we have had many ideas to share, and plenty of questions to ask.

This year is different. We have a goal of connecting all of our classes through technology. To integrate technology such as web conferences, videos, podcasting, wikis and blogs - I have busied myself with finding contacts, comparing topics, researching standards, adjusting plans, and scheduling conversations with other educators. But this year is different.

It started being different last month. A fellow teacher came to me with a request from a parent. They wanted to know if we could use Skype to keep one of our students connected to school. The family had set up Skype at home for their child. This precious student will be at home much of this year. He will be in the hospital too. With cancer treatments some days are better than others. For now he cannot physically come to school. But this year is different - he can come to school virtually - thanks to a little bit of technology and encouraging classmates.

We immediately set up the best reason for Skype for his classroom teacher. A few students in our school use Skype at home and others have been in our Technology class video conference sessions. This was our first time to use video conferencing with a classmate who is at home. Everyone was excited.

During his first classroom session, our virtual student learned from his classmates and with his classmates. New and old friends warmly greeted him and then two students gave him a tour of the classroom. They explained the routines of the day and described the special learning areas in the room. Others showed close-up environment models on camera for all to learn about a new social studies project. With his supportive mother by his side, our virtual student shared his time and his smiles with us.

When it was over, we all agreed it was a success and made plans for more. His guidance counselor and I are also ready for more sessions so he can join our class times, and learn with more of his friends. Our virtual student has the option of joining us by video and/or audio. He can turn his camera and sound on and off as needed. Although it was fun for the star of the day, his image can also be on a computer monitor in our room instead of the huge SMARTBoard display.

We are always learning more about teaching with technology. 1) Take turns. Since schools need to be concerned about bandwidth, we all understand that we must keep informed about each other's web conferences. 2) Be nice. Talk with all of the stakeholders about safety, privacy, and etiquette on and off of the web. 3) Be flexible - you may be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the best laid plans must change, so plan for change. We also found out that our document camera and sound system work very well as a webcam (surprise!). 4) Be clear. Video conferences help us all practice better communication skills.

Students and teachers are still learning together...wherever they are.

PS: Here's to our first favorite teachers - our moms.