There are technology tools that come along and make your day easier, that make your day better. There are technology tools that integrate themselves so seamlessly into your lessons that you soon forget what life was like before. There are tools that you know you can rely on whenever you need them. And then there are tools that encompass all that and oh so much more. Tools that elevate your teaching ideas to places you never thought they could have gone. That’s how I feel about Skype. Skype and I have been faithful friends for the past 16 years, ever since I moved to America, but our relationship really deepened 5 years ago when I brought it into the classroom.
So why has Skype been such a central piece of my classroom? Because it is free, efficient, easy to use, and opens up a world of possibility that I never could physically bring into my classroom, yet through its power and immense network I can. Skype simply makes what we are doing better. It gives us audiences, authors, experts. It connects us with places around the world and gives my students a way to change the world.
So what are some of our best ideas?
How about using Skype to do market research? We did just that in our epic nonfiction picture book project where the students had to write a book catered to a K and 1st grade audience. So voila, through the magic of Skype we spoke to several classrooms throughout North America and learned what we need to learn to make our books so much better.
How about speaking with an author? This has always been one of my favorite ways to use Skype since so many authors speak to classrooms either completely free or for very cheap. It is powerful for students to see the genius behind their most favorite books and only heightens their experience with the book. Did you know that the incredible Kate Messner has a list of authors who Skype for free?
How about working on geography skills while building community? That is exactly what playing Mystery Skype has done for my students. If you have never tried this simple guessing game, please make sure you plan one this year. They are so easy to plan and incredible to be a part of. This is always one of the most favorite things my students do throughout the year.
How about having students teach others how to do something? My students have used Skype to teach others how to blog and how to play Mystery Skype. They have been teachers for other classes and other teachers. Think of the power in that!
How about using it to share book recommendations? As summer nears, my students are adding books to their “Plan to read” lists and a great way to get more suggestions is by scheduling Skype calls with other students eager to recommend great books. This is a great way to get new suggestions both for my students and for my own classroom library and it seems to hold more power when it is a student-to-student recommendation rather than just me book-talking.
How about bringing an audience to you? It would cost a lot of money for my students to visit an elementary school to perform or speak, but via Skype our audience can come to us. So whenever the chance exists, I try to bring in a live audience through the camera. Having the live audience ups my students’ performance and gives us a way to connect with others.
How about learning about other cultures? I think we often think that every call has to be planned out and structured but sometimes just giving students tim e to speak to other students can be exciting within itself. One of my classes spoke to a school in inner-city New York, something I did not think would mean much to them because it was not out of the country, but the experience rattled them. They could not believe how different their school and community was from theirs. That call cemented something that I had been telling them all year but that they didn’t quite believe; America is a very diverse nation indeed.
How about to raise awareness? My students have used Skype calls to raise awareness about the “R” words, bullying, and other issues near and dear to their heart. Again, by providing them with a platform to spread their message that extends beyond our classroom walls, they see the significance that their words may carry.
And finally, how about to learn something more? With the massive network of experts that Skype In the Classroom provides it has never been easier to bring in someone who knows more than me to help the students learn. All I have to do is search for what I need and I can almost always find someone who matches that. I love showcasing new fields of information to the students, and they love getting to ask even the weirdest questions.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.