Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Skype in the Classroom

I remember the day we sat at the PDEC and watched our Digital Coaches model Skype for us. It looked so complicated to me. How would I make it work, especially with 20 6 year olds waiting patiently? Lucky for me, our Digital Coaches are fantastic at not only modeling what we can do, but also providing time to try it out. I was able to check out Skype with my peers, Skype each other at that very moment and get comfortable with the program. Now, you may think Skyping with someone in the same room is silly, but it is perfect for getting started. (Have you ever texted someone upstairs, emailed someone who is next door, or Facebooked someone in the same room?) Connecting with others outside of our classroom was a frightening task to me. I'm shy and not aggressive at asking others to try new things with me. How would I find others to connect with? Fortunately, I have a brave teaching partner who modeled this for me. She did not always try to find the furthest person to connect our students with. Sometimes, she would Skype with a classroom or expert from miles away. Sometimes, someone nearby with a connection to the lesson did the trick! 
Soon, I had my first opportunity. Just after New Years, I hurt my back. I was home in bed for 8 days! I missed my students something awful (but I was able to send lessons via Educreations and get their work via Kidblog and email) and wanted to connect with them. My partner teacher, Lili Ortiz, set up a Skype for us! They called me so we could visit. It was fantastic! I hadn't seen them since before Winter Break! We talked and laughed, and I snuck in a mini-lesson for Math. ; )
Not long after that, my husband began traveling for work. He was in Chicago 5 days a week for several months. My boys and I would Skype or Facetime with him, and it occurred to me to connect my students with him. Not only could we do Connection Time for weather with him, but we also had a student moving to Chicago and she could get a sneak peek of the Windy City! While my students were studying and comparing weather from locations around the world using with Mrs. Ortiz, we had a Connection Time comparing Grapevine's weather to Chicago's weather. Students were able to make observations from viewing Facetime, as well as hearing Mr. Gerdes in the snow (he even threw a few snowballs for a full affect).   : )
I was gaining confidence in my Skyping skills and read a Tweet from a fellow teacher, Sherry Keith. She and another teacher were having Mystery Number Skypes. I just HAD to get my students involved! So, we had a few Mystery Number Skypes with Mrs. Keith's class from HES. The cool thing is two of my students play sports with one of her students, so they had a personal connection, as well. Mrs. Keith had clues for my students, like:
*This number has 2 digits.
*This number is greater than 12.
*This number is less than 79.
*This number is even.
*This number has 4 ones.
and so on. As they gave us the clues, each student colored in numbers on a hundreds chart to predict and find the Mystery Number. We had a BLAST and did it several times this semester. It was perfect for reviewing math vocabulary and skills. It was especially valuable when my students were struggling with 10 more/10 less; Mrs. Keith incorporated that skill into her clues.
At some point in the semester, Bridget Visser and I decided to do a Reader's Theater Skype. My students really enjoyed performing for her class. They performed 2/3 of the play, then stopped so her students could make predictions on how the story would end. (They predicted on Kidblog - our classes were Blog Buddies this year) After my students responded to their predictions, we recorded the rest of the Reader's Theater and sent it to them to view. Having a special audience made the Reader's Theater even more meaningful. We later learned Dr. Ryan sat to watch for a few minutes during our performance!
In the Spring, my classes tried Hour of Code. In my classroom, the 'hour' was more like a week and my students absolutely enjoyed coding! They were so engaged. It was one of the biggest hits on their End of Year iMovies! During a Twitter Chat, Mrs. Keith and I were discussing coding and I suggested we Skype so a few of my students could model it for her students. Little did I know, one of my students went home and tried EVERYTHING on and was quite the expert for us. He was so excited to share what he knew with Mrs. Keith's class!
Now that I have ventured beyond the four walls of my classroom, I hope to reach out to experts and classrooms beyond our community. I hope to continue Genius Hour next year and look forward to finding experts to Skype with for more information. I hope Mrs. Keith's class will continue to Skype with my class next year. As you begin your journey Skyping in the classroom, just keep in mind... baby steps. If you aren't sure, try something small and before you know it, you will have tons of ideas for Skyping with your students! Go for it! : )

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