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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bringing the Outside In: Skype in the Classroom

Have you ever been on a vacation and visited a place that immediately made you think of your students back home?  That happened to me at Plimoth Plantation, the Newseum, the Smithsonian, whale watching, and many other places. I live in a rural area where field trip experiences are limited. The internet helps overcome that limitation with the possibility of virtual field trips. One of the very best tools I have found for that purpose is Skype in the Classroom.

This incredible resource is free, requiring only a Skype account to register. Once you sign in, you can access a large variety of Skype field trips, experts for class projects, storytellers, games, and global friends. The resources are searchable by subject and age. Last year my second graders traveled to museums, exchanged holiday greetings with new friends in Turkey, listened to a storyteller, and played Mystery Skype with students in another school.

One of our second grade life science standards involved learning how organisms depend on their habitat. We found a Skype Lesson with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, called Amazing Animal Adaptations. We had a large interactive whiteboard screen in our classroom to project the Skype session. I set up our computer so the children were facing the large screen and the computer. The guest speakers from the museum first took the students on a tour of Yellowstone with slides and narration. They then switched to a tablet for an actual tour of their museum. The tour was completely interactive as they visited the animal displays and talked with the kids. My students were able to raise their hands to be called on to ask and answer questions as they learned from the museum staff. We visited the museum again later in the year during a social studies unit to learn about the stories and culture of plains indians and buffalo. The speakers showed my students many museum artifacts and engaged in wonderful discussions with the kids as they took them on a tour of their exhibits. We are too far away from the museum to actually visit, but Skype in the Classroom was equally inspiring. One of my students was so engaged by the sessions that he talked his family into a trip to Yellowstone and a visit to the Cody museum!

Another absolutely amazing part of Skype in the Classroom is the Mystery Skype game. There are classes from all over the world registered and waiting to play. The idea is for two classes to meet via Skype without either group of students knowing the location of the other. The kids have to work together to determine the locations using maps and questions. Here is an example:
My second graders tried a Mystery Skype with another class in Colorado. We had pen pals and friends all around the world, so it was possible that the classroom could be anywhere. Using map skills from our standards, the class practiced first with me as the other class. Once they had come up with a plan for narrowing down the location, they were ready to try it with a real class. They were absolutely delighted when they successfully solved the mystery!

Another valuable part of Skype in the Classroom is the ability to create your own Skype lesson to interact with others. Amy Jones, a kindergarten teacher in my school, created a lesson called Skype Play for her class. She asked for other kindergarten classes to join her class for play time, interacting via Skype. She had plenty of responses and was able to connect her students to others around the country and in Canada. 
Field trip opportunities for students are often limited by location and budgets. Real world experiences and experts add so much to learning, however, that they must not be left out of education. If you have not visited the Skype in the Classroom site, be sure to take a look this year. Plan ahead for upcoming lessons. There are possibilities for almost any topic you can think of. It is free. It is wonderful. Your students will thank you for bringing the outside into the classroom! 

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