Skype allowing global access to students

First Posted: 12/11/2009

DOBSON Dobson Elementary School students have spent many hours this year traveling around the country.
They have done it without ever leaving the classroom.
These students have been using Skype to talk with classes in other states and even in other countries. Skype is an Internet-based program which allows people to talk with and see people from anywhere in the country via their video camera-equipped computer. The students have been using Skype for about a year, but Stephanie Bode, the media person at the school, now has every class in touch with another.
I learned about Skype at an education technology conference last year. I had no idea what it was, said Bode. I came back and told Jan (Varney, principal) we have to do this. Within a month, we had Webcams for every classroom.
The endeavor began with just a few classrooms doing projects using Skype. Third-grade students Skyped a class in another state. They were unaware of where the class was located and had to ask questions to figure it out. They were eventually able to narrow it down to the very county where the classes were located.
That was really cool to see the contrast, said Varney, speaking of the difference between classes in the northern part of the country and those located farther south than North Carolina.
This year, the program has expanded so that students speak to classes in other states once a week or once a month, depending on their schedules. They are able to ask questions of the other class and also answer questions about life in North Carolina.
We could bring our kids outside the classroom without leaving the classroom, said Bode. We can take field trips, but they are costly. With the touch of a button, we can be somewhere else learning.
Its making it authentic learning. The curriculum in other states is pretty much like ours, but they will always remember the state theyre learning about, said Varney. Having to get up and talk has make the kids better at public speaking as well. This is a good communication tool.
Lori Beasleys fourth-grade class has been Skyping with a class in Florida. The students have been able to ask about the weather in Florida, the population and notable people from the state. Because fourth grade is a writing-intensive year for both states with state-mandated writing tests, the students are able to work on and share writing samples with each other.
Its really interesting, said Savannah Blackburn.
You learn new things like what kind of things do they do, said Ricardo Bartolo.
The experience of Skype has given students the chance to see the students they are talking to, which is different from the penpals of a previous era. The results are instantaneous. When given the choice of learning about something from Skype and learning from a textbook, the overwhelming response was Skype.
Skype because its fun. You get to see people that live there, said Forrest Antwine.
Skyping because you get to see the person and you get to talk to them, said Andrew White.
Skype because you can ask questions and sometimes the textbooks dont say everything you need to know, said Hannah Beasley.
Skype because you get to see the other people and learn about their culture, said Carter Graham.
The students in Florida were shocked to learn that North Carolina gets snow during the winter, even if it is only an inch or two. The students in Dobson learned that the temperature in Florida stays in the 70s and 80s most of the time. The students were also excited to learn that the University of Florida created Gatorade when they were learning about the colleges in the state.
Mary Marions first-grade class has been talking to a class in Pennsylvania. The class is at a private school and the students wear uniforms, something different for the Dobson Elementary students.
We did a social studies unit on how communities, individuals and families are alike and different. The kids came up with the questions to ask and each person in my class asked a questions to the students in the other class, said Marion. Ive tried to bring it in when it ties with what were doing.
Students at the school are also using Skype to learn about different cultures and to communicate with people like soldiers stationed overseas.
Marions husband serves in the Reserves and she had her students write letters to the soldiers he serves with. They are now trying to coordinate a time when the soldiers can Skype with the class.
If first graders are growing up with that, all they can do is increase what they are able to do, said Varney. Its technology combined with all the other skills, combined with curriculum.
Second graders at the school are learning about Christmas around the world. Next week, they will be using Skype to communicate with one of Bodes friends who lives in England and has a German husband. The couple also has a son who is fluent in German who will be home from school by the time the students are ready to Skype. They will be able to see the familys home to see the different Christmas traditions associated with England and Germany and ask questions.
Bode is also trying to work out talking to someone in Australia, but the time difference is creating a problem. She is considering taping the session and showing it to the classes later. She is excited about that possibility because it is summer in Australia.
The school is also able to use Skype to talk with community members such as the librarian at Dobson Community Public Library to learn about upcoming programming. The school has even implemented Skype to broadcast a weekly television show called WDES, which is created by and for the students. Students get the chance to showcase their talents and what they have been learning to the school through the show.
Its their generation of learning, said Varney.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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