Skype Date with Russia

Inspired by a slew of educators/bloggers, I joined Skype in the Classroom. Knee deep in a unit on Natural Resources, I went to the website looking for a connection to sustainability or Earth appreciation.   And, I found this…

Bingo!  That was exactly the kind of connection I was hoping to make.  I wrote back…

Kseniya quickly got back to me, and we began an email conversation about our goals for this Skype Date.  We created a Google Doc, which allowed us to expand our thinking, feeding off each other’s ideas:

On the day of our Skype Date, I rearranged the chairs and tables so that all the kids could be seen on the video, and I projected Russia’s video feed onto our whiteboard.

NOTE: I would change this. Although, it was nice for Ksenija’s kids to see ALL of us, it was hard for them to hear us.  The Magical Minds suggested we use a microphone, or have individual kids sit by the computer when they wanted to say something.

When the Magical Minds finished lunch, they returned to class all excited for our international connection.  They squirmed in their chairs, squealing at the sound of the Skype ringtone.  Unfortunately (but not that unexpected), we experienced about 5 minutes of severe technical difficulties.  This is a classic technology-glitch and a worthwhile learning experience in its own right, but nonetheless frustrating.  Luckily Ms. Maureen was there to keep the Magical Minds settled while I focused on improving the connection.  In the end there remained a noticeable delay and we struggled to hear the other class.

NOTE: The Magical Minds suggested we test the technology and connection at a previous time, perhaps having a Skype Date between teachers to fix any glitches, or adjust the plan in order to better match the technological capabilities.

We began by introducing ourselves (takes too much time).  Ksenija’s kids had thankfully rehearsed some lines about Earth Day and taking care of the planet.  We were not so prepared. We had studied the discussion questions, thinking through our answers, but alas, the technological difficulties made this kind of interaction impossible.

We agreed later that the best part of the Skype Date was when the Russian class sang a song, and shared some artwork they had made.  We clapped and said, “Thank You.”  Inspired by their work, I grabbed Klara’s sustainability poster and asked her to explain what it was about.  They clapped and said, “Thank You.”

Klara's Sustainability Poster

And just like that, our time was up.  I think we all felt a bit disheartened.  But, even though the kids and I were disappointed that our connection wasn’t so good, we still wanted to do it again.  We spent the last five to ten minutes reflecting on what worked, what didn’t work and what we could do to improve our next Skype Date.

Just a Few of the Things We Would Do Next Time:

  • sit the speaker closer to the computer/microphone
  • spend more time researching and learning about the place and people we are visiting (possible sending questions ahead of time)
  • practice Skyping with someone familiar to us: test technology, seating arrangements, sound and behavior expectations
  • engage kids during Skype call with jobs such as documenting, reflecting, researching, etc…
  • prepare a presentation of sorts (rehearsed)
If only I had seen this post beforehand.  Silvia Tolisano does a fantastic job of organizing and preparing her class for Skype calls.  Here is a video of her kids explaining how they approach educational skyping.  [vimeo 16180041]

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