Connecting classrooms with Skype is a challenge, but it's a great way for elementary students to experience the connections and sharing that technology enables.
- I have a classroom Skyping checklist for you below.
Adding videoconferencing to one of your units of study (social studies is ideal) takes it to a level that is extremely engaging, not to mention academically rigorous: cross-cultural sharing, social interaction, presentation skills… Skyping from classroom to classroom has it all.
Plus…it's great fun!
Take it one step at a time
Classroom Skyping just takes a little practice and patience. The payoff is engaged students who are happy to put your creative teaching ideas into practice. If you are not familiar with the technology, you and your kids will learn it together one step at a time.
After finding another classroom to work with – which can be as close as across the hall – the basic steps for this project are straightforward:
- Install on one classroom computer: Skype, web cam and microphone. Ensure all student computers have Power Point.
- Students draft, edit and finalize poster or Power Point presentation to share with participating classroom.
- Check in with the other classroom: plan content, guiding questions, timing and student expectations.
- Live test of hardware and internet connections: troubleshoot issues.
- Dress rehearsal: finalize presentation process for best student experience. Practice screen sharing PowerPoint presentations using Skype.
- Conduct Skype/PowerPoint session with other classroom.
The details, of course, can be the tricky part. To help you out, I've prepared a comprehensive Skyping checklist for anyone undertaking this classroom project.
Skype video check
Long-distance video conferencing can involve lots of bugs you can't imagine in advance; you can't assume everything will work perfectly when you have another class on the line. Test and test again before the actual event.
If you follow my prep list, you'll see that a video check is essential. Here's a video of what that looks like.
The kids in the video above started the year with very little computer knowledge – but just look at them go! My before-school computer club kids handled this technical check using Skype within our own room.
The dress rehearsal
It's a must! Kids have to practice, and they need to practice on camera. It doesn't have to be on a Skype call, just in front of a video camera (even a cell phone) so they can see how they are doing afterward.
Using visual aids is very important to keep interest levels high – especially for children. No one wants to watch another person (kid or adult) drone on and on.
If you are Skyping as part of a social studies project (sharing regional information, for example), then it's easy to come up with presentation aids. Be sure to use them during your dress rehearsal.
My project combined multiple approaches to presenting and sharing Native American research:
- PowerPoint slide shows
- verbal presentations
- question/answer sessions
… and we practiced them all.
Skype + kids = a winning combination
Prior to this unit, students in my class knew virtually nothing about Native Americans in Washington or anywhere else, other than the fact that five of my students belonged to Native American tribes.
Following the unit, students demonstrated deep understanding of the similarities and differences among Native American groups in two distinctly different parts of the United States.
Kids pick up on the funniest things! A favorite difference between these native groups was that in the Eastern Woodlands, “men got a wife by playing the flute outside her tepee.” Not so in the Northwest where arranged marriages were more common.
Technology integration in the classroom can bridge gaps between cultures. The greatest achievement was a change in attitude and respect for Native American art and lifestyles. My non-native students were very interested and elicited more information about family traditions from my native students which added great richness to our caring classroom community.