Category Archives: skype

Easing the distance of friendship

Two best mates

Two best mates

@murcha Would you believe that today we had a new student start in my classroom in rural NZ who was from your school!

— Myles Webb (@NZWaikato) April 15, 2014

This tweet came soon after one of our school families returned to New Zealand to take up work there again. All too often we lose contact with students who leave us, so this tweet caught me by surprise and again show the power of the online network.

After some discussion, it was decided to try and link our schools up and allow Fred and Bayley, who are great mates to continue their friendship over skype. There is something quite fascinating about being connected with another classroom, seeing the posters on their walls, their doorway and corridor etc. The quality of the video connection was superb and after some issues with my microphone, the two boys were able to chat away, asking questions of each other. Thanks Myles for making this possible. Our principal thought this was a great idea and hopefully it will ease some of the homesickness and loss of other buddies.

Soon, we will link up the two classes and hopefully this is the start of an ongoing connection.

A great “Open Night”

sebastian and origami

Although we are not even halfway through our school year, schools in our area are holding Open nights and Information Evenings in an effort to ‘sell’ their school to parents and encourage students to come to their school to complete their secondary schooling.

As such our open night was held tonight. After a few brief formal presentations, the visitors are split into two groups, guided around the school and undertake a number of activities. The science lab is converted into a whizbang mix of experiments where amazing light shows and loud ‘bangs’ can be heard, the home economics centre hosts the decoration of cupcakes into a wonderfully cute little pig and students make simple sanded wooden products in the Wood Technology room. I was asked to do something in the computer lab and as such wanted to show the power of technology to engage and connect us beyond classroom walls.

So, I turned to my wonderful colleague in Kerala, India, Sebastian Panakal and asked whether he would have the time to speak to two different groups of parents and students. Instead of just talking to each other, it was decided to put family groups in front of a computer with a map of the world and play Mystery Skype. They came to the webcam and asked questions of Sebastian that could only have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Both parents and students particpated in the questioning and finally worked out he was from India.

Then Sebastian shared the fabulous origami that his wife Seena has made. She learnt the skills through youtube and they are now teaching women in their area this craft so that they can market the product online and make precious and much needed funds from their sale. This was a ‘wow’ session when the intricately made products eg swan, peacock etc were shown. The gasps of delight could be heard! Thanks you Sebastian and Seena for giving up your precious time.

Whilst waiting for the second group to arrive, Sebastian made this little youtube clip and shared it via a link in the skype message. It shows the same wonderful origami. It is now shared on our school facebook page for all the school community to see.

The highlights:

  • families working together on a computer to solve the mystery location
  • plucking up courage to come up to the webcam and ask the question
  • trying to fathom each other’s accents
  • hearing Sebastian talk to his wife in their local dialect when she did not quite understand the Aussie twang
  • seeing the intricate creations that can be called origami and inspiring us to consider going beyond the simple paper folding
  • being able to ask questions of each other
  • but best of all, showing how a small country school that is rurally and culturally isolated can learn beyond classroom walls and the textbook.

When technology makes the impossible possible!


Picture this -

  1. a class of students in a slum/ghetto of Kenya – the largest slum in Africa by both size and population See Boomtown Slum: A Day in the Economic Life of Africa’s Biggest Shanty Town
  2. students who are orphaned and many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS.
  3. visible holes in the decaying walls
  4. no power in the classroom
  5. no visible seats or chairs for the students to sit on
  6. no sign of books and resources
  7. volunteer teachers  who care passionately about  and for these students

Despite all this:

  • the teacher is amazingly innovative, creative, connected and active with the use of his laptop and mobile wifi
  • uses skype to connect his students to others across the world
  • the children are confident and seem happy, singing with gusto and rhythm
  • the children are given opportunities to learn at the Cheery School – “a place for nurturing students for their better lives”.

Technology makes these connections that were previously impossible, possible. Children from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya can learn from others around the world in real time, when they cannot afford books, education or even food etc!This week is multicultural week in Victoria, Australia and Friday 21st is National Harmony Day, which makes even more precious the story that now unfolds.

the girls1

Last night it was my great privilege to connect with this class of young children aged 5-7 from The Cheery School, Kibera slums, Nairobi, Kenya. Their passionate and caring teacher, Livingstone organised them to individually ask questions of me. They were confident, well mannered and at times shared objects with me to show their culture and the wild animals of Africa. In fact, I thought they had a real snake to show but it was a toy! To complete the connection, the students sang a wonderful song to me in an enthusiastic and joyful manner, showing rhythm and unity.

A toy snake is shared to show some of the local wild animals.

A toy snake is shared to show some of the local wild animals.

How can we help classes such as these? Will technology provide the ability to learn with and from the world, help them break out of their cycle of poverty? The impossible, may just become possible!

Below are some  videos that  share more about the Cheery School:-

World Readaloud Day

boys practising

Imagine a world where everyone can read. This is the dream of World Read Aloud Day. “It is all about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people.” Parents, students, teachers and community members from more than 60 countries across the globe are coming together today to address the issue of adult and childhood illiteracy.

Jasmine Shannon wanted to try a skype linkup this week and the World Readaloud Day made the perfect connection for my 9/10 ICT class and Jasmine’ 5-7 year olds. What seemed like a simple task turned into quite a lesson of learning. I thought my kids would grizzle about doing this but there was only silent affirmation when told. Here is how it looked:-

  1. Students worked out their partner as they were to read in pairs
  2. As a class, discussed what books would be appropriate for young ones
  3. Students found books they thought the young ones might like to have read to them either from the library or from the prep-2 classrooms. Not surprisingly most of the books featured animals. (Remember that my students live on farms or in small rural towns)
  4. Spent 15 mins working out who would read which pages. Even the poorest of readers were capably reading their share!
    practising their reading
  5. Practised speaking to the  webcam in the tools>video settings option of skype and showing the page of their book.
    nikki and sarah practising
  6. Had to work out our setup for video projection of the class. A student team put up a tripod with a webcam on top.”
    students getting hardware organised
  7. At the appointed time linked up with Jasmine from Tipperary Cattle Station in outback Northern Territory.
  8. Jasmine’s class read their book as a whole class.
    closer up of them reading a book
  9. ICT students came up in pairs and read their book

As we ran out of time, several of the girls stayed in at lunchtime to read their books. Then students from each school shared their lunchbox via the webcam and we learnt a little of each other’s food supplies. We have a school canteen, they do not. They are in the outback and food supplies are only flown in each week etc

sophie and taylor

Did you take part in World Readaloud Day? If so, what did you do? This was a fabulous excerise that will definitely be repeated next year.

sophie taylor and the book

Perfecting the Blend – Local and Global in the Blender

This was a presentation given at a recent Perfecting the Blend conference in Melbourne, Victoria that shares the use of virtual conferencing and virtual classrooms on a local and global basis. Our Education Department has provided Polycom Videoconferencing equipment, a license for Blackboard Collaborate and MS Lync. Skype is a free tool.

Enriching the Skype or Videoconferencing Experience

maria and carina

Recently Maria del Carmen Colussa posted an update on the HLW  skype group looking for someone to practise conversational English with one of her students – Carina. It is not often that my time zone matches that of students in the USA or Sth America so here was a golden opportunity to connect. Maria comes from Santo Tomé, Santa Fe, Argentina and teaches English to Spanish speaking students.

Carina is an adult student – a pharmacist who wished to travel thereby wanting to improve her conversational English. We talked a little about Australia. Then I noticed one of my year 9 students working in the lab and invited her to be part of the conversation. Initial confidence, volume of voice, accents and clear speaking are always a challenge when first connecting.  Georgina used the txt chat regularly to ensure they understood her.

The sharing and demonstrating of objects is always engaging. Georgina showed a toy koala and to our delight Carina and Maria immediately produced and showed us two cholitas which come  from Salta the north of our country.  

From Maria and Carina

From Maria and Carina

Georgina’s curiousity was aroused and she searched online for more information about the dolls and the country once the skype videoconference was finished. As often occurs, the learning continued beyond the initial linkup. Read Georgina’s post on Skype with Argentina.

Children’s Day India 2013

Today, India celebrates Children’s Day  My wonderful colleague Sebastian Panakal from Kerala, India skyped me yesterday:

 I plan to invite you to wave to a school here in Kerala. If your students too are around, it will be great. The students only need to wave “Happy Childrens’ Day” to the Indian group here. If you have time, you may address the audience with your message, please.

Delightful students from Kerala

Delightful students from Kerala

Daylight saving prevented students from my school connecting as school had finished. However, I was able to speak to a number of delightful students from Kerala who were 7-10 years of age. They presented  well to the camera and addressed me politely and with a smile. After introductions, I asked some questions and discovered that they have special festivities, meals and activities today. In order for this linkup to go ahead, Sebastian had to travel 4 hours on a bus to help these students connect with the globe.  Thanks Sebastian and Ranjith for including me in these celebrations.

Next time, I shall make the time to produce a short address that can be sent to the students should the skype connection fail. These young children are the future of India – they will have the potential to be well educated, to take their communities out of poverty, aid Kerala and India in entering the developed world and enjoy a better standard of living. What would your message be to these young students?

Introductions and testing

This special linkup made me wonder whether Australia celebrated a Children’s Day. A search brought up  a wikipedia page sharing when this day is celebrated in different countries. Australia appears to celebrate a week for children. When do you celebrate Children’s Day? How do you celebrate it?

An unpredictable class!

majority of class
Today was day 1, term 4. Period 5,  my year 8 ICT class were to link up with Port Phillip EcoCentre, St Kilda Botanical Gardens and Gio to learn about the nesting boxes that are being placed around St Kilda ensuring the survival of a number of birds and animals. Blackboard Collaborate was the software to be used. My class all successfully logged in. We talked about appropriate online behaviour and netiquette whilst we waited.

However technical issues in Melbourne prevented Gio and Jill from coming online at the appointed time. Whilst they were solving their problems, an online colleague from Taiwan – Lin-lin was asking over our HLW skype group for someone to connect with her students so that they could do a mystery skype linkup and then sing a song to another teacher or class.

rachel grace and taiwan students

Thinking this would be good filler and stop my students ‘hanging from the rafters’, I offered my class. However, just as we connected over skype, Gio entered the virtual classroom. How could we be part of both activities? I did not want to offend either of our virtual connections.

Two of my girls said that they would videoconference with Taiwan, whilst the rest of the class learnt about the nesting boxes.  I was a little nervous about this as those two same students would not ask questions over mystery skype a couple of weeks prior – due to shyness. The girls retired to the small store room adjacent to the computer lab, with no instruction from me, whilst I then had to give full attention to the rest of the class.

rach and grace from linlin

Periodically I checked on the two girls but they appeared to be going well, took some photos for me and asked questions of Lin-lin by microphone and used the chat to ensure understanding. This could have been very messy as there was no backup plan for the class. But all students were engaged in either of the two activities. The photos display this engagement.

What I learnt

  • splitting students into groups can work well – each group having their own virtual learning activity with a different tool
  • images such as those that Gio shared can be powerful for learning and engagement. He shared a number of pics of the nesting boxes and the tiny animals who inhabited them.
  • the backchannel is great! Every students can ask questions, share experiences and feelings
  • it is often better for me, the teacher, to get right out of the way and just leave a small group of students to themselves when videoconferencing over eg skype so that they are forced to learn how to communicate with others who may not speak English as their first language.

This could have been a very messy class but instead turned out to be highly successful for all students.

class engaged

Mystery Skype

great one of sean and davie

Online colleagues from HLW Skypers group introduced me to Mystery Skype. (Thanks Steve Sherman (@coolmaths) from Sth Africa and David Karnoscak from USA. It has been used on many occasions with many classes and countries and each time it has been fun, engaging yet full of learning. A suggested learning activity is outlined below:

Video skype calls are made to a teacher/class in an unknown destination – either  local, national or global! Students determine the location through questions. Ideal  for introducing partner global project classes.

linlin and students

Suggested Uses:

  • Engaging one off lessons that are fun!
  • As an introduction to a class or teacher involved in a collaborative global project
  • “Around the world in Mystery Skype” in as many countries as possible over the school year!
  • The world is your limit!


  • A large screen for viewing or a white wall/board
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • a data projector, speakers and microphone
  • A mystery partner!


  • Join skype in education,   join the mystery skype group or find one through other social networks eg
  • Find a partner(s) to connect with from your own country or other country
  • Connect and communicate with the mystery teacher, get to know each other
  • Test the skype connection prior to the linkup
  • Set up a collaborative online document for students to share the questions asked, the answers given and add a heading for exit slips or reflection  – eg what did they find challenging, three things they learnt, one thing they are still curious about. Add  a world map to the document together with the rules.
  • Ensure the country is hidden in the skype profile of the mystery teacher/class
  • If this is the first skype call, allow practise time for students to use a webcamera and microphone effectively. Practise with the school librarian or other teacher

The Rules

  • Students are to ask questions that will only allow a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer
  • They have one lesson to complete it in
  • Class is to be on their best global behaviour! Discuss what this means with the class
  • They document their questions and answers on the collaborative document

The lesson


  • Atlases or paper maps and/or access to online maps
  • Camera

Test and double check everything 10 mins or so before linkup. Use the chat to your connecting teacher/class before ringing to ensure they are ready. Make sure you have a camera.  Ensure every student has access to an atlas or online maps. Ensure that the country is hidden or removed in the teacher profile.

Make the video call when both parties are ready. If the linkup is not strong, hang up and ring again. Students come to the web camera and ask their question that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Students continue on until they find the exact location of the mystery skyper. (If students are very young, it may be sufficient to determine the country.)

If time permits!

  • Nominated students might take the connecting teacher or class on a virtual tour of the school.
  • Small groups may wish to ask more questions
  • Further research on the mystery skypers’ location – weather, time zone, culture etc

Celebrate and share

  • with others in your social network. Use hashtag #mysteryskype on tweets.
  • with parents and community via school website, newsletters etc
  • keep a poster on the wall or digital file with pins showing the locations that have been skyped

Modifications for different age groups and abilities

  • Set up a standard set of questions prior to class. Assign a student to each question
  • Assign  roles to students  eg some ask questions, some record the questions/answers, some take photos/vidoes etc
  • Connect with a class in a school that speaks the second language taught in your school as their native language Get students to ask questions in the other language.

Beyond the initial linkup/

Making the connections richer and the learning stronger try regular skype  linkups and/or collaborate on a global project together. Make sure you follow @skypeclassroom and @mysteryskype to keep up with the latest on twitter!

Here is a video on Mystery Skype sharing what  it looks and sounds like, together with sample student feedback. Never underestimate how easy it is for students, especially the first time(s) round.

What variations have you used on this theme? Some use mystery book reader and ???? Would love your feedback in a comment below.

mystery skype with her class

What does it look like?

Learning from the top of the world!

screen dump of youtube vide

Our visiting virtual teacher introduced herself as being from America. Making sure  that my students knew where America was, the response from one 8 year old student was “somewhere on top of the world!” Rather funny as we are known as the land down under but could learn with someone on top of the world!

International Peace Day 2013 is celebrated on September 21st. Hello Little World Skypers skype group discussed the possibility of  google hangouts connecting global classrooms to share the meaning and importance of peace for us all. As Janet Barnstable the co-ordinator of this project said:

We want to inspire others! Thanks to those involved for being pioneers!

Initially, I wanted to use my year 8 ICT class but it was the last day of term 3 and school finished earlier. My year 3/4 class was the only possibility but they are very young and their behaviour can not always be guaranteed. This lesson time was an awkward one to connect with other classes. However, I  discussed International Peace day with them and the meaning of peace on Wednesday and students drew their thoughts on what peace means to them using using MS Paint on the netbooks or doodle buddy on the iPads.

Lorraine Leo, a very special colleague from USA offered to come in with us and share what her class did for Peace Day and Sebastian Panakal from India also agreed to join us. This morning, we participated in the google hangout. Students came up to the webcamera and shared their image and spoke about its meaning. Lorraine then shared her screen with us and using Scratch shared two songs on Peace that her students sang together with some pictures.

The setup

The setup

What worked well!

  • the students love to talk with and learn about and from others across the world especially when they are from on “top of the world”
  • Lorraine and I had tested out ghangouts two days earlier and we connected an hour before the actual linkup today to ensure all was well.
  • google hangouts was a stable platform as my laptop was ‘wired’ in for best video and audio
  • ghangouts allowed us to record the session and share with others across the world who might be interested.
  • as it was the last day of term and as we are experiencing football finals, we came to school dressed in our footy team colours. This gave an element of disguise for the students.
  • screen sharing was possible, so Lorraine could share with us from her end. The quality was great!
  • all students shared – they went outside their comfort zone and spoke reasonably confidently
  • they were engaged and had fun!
  • the lighting for Lorraine was great and when Sebastian came in over skype he also had a wonderful background and good lighting.
sharing the picture!

sharing the picture!

The challenges

  • a rustic setup. Used my laptop perched on top of a box on the table so its web camera could be used and students and their work seen. The laptop was also connected to the whiteboard so that students could see it all.
  • The usb multidirectional microphone failed to work at the last moment, so we resorted to the laptop microphone which is not good quality.
  • the lighting in the year 3/4 room is not good. Despite shutting the blinds and covering the door with black paper, we had to switch off the lights and the outdoor light still shone through behind us.
  • Unfortunately,  I gave Sebastian, from India, the incorrect time. India is 4 1/2 hours behind us and not 4 hours. My usual confusion of time zones! However Sebastian and his three students were able to videoconference with us over skype soon after the hangout had ended. The students loved to hear the accents there!
  • the data point was not working in the year 3/4 room but fortunately we had a technician in so it was fixed. It is essential to wire in for best possible quality.
Waving farewell from India

Waving farewell from India

Questions to consider

  • would  screensharing the student work be better than holding a piece of paper up to the camera – but then they would not be seen (which would work for those who have privacy issues)
  • Should we  make it more professional or do we just let the session flow?
  • spending some time rehearsing with the students
  • starting with a screen shot of International Peace Day
  • classroom lights on or off?

Lots to keep playing with and improving upon. But we were happy with our impromptu, unrehearsed linkup and so happy that Sebastian and his students could come in over skype! Both google hangouts and skype provided good quality on the day.

We would have loved to have linked with Tatyana Chernaya in Moscow and her students but the time zone differences made it impossible. Instead some students have added their feelings on peace to her padlet Peace wall. Make sure you take a look at this inspiring collaborative effort and perhaps leave your comment there as well!

To those who read this post, we wish you peace!

Link to the hangout on youtube.