Category Archives: skype in the classroom

Teaching through an interpreter

The Skype linkup with a class in Germany, tonight has reinforced my belief, that working through an interpreter to teach other international classes is a skill that we need as we become more globally connected.

A message came up on our HLW Skype group from Reinhard Marx, a teacher, asking whether anyone was available to connect with his class in Germany in 2.5 hours time. As I was home and would be online, I agreed to connect. It was to be a mystery Skype with students asking questions to determine which country I was from.

It was a year 7 class and they were quite shy, but I would be too, if I didn’t feel confident with English. After some encouragement, one student came to the webcam and asked me a question. Then other students followed. They each introduced themselves.

The questions included:-

  1. Are you from England?
  2. Are you from Europe?
  3. Are you from Russia? and finally
  4. Are you from Australia? When the girl got my country correct, I immediately showed our flag to the camera for them.

I had quickly put together some photos of our farm to show them, so once they had worked out my country, I showed the pictures which were on a Powerpoint presentation. I had added English text so if they could not understand me, they may be able to read what I was saying.

There were photos of our animals – sheep, lambs, calves,; our flower stall at the front gate and some of the wild animals that we see on the farm, including an echidna and a koala. I was surprised that they did not seem to know what a koala was.

The students were then given the opportunity to ask me questions. There were questions about the time, the temperature (which was 30 degrees today), how hot it gets in summer (43.5 degrees reinhard and his class.jpgwas the highest this last summer) the season, where I actually lived in Australia (unfortunately, I had forgotten to put a map in the presentation to show them), the stars on our flag and a wonderful question about the colour of our sea.

As their English was not strong, I had to often pause for Reinhard to interpret both sections of my presentation and the questions that the students had for me. There is something surreal about doing this and a skill that needs to be acquired as we connect more and more on a global scale.

 

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Skype an Author for World Read Aloud Day

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World Read Aloud Day occurred on February 1st this year. As school had only just started back it was too difficult to organise something for my students on this day.

Upon checking the Skype in the Classroom website a number of authors were willing to Skype into classrooms beyond the World Read Aloud Day. One author who took my interest was Mariana Llanos.  She was born in Lima Peru but now lives in the USA and writes books for children to promote cultural awareness. My students tend to be geographically and culturally isolated as they come from farms or small rural towns of 3000 population or less.

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Mariana used a number of techniques to engage students including:

  1. Questioning for interaction
  2. Sharing her screen to enable us to read her book and enjoy the illustrations as she read it to us. Then, later on, to share photos on her computer of Christmas in Peru and the USA
  3. Using her home to Skype us so that sometimes she spoke Spanish to her daughter to give her instructions.

She started our session by sharing a little about herself eg she was born and grew up in Lima, Peru, then moved to Oklahoma where she has now lived in the USA for 17 years. She speaks Spanish and English. Mariana n shared her screen with us, sharing the pages of the book (Not) Home for Christmas and read this book to us. The illustrations were engaging and students seemed to understand her accent.

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The video image was clear so students could actually read the text whilst Mariana read it to them. The story was about a family from the USA who returned to Peru to celebrate Christmas with their relatives in Sth America. There were marked cultural differences between the ways that the two countries celebrate this festival. eg Santa Claus is called Papa Noel in Peru.

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Mariana then told us how the people in Oklahoma celebrate Christmas and then was interested in how we, in Australia experience this time of year (December 25th).

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As the year 7 class has a boy who was born in the Philipines and a number of students who lived in New Zealand, we were able to gain some knowledge of the differences and similarities in these countries.

What I liked:-

  1. Mariana was an accomplished presenter.
  2. She shared her love of different cultures with us and gave my isolated students an insight into the US and Peruvian culture.
  3. We caught a glimpse of her home and her daughter.
  4. The session was structured well – introducing herself reading the book, discussing the content of the text, discovering how we celebrate Christmas, question time etc
  5. She shared her book via the screen so we could see the illustrations and text (especially if we had difficulty with her accent.)
  6. Mariana showed photos of Peru and Oklahoma at Christmas time.
  7. Mariana used a wonderful cartoon image that encouraged the students to read (either books or digital versions) as that gives the brain real power.

Breaking down Stereotypes with Mystery Skype

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I could hardly believe my eyes when I received a request from  a teacher, named Ben, in the USA to play Mystery Skype with his class as our time zones rarely match. The only way we can usually connect in real time with the US students.

So, I double checked that Ben had his time zone set correctly in his profile in Skype in the Classroom. He assured me that it was indeed 3:00pm Thursday was for him when it was 9am the next day (Friday) for me. And it was! This is what our connection looked like:-

  1. Ben and I quickly tested our connections before our classes came in, as this was his classes’ first mystery Skype call.
  2. Once connected, we tossed a coin to work out who would ask the first question. They said ‘heads’ and the coin fell to ‘tails’. We asked the first question “Are you north of the equator?”
  3. By a process of taking it in turns to ask each other a question that required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, one of my girls eventually asked if they were from the USA.

They said ‘yes’ but immediately one of the boys said “No, they are not. They are from India”.  The girls who had asked the questions were darker skinned and did not look typically like the US people that we see on our television of computer screens. The class was from Arizona, near the Mexican border so the girls were Mexican in appearance.

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The other thing that threw my students was that many of them did not speak English as their first language. Spanish was actually their first language. Again this was not what my students expected of US students. They thought that they would all speak English! Another lady also appeared on the screen towards the end, wearing a head scarf – something that my students were not expecting either. Many of us have clear ideas where we think people are from but videoconferencing tools like Skype break down the “stereotype” images that we have. We see people. We hear people. No longer do we read about them in our textbooks! The global stereotypes become challenged! Please remember that students in our rural school tend to be isolated culturally and geographically although we are getting some Asian dents from visa workers on the large corporate farms now.

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Ben’s class were well organised and had signs ready for “just a moment” whilst they worked out answers to questions or determined questions to ask. A great idea of theirs was showing a picture book with a page full of their native animals. This was an interesting way of sharing a collection of native animals with another class.

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Lessons learnt: The west coast of USA may actually be reachable and connectable ‘live’, whilst we are in daylight savings time.

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Virtual Tours for Students

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Technology allows outside experts to come in to a classroom and speak virtually to classrooms and also enables virtual tours in real time. Today, year 7 students had the pleasure of touring the MOMA exhibition at NGV (The National Gallery of Victoria) with Ingrid, one of the Education Officers but it was instead of a live excursion, it was conducted using Skype. Use this link to book your own.IMG_3675.JPGHow it looked! 

Year 7 students went to the library after form assembly, where a new SMART monitor was used to project Ingrid’s image and the virtual tour. She introduced herself and proceeded to walk us around the dynamic NGV and show us elements of MoMA – the exhibition that has been brought from New York City. During the 40 minutes that we connected, we saw and heard her speak about some of the most famous pieces of artwork in the exhibition.

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Not only were their paintings but animations, videos. cartoons, posters and 3D works of art. Ingrid did a great job in chatting to us, informing us all the time of what she was doing and zooming in on the art work so that we could see in fine detail the actual brushes involved or dots that compiled the art work. There was even a dining experience where guests are invited to sit in one of the windows of the NGV and eat a Thai meal!!! The connection was robust and stable and only dropped out a little when Ingrid moved between rooms. Ingrid encouraged questions through the tour.

Note if we had to go to Melbourne for same experience at the NGV:

  • 4 hour bus or train trip to Melbourne plus up to 1 hour for parents to get students to bus or train by car (from home)
  • permission forms required
  • costs of bus, food etc involved
  • Risk assessment needs to be completed etc.

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The advantages

  • no cost
  • little effort
  • no travelling to and fro Melbourne (we are 4 hours drive from the NGV).
  • No need for extra risk assessments, permission forms and other administration
  • simple technology use, user friendly software in Skype
  • Watching Ingrid zoom right in with her iPad to the actual art work to see the finest details, which I don’t think the naked eye could do (certainly not mine!)
  • Our classroom was lovely and warm on a cold winter’s day.
  • we could see what goes on behind the scenes before the gallery is opened. People cleaning glass casing, wiping clean the white walls, an exercise class moving through etc This made for further research and conversations once the virtual tour had taken place.

The challenges

  • my lack of technical expertise on using the new SMART monitor in the library where an HDMI cable is now required for projection. (I am used to the interactive whiteboard) I had to get the computer technician to come and help me and this took a while, so although I had tested the webcamera and tested the external webcamera and activated that, I did not get time to test the microphone so this did present problems for Ingrid as she could not hear us well, but we heard her really well. That 2 way conversation is essential for successful interaction.) Our linkup was first thing in the morning, so there was little time to get organised.

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However, this is an amazing opportunity and I cannot understand why more educators dont make use of these virtual tours.

Twitter: #NGVkids @NGVMelbourne

Link to book your own virtual tour. 

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Mystery Skype with South Korea

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As Hannah, a teacher in South Korea, had a Parents’ Open Class early in the morning her time, she reached out for teachers in Australia or New Zealand to connect at this time and show the families the power that technology and global connections can bring to learning in the classroom.

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Fortunately, I had a year 7 class at this time, so it was possible for us to collaborate. They were similar ages from both countries, which was great. Discussions were made using chat in Skype as to how the lesson would look. Here is what was planned:-

  1. Start with Mystery Skype so students had to determine where the other class was from, asking questions that could only receive a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
  2. We would toss a coin to see who would start the questioning
  3. Once the countries were worked out, we would share items of culture eg money, food, flags, Sth Korean traditional costume, sheep wool from Australia etc
  4. Learn some Sth Korean language
  5. Question time, if time permitted.

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Due to the space restraints in the classroom, most students had a book atlas to look through to determine where in the world they were from. Some had their portable devices. One of my boys tossed a coin over the webcam, Sth Korea called heads but tails was the outcome.

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We started the questions, which included:

  • is it hot there?
  • do you live on an island?
  • do you live near China?

It took about 10 minutes to work out the countries we were from.

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By sharing out cultural objects, we learnt about languages, accents, exchange rates, features of their money, value of money in each country, national costumes, how to speak some basic phrases in Sth Korean, some of the food differences etc It was a great learning experience with interested parents in Sth Korea looking on.

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The power of technology connections in learning


Each year, district schools, open their buildings to interested prospective parents. It almost becomes a competition, with some schools holding their information evenings earlier and earlier in the school year. Of course we all think that we teach in the ‘best school’!

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Although our school, Hawkesdale P12 College is small, it is big on opportunities for students. Technology has enabled us to open up the doors to the world. which includes expert speakers eg authors, scientists, museums; to global classrooms and to some of the best teachers and educationalists there are.IMG_2686.JPG

For the information evening, parents are divided into groups with both a teacher and student leading them around the school. Parents are rotated around Science, Physical Education, Food Technology, Robotics and Information and Communications Technology  areas where they participate in a range of ‘hands on’ activities.

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Each year I am asked to videoconference (using Skype) in to another classroom or with other teachers to show the magic that technology can bring to learning. My two wonderful colleagues, Steve Sherman (Living Maths), South Africa and Lin-lin Tan from Taiwan agreed to connect with us for each of the groups. Steve was at another school and kindly went out of his way to skype with us. This meant he used his mobile phone to connect and he was seated in his car in the carpark to talk to us. This was a first for me! To have an educator teaching us from within their car.

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Initially, the parents and students played Mystery Skype, asking questions that required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to determine their location. Lin-lin had to tell them where she was from as they did not work it out in the allocated time. She also shared a poster and map of where she was from, some Chinese culture (as she is Chinese), her evening meal and some of the foods she enjoys. (Note, our school teaches mandarin Chinese.)

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After a number of questions by students, one of the parents determined Steve’s location with the question: “Did the Australian Cricket Team recently play in your country.”

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People will often ask well “What did you learn?” from doing these connections. Here is just a little bit of learning in the 15-20 minutes that Lin-lin and Steve had.

From Lin-lin

  • Where in the world, Taiwan is. Some students may not have even heard of Taiwan!
  • What the Taiwanese language sounds like! (She was home about to eat her evening meal and her mother had called her to come and eat. She responded in her language to say that she was working with a class in Australia)!
  • It was very hot where she lived. (It is nearly winter here!)
  • We saw the soup she was about to eat – it was vegetarian with many healthy greens etc and heard about her fried rice for tea. She also showed us their pickles.
  • The landmark that Taiwan is famous for – the Tapei Tower
  • Chinese lucky envelopes and how they are used.

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  • witnessed the true ability of being able to teach anywhere and anytime using technology. Steve taught us from his car in the school carpark.
  • exchange rates – students showed Steve our $5 note and he immediately turned into a learning moment. Parents and students had to search for the exchange rate between AUD and the Rand. The Australian dollar buys nearly 10 rands.
  • Different cultural phrases: South Africans say ‘tins of coke’, Australians say ‘cans of coke’
  • Students/parents had to work out how much a can of coke would cost in AUD, if Australians were in South Africa.

Guest speaker for International Women’s Day

I received a very special invitation from Seena and Sebastian Panakal to speak to a group of women for International Women’s Day on March 8th. In Australia, the status of women continues to improve and gender equality is increasing in evidence. There is a lot of public attention on treating women with respect but that is still not always the case.

The group of women who I was to present to were from Kerala, India. These are Women of the Wiki, women who wish to become empowered, improve their status in life and the education of their community and to increase employment opportunities for their families. They do not enjoy the same privileges or standard of living that I, as a woman in Australia does. How special to share this International Day with women who lived in another country.

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My role was to share the power that technology can provide. Accents can always be a problem and English may not be their first language, so I put together a brief Powerpoint presentation with images to help with understanding. I showed where I live  (on a farm in rural south Eastern Australia) and where I teach (a remote rural school of 200 students aged 5 to 18), an area that has no mobile phone service. However, access to the internet and a powerful network has enabled the world to be our classroom, resulting in a number of awards including global awards. Many invitations have now come my way to present at a variety of conferences both in Australia and overseas, including Qatar, Shanghai and USA. It is hoped that these women could see that ordinary women can achieve great things with the innovative use of technology and a strong network.

Skype was used to connect. Screen sharing allowed the Indian audience to see my presentation. Sebastian capably organised the videoconference from his end.

The women of Kerala, India were encouraged to consider tourism, providing homestays (through homestays.com or airbnb or similar) or “meals with strangers” (through apps and sites like VizEat, EatWith) could provide a welcome income for some of these women. Selling their craft work online is another possibility. The internet can open up willing global markets. They could teach their language online for a small fee. What other ideas do you have to help them?

Sebastian Panakal, a valued online teaching colleague, together with his wife Seena organised this event. Other online guest speakers were to follow. It is hoped that these women can think of ways to use technology to full effect and improve their and their family’s station in life.

One of the women asks a question

One of the women asks a question