Skype in the Classroom is an amazing resource. People across the world actively search for educators to connect with. Many of our mystery skype connections come from people’s requests to me! One such request was from Marina Tarughishvili , a teacher in Georgia. See her blog I was very surprised to see that we could connect in real time as Europe is often beyond our school hours. However, 9am their time, was 3pm our time.
I was little nervous as I only speak English, and Marina said that her English was poor. My students printed off their names to share in introductions to the webcamera. Other signs included “Please repeat”. “thinking” and some of our questions were printed out. A cricket bat, money, toy koala, Australian flag and some sheep’s wool were ready to show if we worked out each other’s countries before our bell went.
Marina, brought the English teacher her with and their spoken English was clear and the accent relatively easy to understand. We flipped a coin to see who asked the first question. Our questions required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer but they asked good open ended questions of us eg what is part of our native environment, what is one of our native animals, do we have lots of rain, do we have a desert, what oceans are we near? etc. Eventually they worked out our country. Once our students discovered they were from Europe, they asked if their country started with a ‘G’? Students tried Germany, then Greece but as they had their computers switched on, discovered that Georgia was in Europe – a country they had never heard of.
When we showed our flag to them, they were quick to pull out a mobile phone, use search to locate their flag to show us.
It would be good to connect again to find out more about their country. In the meantime, that will be the student’s next task to create a Sway with multnodal information on Georgia.
- being able to make ourselves understood
- seeing shy students starting to voluntarily come up to the webcamera and ask a question or share something
- hearing one of my most challenging students ask if we could keep on doing this for the rest of the term!
- seeing how engaged my class was
Our school was culturally and geographically isolated. However, the cultural isolation is diminishing over the last few years, as many of the large local farms that are owned by corporations employ people from overseas. These different cultures come into Australia via a variety of visas.
The result is that we have a number of students of Philippine, Sri Lankan, African and Thai origins. Some have been Australia for a very short time so that very little English may be spoken. Our Education Department have a language school in Melbourne to help students, such as these, with their understanding and effective speaking of English. As we are 3.5 hours from Melbourne, technology has enabled students to learn English via videoconferencing with the Language School.
However, the tables were turned on a recent Mystery Skype session with a school in Thailand. Questions were asked of each other, that required only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The students in Thailand worked out we were from Australia well before we worked out their country. The teacher, Thitaree Chanthawat, stated that her students were shy as English is not their first language. My students are also shy and English is their first language.
As there was time left, we started to show each other cultural objects – our country flags, money, the time (on our mobile phones) and my students showed some sheep’s wool. One of their students showed a toy buffalo to the webcamera. In amongst the sharing, I asked Rapeeporn (or Cheer as we call her) to come forward and share her native Thai language with the Thai class. It was wonderful to see her immediately become confident, her obvious delight in being able to converse in her native tongue and to hear another language spoken fluently. However, before introducing herself, Rapeeporn, pressed her palms together and bowed to the Thai class. We later learned that this is wai.
If either class did not quite understand the other, then Rapeeporn interpreted. There was discussion about the use of buffalo on their farms. There were similarities – both schools were set in rural settings and small towns. However, there were 40-50 students in their class compared to our class of 22. There were no walls or oceans between us. It was if we were in the same classroom sharing conversations.
When my students were asked to reflect on the class, they stated that one of the highlights was hearing the Thai language being spoken.
Some teachers ask me how I make the global connections. The teacher from Thailand found me on Skype in the Classroom and requested a Mystery Skype connection with me and my class.
It was ‘Open Night’ at Hawkesdale P12 College . Families with students who are in year 6 are invited to come to our school, experience our friendly and welcoming community, take part in some classes and listen to stories from our students. These stories share what it is like for them to be at our school and it is hoped that the grade 6 students will come to us in year 7 – our first year of formal secondary schooling.
The science lab is converted into a wonderland of experiments, robotics are on display, cupcakes are decorated in the home economics centre, ceramic pots are quickly moulded and in the computer lab there are interactive connections to Russia and South Africa using skype.
Parents and students were split into two groups. The first group were to play mystery skype with Tatyana Chernova from Moscow, Russia. First, Tatyana gave some clues as to where she lived. She had stacker or Matryoshka dolls to share over the web camera. She then showed us two wooden dolls in traditional costume. One parent immediately identified where Tatyana was from, based on her name!
The amazing veiws from Tatyana’s home (as seen through the webcameera)
We hung up on the skype call. Tatyana swapped from her home computer to her mobile phone, walked outside and showed us the amazing views from her home. We could see the expansive artificial lake, with the River Moksva to the right, the tall buildings of Moscow centre in the distance and even more fascinating the football stadium where the world cup will be played next year. What amazing sights to see. Thanks Tatyana! If time permitted, Tatyana was going to share a presentation with us. If the call failed, I would have been able to share this with the group.
The second group had a different mystery skype educator – Steve Sherman who was at a Science Fair near Durban, South Africa. He had found a quiet spot with wifi to connect with us. Students asked many questions (only with a yes/no answer) and finally worked out where he was from. He then proceeded to give them some maths brain teasers, by sharing his screen and the prepared slides. Students had to think of a number between 1 and 63.
By following a number of slides, stating whether the number could be seen, Steve worked out the number that Layla had thought of. As we applauded Steve, the pictures he took of us started to come through in the skype chat.
It was wonderful to work with these two educators and parents were amazed with the connections that are possible. It is easy to take for granted the wonderful outcomes that technology can bring to learning!
Group photo that Steve Sherman took of us from Sth Africa!
Sometimes it is difficult to get expert speakers into my classrooms, as my Australian time zone means that while we are at school, the USA schools and many businesses, museums etc are closed. So, it was with delight that I was alerted to a Sea Turtle research and conservation program at Gnaraloo, Western Australia, offering presentations through Skype in the Classroom.
I booked their Skype Lesson “Sea turtle conservation where the outback meets the sea: Gnaraloo, Western Australia“.through the Skype in the Classroom website. Received a prompt reply confirming that they were able to present on the day and time requested.
We added each other to our contact in skype. Did a test skype videoconference call, one hour prior, then direct called when the year 7 ICT class was in session. Alistair Green was the presenter and he did a fabulous job, by introducing himself and effectively displaying his desktop so we could see the images and the video clips that he had added.
He made the lesson interactive by asking questions of the students, his pictures were colourful and engaging and the short video clips enabled us to see the turtles in action. The videos played in real time. Even though students would answer softly at times, it was surprising how well Alistair could hear us.
If you are looking for an expert speaker on conservation Alistair and the Gnaralaoo Research comes highly recommended for students of any age.
Three continents, two different time zones, two classes from different countries and the guest speaker from a third country/continent for International Women’s Day.
March 8th across the world is International Women’s Day. Our school continued to celebrate it on March 9th, when Canada, USA and others on the other side of the world were still in March 8th . A special lunchtime linkup was organised with Arianne Jones, a Luge Olympic Champion for Canada. Due to time zone confusion, the primary school students became part of a later connection rather than the lunchtime linkup that we were expecting. The fascinating part of the linkup was that a school from Delhi, India became part of our 3 way connection. The connection was organised through Skype in the Classroom and Classroom Champions.
Arianne was an inspiring speaker who should never have been a Luge champion. She is thin and far too light in weight. Even her coach had no faith in her and gave her little opportunity initially. However, she persevered and is now the Olympic Luge champion for Canada.
When she finished speaking, Arianne encouraged Hawkesdale students to ask 5 questions, then the students from India asked 5 questions – all really interesting and forcing us to cope with the Indian accent.
She encouraged the students to “dream big and chase your dreams!!!” The response from the Indian teacher was ” our kids are so overwhelmed speaking to you.. you have been a true motivation for them” There are many wonderful opportunities on Skype in the Classroom website, many tailored for special celebatory days
@skypeclassroom @@jonesluge #IWD2017 #IWD
Hawkesdale P12 College is prep to year 12 school (students are aged 5 to 18 years of age.) This year we had a big intake of year 7 students from our feeder schools. Most of these students live in small rural towns or come from farms. It was decided to hold a welcome afternoon tea, primarily for the new parents, welcoming them to our school, enabling them to get to know each other and encouraging them to stay connected, get involved with the Parents Club and volunteering for canteen duty.
This was organised at quite short notice and as I have year 7 for ICT (Information and Communications Technology ie computers) for the last lesson of the day, I was asked to organise a skype linkup after the afternoon tea. The time of the lesson was 2:50pm which meant most of the USA were asleep. Our school teaches mandarin Chinese, so I made contact with one of my colleagues, Richard Howgate, hoping that we could connect. However, he is in the process of organising a new school, Guiyang Prime International School which does not open until August.
I approached some of my other network, but it is early in the morning for Russia and other colleagues were busy with other matters. It was with relief that Richard messaged me back to say he had arranged for his former school, Bozhou International School to connect with us. By this time it was the Tuesday, the day before our connection. However, I was now working with educationalists new to videoconferencing with skype.
Some of the questions they needed answered were:
- what will the connection look like ( I suggested mystery animal) and was asked to explain the basic premise of this game and what was required of the Buzhou students
- You mention that your students are learning mandarin. Does this mean that the focus of the class will be on their mandarin or a mix of English and mandarin? (The new students have only been learning mandarin for 2 weeks so it had to be predominantly in English – a brave effort on the part of the Chinese students to speak English)
- Could you give me a list of language structures and key vocab that are likely to be used in the class? The mystery animal sheets that Richard had set up were emailed through to Rick so the key vocab and nature of questions that could only have a yes/no answer was demonstrated.
Prior to the lesson (remember time was now the essence!)
- A copy of the mystery animal sheets were emailed through with a set of instructions on how to play mystery animal
- Setup my laptop in the room attached to the library where the afternoon tea would take place, testing the audio, video using tools>options>audio settings.
- The external webcamera had to be placed in a position where the Chinese students could see the majority of the gathering. It was put on top of the whiteboard.
- Unfortunately, there was no cable to plug my laptop into and get the best possible bandwidth, so I also logged onto the whiteboard in the actual library where it was too hot (we had a 36 degree autumn day) to really hold the afternoon tea but the desktop computer was cabled in.
- We gathered up some Australiana – a meat pie, cricket bat, some wool from a sheep to share at the end of the Mystery Animal
- A quick test call was made 45 mins before the connection with Bozhou. Their video did not work but the audio was good. I explained that Rick had to go to Tools>Options>video and choose the option for the external webcam that was attached to the laptop. I laughed when he said he now needed someone who could speak Chinese as the options were in Chinese! Next I could hear students in clear mandarin explaining which option it was. I hung up as I was in class as they assured me they could work on that.
The actual lesson
- Many of the class had not used skype or videoconferencing before, so some basic instructions were given in effective webcam use, clear speaking of questions.
- Everyone was given a handout with the animals on it and we discussed some possible questions that we could ask each other.
- We chose our animal (which was a gorilla) The Chinese students chose their African animal.
- A large Australian flag was got and students at the back of the room held it upright. We were delighted to see the Australian flag against the front tables in the Chinese school.
- Connection was made and a student from each country played paper rock scissors to see who would ask the first question. We won the right to ask the first question.
- If we got one affirmative answer to our questions, we had the right to ask another. Some of the questions asked were: “does it have 2 legs”, “does it have patterns?”, does it live in the jungle”, “does it have fur?”‘ “does it eat meat”. The Chinese students worked out our animal first and we finally worked out theirs – an antelope!
- Students would introduce themselves first, then ask the question.
- 10 mins was left to share a little of where we live and our culture. One of their questions was regarding the weather. Mobile phones were produced to the webamera to show the temperature. Ours showed up at 34 degrees, and there were verbal reactions from our students when they showed their 12 degrees.
- When the boys produced a cricket bat, they wanted to know if it was a baseball bat. The did not know of cricket – one of our favourite summer sports.
We had fun, learnt to cope with Chinese accents, used a webcamera effectively, formulated questions that required a yes/no answer and understood more about Chinese students, culture and schools.
And the feedback from China was
It’s great to work with you together for the Skype class today. It does accelerate a better understanding between cultures and establish a deep friendship between students. We all have a good experience and wonderful time and we are looking forward to running the class often in the future.
We are greatly indebted to Rick and Buzhou International School for connecting at such late notice, providing a class of the same age group and allowing us to get to know them further.
My year 11 Business Management students primarily come from farms. The produce from their farms – lamb and beef can be sold for export to the Middle East. When dealing commerically it is essential to understand the culture, so when we were given the opportunity to learn some Arabic language and more about the culture, I thought this was a fantastic opportunity for them.
Year 11 students learnt Arabic, initially with a fluent speaker from the USA, Sophia Aron of Critical Language Service who has devised a series of flipped learning activities where students can learn vocabulary at home using apps at home which provides a fun and engaging way to learn. Then students practise during face to face time with Sophia using videoconferencing tools like skype.
In our second class with Sophia, she setup a 3 way skype call, where a couple of young American children spoke to us in Arabic and showed us how they would greet each other if they were in Egypt. This was a great demonstration showing my older students what should be done.
Students enjoyed using the apps either individually, in pairs or in small groups. There was mixed reaction as to which they preferred – Quizlet, Memrise. or Flashcards by NKO.
Some of my Business Management class had learnt mandarin Chinese last year and queried why they would want to learn Arabic. However, I reminded them that they lived on farms and some of their beef and lamb would be exported to the Middle East. In fact when I travelled to Qatar many years ago, I saw Midfields vacuum packed lamb in the freezers in a local supermarket. Midfields is our local abattoir.
To supplement the language development, Sophie had added videos into the Memrise app. Students watched some of these to gain a better cultural understanding of the people – another important skill when dealing with global markets.
What a wonderful opportunity my students were given!
- the importance of hearing accents prior to dealing with them when connecting virtually
- class room setup. My computer lab is a great setup for normal classes but when connecting online with videoconferencing, it is not ideal. Straight rows in front of the webcamera would ensure better engagement for both sides.
- how effective videoconferencing can be for learning – and the abolute need for chat, video, audio, screen sharing and recording possibilites etc
- greater impact of a charismatic engaging teacher for learning
- importance of getting to know each other on a simple basis before getting into the nitty gritty of learning.