Tag Archives: teachable moments

“Pear-shaped” Lessons that make for teachable moments!

It was the second last week of our school year and I had received a request from a teacher in southern California to connect with one of my classes. To my surprise we were both in school at the same time as the US is one of the hardest countries to connect with Australia in real time. It was Thursday last lesson for her and Friday first lesson for me.

However, an alternative program was run that week and when I looked at the class I had, I knew that it wouldn’t work! So as the bell rang, I quickly went to our grade 5/6 class and asked their teacher if they would like to connect with the school in southern California. To Mr Huglin’s credit, he agreed. So I threw him in the deep end, rang the class using Skype and left him to it. First up, they played Mystery Skype. Then it was question and sharing time!

Surprisingly, it worked really well as it was now similar age groups connecting:

  • The US students were curious about the fact that ours wear school uniforms. They dont!
  • They were surprised that our students don’t eat MacDonalds often as they have to drive 40 mins to get to one. McDonalds is across the road from them.
  • Starbucks was also across the road from them. Our students would have to drive 2 to 2.5 hours to get to the closes Starbucks.

Year 3/4 Classes connect with Video Conferencing with Polycom

Capturing the engagement

Capturing the engagement

It is always fun to experiment and link two classes of a similar age group through videoconferencing.  Most of my connections have been global so it is great to be able to  connect with local or Victorian classrooms especially when they are of a similar age group. The best results and learning outcomes arise when the quality of sound and video is good!

Such was the recent connection with Ben Gallagher (well known for his Online Student Led Conferences) of Meredith PS and his year 3/4 class. As we both have Polycom  equipment in our schools, it was decided to use this for videoconferencing as the highest possible video quality is almost guaranteed through our Education Department e-pipeline!

demonstrating favourite sports equipt

It was a fairly unplanned, spontaneous linkup where we had decided to simply share our learning and classrooms. The year 4 students had a cricket workshop so I only had the year 3 portion.Student from my class found something that they could share, including:-

  • their sports equipment and container in the classroom
  • dioramas that they were creating as part of their study of animals
  • some worksheets
Colourful furniture in the Meredith classroom

Colourful furniture in the Meredith classroom

To our delight, Ben used the webcam to great effect and showed their colourful classroom and some of the great equipment they had including a revolving cube.  Students in my classroom were rather envious. His students demonstrated their white, write on tables. To our delight, another  his student had created and shared a wonderful diorarma that inspired my students and motivated them to add more detail to theirs. Finally, Ben shared some of the digital movies that students had made. This was also opportune as my students were finishing off their digital  movies using photographs and videos taken on their recent camp. The transmission quality was good and we could see the movies clearly as Ben used the ‘shared content’ option on the remote.

Sharing a student  diorama

Sharing a student

Only at the end of the session when Fairlie, an innovative educator at the same school, came in to say ‘hello’ did the bandwidth falter.

What worked well:

  • although little formal planning had gone into the connection, it became a powerful one when students were given the opportunity to share.
  • effective use of the webcam and its zooming features to share how the other classroom looked and its special spaces and features.
  • demonstrating objects to share learning (rather than just talking)
  • sharing content via polycom meant images and movies could be seen in real time
  • comparing learning and learning outcomes beyond classrooms inspires and motivates peers to achieve at higher levels.
  • the  evidence of improved communication skills and confidence engendered in the participating students.

Skype was used as the backchannel so that we could communicate if things did not work with polycom.

It’s the Teachable Moments that I love!

Wednesday is one of my busiest teaching days. So, when I saw a request come through from Endang in Indonesia to skype with a class of hers, I wondered whether I could fit it in. I was about to teach my year 12 VCE Accounting class where mid-year exams are looming. However, it was nearly recess time and the request came through in my spare lesson for the day, so I agreed.

Needing a quiet room to skype in, I walked with my laptop to the computer room. Curious secondary students started to walk in during the recess break and soon they were talking to the grade 3/4 students from Pekalangon, Indonesia. Confident  primary students from Indonesia came up to the webcamera in pairs and introduced themselves and then asked questions of our students. They compared what they did at playtime, the weather, school uniforms etc. To complete the video conference, the Indonesian students sang “Twinkle, twinkle little star” in perfect tune and in perfect English to the delight of my students.

Comparing uniforms

That filled in a morning recess when the weather was cold and wet! The students had fun, but learnt so much!

Why does it work well!

  • There is no planning required, just a willingness to make the most of every teachable moment.
  • Little equipment required:  just access to a laptop that is logged on skype
  • The curiousity of students is always there, especially when smaller groups of students are involved. They want to learn about each other and they will drive the learning.
  • It develops confidence on both sides
  • Forces students to learn to communicate well


  • Remembering to introduce myself formally and correctly (I always forget!)
  • The internet speed between a two bandwidth poor areas: -a rural school in Australia and a school in Western Java, Indonesia

What?!? “That’s not healthy!”

A couple of weeks ago I joined a group in skype. This group is made up of a number of teachers from across the globe. Interesting conversations flow amongst the group. These include the sharing of online sites, culture, experiences etc.  The great advantages of having the group is that members will just ask “Is anyone about?” and if someone is they will skype into a global classroom and talk to students for 5 to 10 mins or more.

Tonight, just prior to our evening meal, which we call tea (rather than dinner), a skype message came up from Kathryn “Is anyone about?” I replied saying I have 10 mins before tea. Within seconds I was videoconferenced into an Austrian classroom and spoke to some capable English speaking students.

One of the first questions was: “What tea are you drinking?” When I responded that it was my evening meal, the reaction was one of astonishment. When questioned further I explained that we were having baked chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato with broccoli/carrots/cauliflower, the reaction was:- “Oh that is not healthy!”

That comment astonished me. This is our way of life. We eat our main meal in the evening as most of us work in the daytime or attend school. I had never even thought of it being unhealthy. We often eat a sandwich for lunch. The Austrian students then told me that lunch is their main meal consisting of four or five courses! Below is one of the pics that I  sent through skpye once I had dished up our tea! (It nearly burnt due to my longer conversations with Austria!) However, it was tasty.

Why I am I posting this? I had assumed that European and American cultures were very similar, if not the same, as ours but now realise that there are differences. There is so much to learn from each other, no matter what country we live in, whether we speak the same language or not. From Kathryn came the following comment “thank you Anne, we heard a lot of new things again, thank you”.

Technology allows us to learn NOW from each other! Skype is an amazing tool that can instantly connect people together.

It has been decided to form a group for students  to connect and share conversations. Permission forms have been sent home to parents to allow senior students to take part in this trial project. One of my goals in teaching is for my students to develop a learning network. This will make an interesting start. I wonder what they will discover about each other!

My tea had chicken feet in it!

Someone was talking to me on skype. On closer investigation, I looked to see that it was Bianca, one of our student teachers, who is part of the trial virtual teaching round’s project. She completed one week teacher placement with us and has just flown to China for a four week placement,  to teach English communication.

First day there, she was unable to get her microphone to work in skype. Fortunately, she could hear me, when I rang her. Stepping her through the process, she informed me (in the midst of all my instructions) that ‘her tea last night had chicken feet in it” and she had used a toilet that was just a hole in the ground! (Please don’t be offended if you come from other cultures, as I had chicken feet when I went to Malaysia and enjoyed them. It is a delicacy but it is not the normal food, we get in Australia). And for a young lady who has never been out of Australia, this was not quite to her normal diet. As such cultural shock is in place!

Proceeding along to help her with her microphone, I asked her to go to Tools>options>audio settings but Bianca said she couldn’t find it as it was all in Chinese! So our virtual communications and adventure with China began! Eventually, Bianca hooked up her netbook that she had taken and shifted from the desktop in her room. Audio and video then worked and lively conversations with many staff continued.

That afternoon, Bianca wanted to use her new flip, but did not know how to work it. Skype came to the rescue again, and I could demonstrate how to use mine to her so she could see, using the videoconferencing aspect.

Learning how to use the camera with skype

During my year 11 IT class, Bianca appeared on skype with more questions, but we took this as a teachable moment and my class was also able to share in conversations with her. Thanks Bianca for sharing with us.

My class was all a-Twitter

It has taken 18 months  using twitter for personal  use, to realise the power it could have in my class with students!! Twitter provides untapped opportunities for use in the classroom with students, that will only be fully utilised with time and experimentation. Potential uses include:-

  • teachable moments
  • research and quick answers to questions on all manner of topics
  • learning, in real time, of world events as they occur
  • sharing work, blog posts
  • establishing student networks etc

My year 11 and some year 10 students are part of the netgened project, where students are studying the future of education. One of the topics is the “Personal Web”. As students are struggling to add to the wiki and to come to grips with some of the concepts, I decided to show them my experience with twitter two weeks ago, when I experienced the Melbourne earthquake, in real time, with my Melbourne tweets. Students were genuinely fascinated and one curious girl immediately went onto join twitter. To my utter amazement, it was unblocked. (It has been blocked for over 8 months).

So, sensing a teachable moment, I asked my twitter PLN  to say hello to my students. To their amazement, responses came in from Thailand, USA, Sth America, Portugal, England, Canada and NZ. Some added snippets about the time of day and the weather. Discussions turned to the potential of twitter in their class and ensuing education. Spot all the teachable  moments that exist here.

  • jplaman@murcha I think every student should begin building a PLN. Twitter happens to be the first thing I turn to in the morning to learn.
  • emapey2@murcha Greetings from Uruguay , in South America
  • Whitembarrow@murcha Greetings from England. It is 40 minutes past midnight here and I should be asleep rather than twittering. 🙂 Hope you’re having fun
  • edueyeview@murcha Love Twitter! Hello from coastal Maine, US. Welcome to the conversation!
  • Whitelnitsche@murcha Hello from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania USA where is felt like spring today at about 65F
  • damian613@murcha Hello from Perkasie, PA, USA! It’s about 8:30pm here and 13 degrees C.
  • classroomqueenIcon_lock@murcha Hello from a very, very cold Regina, SK, Canada. It’s warmed up to -21C or -35C with windchill. This am it was -47C with windchill.
  • WhiteInpi@murcha Hello from Portugal! It’s 22 past midnight here, I can’t introduce my students!!!
  • nzchrissy@murcha Hello fabulous students in Victoria from Bangkok Thailand where it is very hot at the moment
  • chetty@murcha Hi Vic. Nice to meet u. I’ve just realised we can use iGoogle + twitter app to tweet from NSW. What are you working on?
  • jeffwhipple@murcha a chilly evening to you and your students from New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada…twitter is about connecting and learning
  • MelissaShultz@murcha Greetings from America via twitter! I love AUS! Especially those Collingwood Pies!!
  • KarenJan@murcha Greetings from Boston, MA, USA!So, the students sensing a learning moment, asked me to tease out help for them on the semantic aware applications and geo-everything in education.

Some responses started to come in and here is one really interesting one:-

Unfortunately our bell went but it gave me much food for thought. What if the students were studying climates, or Portugal or Thai cultures etc?  Imagine the real time response that could be gleaned from Twitter colleagues and self directed learning that might occur. My students will come up with some queries this week to try and tap into the global knowledge and expertise that exists and is now accessible 24/7/365 for them to complete their pages on the netgened wiki.

Have you used twitter in your classroom? If so, I would love to read  your comments or any comments that anyone may have on this post.

Postscript: Upon going home that night, I tweeted that my gmail was down, and was anyone else having problems. I got the solution to my problem from a fellow tweeter – my curious student, who had joined twitter after the class!!?? Technology never ceases to amaze me.

Some interesting twitter related sites discovered this week:-

See also this great post learning with twitter by Steve Wheeler

Teachable Moments

Some of my favourite teaching moments are unplanned but eventuate due to an unintentional or spontaneous  connection.  For example, last week, I quickly logged on to gmail  at home before I came to school. The chat element appeared active, and Lorraine Leo, my wonderful e-colleague from Boston, asked if I would like to see the snow falling on her school. Quickly logging onto skype, I was able to speak to her and share video imagery. So, much to my delight, her web camera was positioned to the window and I saw the beautiful snow falling from the sky on whitened grounds and buildings. (It never snows here, ever! Well, one very unusual weather day, two years ago, saw a very slight amount fall on the ground 20 mins away).


I quickly packed my things for school, hurriedly went to staff briefing, then form assembly and onto lesson one with my year 12 students. Next minute, my skype window popped up and it was another classroom2.0 colleague from Nepal, Govinda. He teaches at a small rural school just outside the capital city of Nepal. I quickly messaged him back and said I was in class. He apologised and I was about to turn off skype, when I thought  ‘here is a teachable moment”! So, as my year 12 students were studying communication, input and output devices, we had the perfect example happening in front of us. It was 4:15am and when the students queried why he was up so early, he responded that their power is cut off 14 hours per day, so he has to get up and make the most of it, when it is on.

Soon, Govinda and I were sending each other files, through skype,  both text and images so that we could share what our schools and classes looked like.Many students do not have pens or books,  so he is looking for help and sponsorship. Speaking with him has certainly given us something to thing about – poverty, our lifestyle, different cultures etc.  He is trying to teach his students about computers, even though they do not have computers.

We learnt about real poverty from someone who experiences it and it was in real time. How can we help them?