I was recently reviewing and editing my profile at Skype in the Classroom. I saw a project that I had posted called “Our Own Hometowns.” Soon after my edit, I received an email from Rhonda Metcalf, down in NC, USA. She was interested in the tips I mentioned in my post and that in turn got me thinking about sharing my setup plan with others.
It would have been easier years ago if I’d had a real plan for what I was doing. It can be daunting to reach out to another class and not feel anxious and uncertain about whether it will work or whether you’re going to embarrass yourself. For that reason alone, I try to lighten the load for any teacher I connect with via Skype. My first experience, outside of my personal life, was with Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches and Around the World With 80 Schools. That was a quick call with a very experienced Skyper!
Here is the layout of my plan. You can make adjustments to fit your own technology set-up. Mine is still pretty basic. I have a small webcam, a hand-held mic, and a VGA connection to the TV. My class watches the project on the TV as we don’t have any IWB technology in our class. So “♬This Is How We Do It♬”
- Connection is made between teachers by sharing/accepting ID info in Skype.
- Teachers can have a short Skype call testing out their systems for any glitches and trying new setup adjustments for best viewing.
- Via email or the Skype call, teachers share what they want to address during class calls. Keeping calls to 10-15 min is reasonable but be ready for them to go on for more time.
- I find it best to have an advance list of questions for each side. In that way the other class can assign speakers and practice ahead without having to do it “cold.” The questions are generally shared a few days ahead whenever possible. The class and I create the list of questions we want to ask.
- On the day of the call, have your lists of questions to ask/answer and kids assigned to ask/answer them. I post these on an easel for quick reference and usually have my webcam on top of this easel, aimed down at the group on the floor. It sounds formal but really is just for convenience.
- Having the camera aimed at the larger class works best with the children coming up to the camera/mic to ask/answer questions individually.
- Classes go back and forth asking and answering questions one at a time, trying to stick to the lists in order, as that is how the other class will have prepared. The kids will know who has a turn next.
- My class is quiet and shy the first time (every year ;)) needing lots of prompting, but will warm up over time. Once they have experienced it a couple of times, a few kids will bloom and set a good example for others.
- Some simple things, just for fun, are singing a song, reciting a favorite poem or rhyme, or other presentation piece surrounding recent learning experiences in class. These are short and make each side giggle and warm up to each other. Last year we marched around the room to a silly song or sang patriotic songs. We once invited the other class to join in marching to “Knees Up Mother Brown.” The kids like to do things as a whole group whenever possible. The audience always gives some wild applause for the other side which feels good and settles the nerves a bit.
- Which brings up the question of behavior. Yes, my class always has a few who get distracted and/or want to show off for the camera. It’s just one more lesson for them to learn. When kids have too much trouble settling and not being a distraction, I might say their name and/or give them a nod, or I point to a new spot out of the camera’s view for them to move to.
Another tip is, I always Skype with my 83 yo Mom either before school or a few hours before I connect with the other class. She is my tester – can she see and hear well? is my camera pointed in the right place? can she see us if we move around? It helps to settle my own nerves and makes a nice school connection with Mom ;D
After the call it is good to talk about what the students learned from the question and answer session. You cement the learning and clarify any misunderstandings.
Don’t be afraid to jump right in. A few steps of advance preparation will go a long way. If technical difficulties arise (and they often do) don’t be too upset. It happens more than we would like and goes with the territory. We have no control over poor connections. More often than not you will be satisfied.