MIEE TV – Expert Educators using Skype in the Classroom

For this week’s MIEE TV themed post, we’re looking at how our Expert Educators have been using Skype in the Classroom to venture beyond the confines of the schools gates and learn about people places far, far away. As our point of reference we’re going to hear about Annette Iafrate, from Scotland, who spoke with our guest writer Gerald Haigh.

Gerald’s thoughts are below, but here is a short video of Annette, as she talks to us about how she got involved in the Microsoft Expert Educator programme, and how she sees technology in the classroom evolving.


Skype in the Classroom – Gerald Haigh speaks to Annette Iafrate

Skype has been around long enough to be widely familiar well beyond the technology community, as a straightforward communication tool for video conferencing as well as keeping in touch with your distant grandchildren.

Maybe, one teacher suggests to me, Skype is so familiar, and so firmly embedded in our consciousness as a convenient communication tool – a video phone in effect -- that we can miss out on some of its more creative classroom possibilities.

If so, that’s a pity, because there are endless possibilities. For example, not only can you bring a virtual visitor, a subject expert perhaps, into the classroom, but you can go out and see the specialist on their home ground. That’s what Annette Iafrate, Geography teacher at Gryffe High School near Paisley did when her class was studying volcanoes. In a blog earlier this year we described how her students ‘visited’ a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains, and asked her questions.

Skype in the Classroom

At that time, when I talked to Annette, she was planning to run ‘mystery skype’ projects, whereby children link with another school which may be anywhere in the world. Neither tells the other where they are and they have to work out their partner’s location from clues that develop in the conversation. Now, Annette’s class is up and running with mystery skype as a competition with schools in Sweden and Russia. Here, Annette describes how it’s organised:


‘I have the class taking on different roles (these change each time), one group as the speakers at the computer, 2 groups of researchers - using laptops and atlases to research info, another group come up with Qs to ask based on the research info, another group who scribe the information onto the whiteboard, there is a final small group who whilst the call is going on are given a topic that they have 15/20mins to prepare to speak about - when the classes have correctly identified each others location then this group gives a mini 2min lesson about the area I've told them to do - this is usually tied into their topic at the time (e.g. my S2 group told the class in Sweden a bit what they'd learned about Brazil - impact of deforestation on).. the brief they're given is to make it engaging, not just standing talking.. in the calls we've done so far one group acted out a scene, the other wrote a song.’

For Annette, the benefits of using Skype in the classroom have been clear. Increased levels of engagement, and an eagerness to come to class when the pupils know there is a call booked are all behavioural positive outcomes, while the simple act of communicating with people in other parts of the world has improved their geographical knowledge and appreciation of different cultures. Adding an interactive element to the lessons that the children find exciting has also proven to be hugely helpful in allowing her to teach elements of geography that are sometimes seen as dull - map-reading, compass points, latitude/longitude and time zones, for example - in an engaging way.

Furthermore, the project based learning approach and team working skills facilitated by using Skype in the classroom has, Annette says, allowed her to cover the other key areas which the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence requires teachers to steward -- literacy across learning, numeracy across learning and health and wellbeing across learning.

The kind of inter-school or inter-classroom link up we have heard about from Gryffe High School is full of potential. When I discussed it with Tom Rees, head of Simon de Senlis Primary, a Microsoft Showcase School in Northampton, he described how Skype had enabled collaboration between classes of children in the five schools which make up the Northampton Primary Academy Trust (NPAT). Skype was an essential ingredient, for example, in the NPAT’s cunningly labelled ‘Dull and Boring’ project, in which two characters, Dull and Boring, are said to have taken over the schools, removing all laughter, colour and creativity. The children collaborate within and across their schools and classrooms to devise superheroes and cunning plans to overcome the villains, returning joy and creativity to their schools.

Tom believes there is lots of potential for creative use of Skype, spreading ideas, firing up motivation, reaching out to find alternative answers, different mind-sets. He’s also sure there are lots of simple ideas that can be enhanced with Skype:

‘We recently used it creatively in assembly. We set up a seascape in another room and put a teacher there so that in assembly the children thought they were seeing the teacher at the beach somewhere.‘

It seems to me that once they’ve had one idea like that, and realised that creativity can be simple and home made, as well as global and ambitious, then teachers – and more importantly children – will be itching to devise more of them.

The global community of teachers called ‘Skype in the Classroom’ is filled with creative ways of using Skype.

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