students skype with IWB
The familiar sound comes through our computer speakers, and instantly my 4th grade classroom comes alive.

“Is it him?”

“Can I talk first?”

“Can we turn off the lights?”

“Can I move so I can see?”

It’s a Skype call from a student in my class who moved to Hawaii at the end of April. The kids miss him dearly, and at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon (8:00 a.m. Hawaii time), Cody has just woken up and is Skyping the class to tell us all about his new home. The kids have questions galore about the time zone, the climate, the islands. We laugh, share what we’ve been up to, and enjoy a great visit with a good friend.

Skype became a new and exciting way to learn in my classroom this year. It began with Mystery Skype. Since our 4th grade Social Studies curriculum focuses on states and regions, I was excited to learn about this fun activity. Our class would receive a Skype call, but the caller’s location was a mystery. We took turns asking questions and sharing clues about geography, climate, history, attractions, and famous people before guessing the location of our mystery caller! With students on netbooks, asking questions, providing answers, writing information on the board, and manning the maps, all hands were on deck and engaged as we learned about states across the U.S.

I was hooked…

We continued to share and learn using Skype as we participated in the Global Read Aloud. Sharing a literature experience with thousands of students across the globe was exciting enough, but my students were on fire when it came time to Skype with another class and share our predictions about the story. The students actually wrote their own comprehension questions to ask the other class, and then discussed their interpretations and feelings about the story. We found a class that wanted to Skype weekly to discuss the book, and started to build a relationship with them. It was magical.

When the opportunity arose to Skype with a celebrity for Anti-Bullying Month, I got on board! When other classes heard that we were going to Skype with Nickelodeon actors Nat and Alex Wolff from the Naked Brothers Band, my classroom filled with students from our lower school division. Nat and Alex were sharing music from their upcoming CD and talking to kids about bullying. Engaged? Totally.

Our further Skype adventures…

In February, I saw a tweet from Twitter friend Paula Naugle in Louisiana. Her students had completed research projects about Mardi Gras and were offering to share their presentations via Skype. Who better to learn about Mardi Gras from than students in New Orleans?! I purchased green, purple, and gold beads for my class, and we surprised Mrs. Naugle’s class by being beautifully adorned for Mardi Gras when they called! The students had also created glogs and embedded them on Edmodo. My students were able to backchannel with the students in her class using a “Skype Collaboration” group in Edmodo during the presentations, and view their glogs online.

Another Twitter friend, Jan Wells, “called” the other day. Her students had created “State in a Container” reports, and knowing that we were studying states and regions, she wondered if we would like to watch a presentation about Tennessee. How could I refuse?! My students learned a great deal about Tennessee as a creative and articulate fourth grader pulled items out of a guitar case. She explained that she chose a guitar case because of the strong musical associations in Tennessee — the Grand Ole Opry, and of course, Elvis! The kids enjoyed a great lesson, and I got a cool idea for a project next year!!

Skype is a magic window…

Skype enables students to connect, collaborate, and communicate with students across the globe. It creates an opportunity for students to learn from each other, to have authentic audiences for their work, and to meet musicians, authors, and others who can further their learning. Imagine reading a book and then Skyping with the author! Or inviting working parents into your classroom to talk about their careers, from their job sites. The possibilities are truly endless.

On May 16th, Skype announced that it is joining forces with Penguin Group, New York Philharmonic, Science Museum London, Peace One Day, and Save the Children with a view towards giving teachers educational content and access to expert speakers via video calling. This collaboration represents Skype’s latest attempt to reach its goal of connecting one million classrooms globally.

Skype in the classroom will now feature each organization’s content, projects, and available guest-speakers, with Penguin Young Readers Group connecting authors with students for discussions about books, reading, and writing. The New York Philharmonic will offer live interaction with musicians and educators. Save the Children and London’s Science Museum will have individual projects on Skype in the classroom by the end of the year. Skyping is no longer a novelty — a once-in-awhile special event. It’s becoming a routine part of being an effective 21st century teacher.

I look forward to finding more ways to create “connected learners” using Skype in the coming years. If you’ve had positive experiences or can share other ways to use Skype in the classroom, please share them in the comments here. If you want to give it a try, just let me know. Mrs. Grayson’s 4th graders are always eager to make new friends!

About the author
Patti Grayson is a fourth grade teacher at Virginia's Hampton Roads Academy and a member of the digital learning leadership team. Her articles have also appeared at MindShift and Teach.com and she was named a Top 10 Teacher in the Hampton Roads community for 2012. She blogs at Patti's Ponderings Follow her on Twitter @pattigrayson.