Friday, December 28, 2012

The Power of Using Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout in an Early Primary Classroom

Between late September and December my class and I have been connecting quite frequently through FaceTime, Google Hang Out, and Skype.  Each connection has been unique.  Sometimes we connect over a specific topic such as we did here, here, and here.  Other times we've connected as a culminating activity after working on a project together such as here.  Sometimes it's been over a time frame meeting weekly like we did here and here.  Yet sometimes it's with the same class, over a variety of topics, but regularly enough that the students in my class know a lot more about these students.  Each type of connection has a purpose, and they are all meaningful in their own ways.

This frequent connecting is a very conscious change I've made in my teaching practice.  It's new to me, my students, and their parents. Sometimes I wonder if I'm setting us up to connect too frequently, but at the end of every interaction we are all rejuvenated and excited about learning.  Yes, occasionally our calls go on longer than they should (we can get real squirrelly when that happens), and sometimes they take longer to get started because of technology issues.  But each and every time we connect outside of our classroom we learn something from those on the other side of our computer screen. We learn something that we couldn't learn with out them.

My students love it when we find that other classes are doing similar things as us.  Our very first call of the year was with Mrs. Cassidy's class. My class was surprised to learn that they were learning about patterns in math just like we were. Our call with our Global Read Aloud friends in New York surprised us too.  Their lives in many ways were so different than ours - they come to school by taxi or subway, their playground is on the roof of their school, and they have eleven floors in their school.  Yet they were just like us in so many ways too.  When we Skyped with Northern BC we were shocked to find out that they had snow, and they had a different time than us.  There is a story for each and every call that we've made.

Time is certainly something that comes up over and over again. My class is  always curious to know what time it is where the children on the other side of the computer are. One student actually asked me why we are always behind everyone else.  While our friends are preparing to go home for the day, my class is just in from recess, or getting ready for lunch. When the call is first thing in the morning the class we are chatting with is usually getting ready for lunch.  It's confusing for my students, but it's a teaching opportunity too. So far the only classes we've connected with that are in our time zone are those in our own school district - Mrs. Leech and Mrs. Sarchet's classes. My class loves that they live where we do. We also know them a lot better  because we took the time to go to their school and meet them in person.

The thing I like best about inviting all these people into our classroom is that it really creates a sense of wonder in my students. No matter what the specific purpose of our call is we always end them with our "wonder" questions specific to that class.  The more we've connected the better we are getting at coming up with wonder questions. I really like that.

From what I can tell the two biggest reasons for not connecting is lack of time or lack of technology.  Lack of time can be an issue when your sole focus is on covering specific prescribed learning outcomes in only one way.  I have read my curriculum over and over again, and we cover a lot of prescribed learning outcomes with our calls.  In terms of  the Speaking and Listening Language Arts requirements alone  we cover every single one. Here are just a few of those we are covering.

- interacts with others for the purposes of exchanging ideas on a topic
- asks questions for clarification and understanding to demonstrate comprehension
- takes turns as speak and listener when interacting with others
- organizes thinking by following a simple framework when presenting ideas and information

There are many more on the list and we cover all of those too.  In addition when our calls are on a specific content area subject  we cover those too. So when people tell me they don't have the time to connect outside of their classroom I am puzzled.  We have so many things to cover in our day that it surprises me that more people aren't connecting.  It's such a powerful, and motivating way to learn.  I can assure you that my students are learning things that I am required to teach them during these calls. And they are learning a lot more than that too.

Technology, or lack of it can be a real issue for some.  I know it was an issue for me before my school became an open wireless school in May.  It isn't so much that we are open wireless but more that Skype was actually blocked on our old network.  At the time I didn't have a smart phone either so using my personal phone wouldn't have worked . But if you have internet access that allows you to connect with Skype, Google Hang Out, or Face Time then you really don't have much of an excuse.

To make this all happen we have a computer, camera,  a projection device (or Apple TV), and a big screen.  If all we had was a computer (our computer happens to have the camera built it) and an internet connection that allowed connection with one of those communication tools we could and would still connect outside of our classroom.  So again, unless you're missing one of those key components connecting can be possible for you too.

Now I alluded to it earlier, things don't always go as planned. Lately we've been having issues with sound. Sometimes they don't hear us but we hear them perfectly fine, and other times it's the complete opposite.  My students have learned just as much when things don't go as planned as when thing go exactly as planned  They have learned how to be flexible and how to adjust when things don't go well.  That's a really important skill to take with you throughout your  life.   I also know they watch to see how I'm reacting to the problems.  As a teacher I am always on stage when I'm in front of my students so it's even more important that I keep my cool during these mishaps.   I can assure you I am doing my best to model good practice.  Hopefully they are learning perseverance, and/or adaptability from me.

Learning with others through Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hang Out is a very powerful way to learn.  Are you learning this way with your class? I'd love to hear your story too.


  1. Karen, it is so great to see how connecting has been transforming your classroom. I so admire the way you have jumped into using technology with both feet and the way you have transparently shared that experience. You rock!

    1. Thanks Kathy, you know so many of my changes with my teaching practice is because of what I've learned from those in my Professional Learning Network (PLN). Since you were one of the very first that joined that network of mine I can assure you a lot of credit goes to you, and the support you've provided me on my journey. So if I rock, it's totally because of people like YOU!

  2. I echo Kathy's comment for sure! I also admire how you've looked at all of the curriculum expectations that are linked to these interactions. Often people see technology as an add-on. You make sure that this is not the case.

    I'm curious though, how do you get all of your students actively involved in these interactions? This has always been something I struggle with during full-class Skype calls, and one of the reasons that I like small group ones instead. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


    1. Thanks Aviva, like I said to Kathy above you are an integral part of my journey of change. Attending your RSCON3 session in July 2011 completely changed my view on technology and early primary students so I owe a lot to you. Now I'm just spreading that love to others.

      Getting every student actively involved - in the sense of being in front of the camera talking with those on the other side of the computer screen - isn't really possible. But getting every student actively involved is. Before we make our calls we do a lot of turn and talk to come up with questions we might ask or what we feel is important to share with our Skype friends. We decide on who will ask in front of the computer. Lately we've been having students ask their questions in groups (2 or 3) and that helps get more students in front of the camera. I also have students who at this point are not comfortable speaking in front of the camera and I respect that too. They are involved in other ways. I think what's important to remember is that while the call is the central part of the lesson, the before and after time is also equally as important. Preplanning and reflecting on the calls through discussions or writing is an important part of the process, one that allows everyone to be involved.

      There is a second part to this post which will come out tomorrow and one of the avenues I'd like to explore is more small group interactions. Hopefully our classes will be involved with something like this before the end of this school year.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave my a comment Aviva. I've always admired your point of view.

  3. Hi Karen,

    I appreciate all you do in your classroom - connecting your students to the world around them. It is truly amazing and allows them to make meaning from so many things they would not have known beforehand. I know that my own daughter had a great time in your classroom last year, connecting to different places around the world (although, I do think your class is connecting even more this year than last).

    My question is what about next year for your students? How can colleagues be encouraged to continue this connectivity? What can parents do to encourage this amongst teachers? Is it just a one-year activity for your students or will this be something they can continue in future years?

    Thanks for doing all you do with your students and colleagues to help this learning occur.


    1. Tia, I appreciate your comments and I will try to answer your questions. To begin with I work with a wonderful staff. Yes, we are all different, but those differences are what make my school special. As you know I’m hooked on the power of being connected both for myself professionally, and for my students. Other teachers are hooked on other things. My way isn’t always the best way for others on my staff. I need, and do respect that. However I am also the teacher that is sharing what I’m doing in my classroom to anyone that will listen. I can’t help it. I’m enthusiastic by nature. In addition I am the teacher wanting, willing, and able to help my colleagues when even a slight sign of interest is shown. And while at times it seems that little is changing at my school I have to step back and see that I am making a difference. As for the grade two teachers who have my students the following year, the may be doing different things than I did in grade one, but those differences aren’t better or worse. They are just different.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences with technology. It is very interesting reading! I love anything to do with technology! I have been following your blog and recently your twitter math stories. We recently got our own twitter page for our classroom! Just getting our feet wet! How did you make connections with other groups? I am on my lonely or at least it feels like it here... We use my iPad and a couple that were donated... I also took part in an iPad project for a few months and had a blast! Really miss those guys! Would also like to figure out how to Skype with a class... Can you direct me to any good resources?? I have a grade one class that loves anything I bring to them related to technology! Me too!
    Our blog is and our twitter account is mrsantonsclass

  5. Are you on twitter as an educator? If so please fire me a tweet at @klirenman. Identify yourself. I've made most of my connections there and I know many (including me) are willing to help others get started with tweeting, or blogging, or connecting over skype. Feeling alone in our schools is very common which is why so many of us have flocked to twitter. Trust me you are NOT alone. Karen

    1. Thanks for your support! Got Kathy Cassidy's book and am eager to get started! Went to see Matt Gomez in Las Vegas and got some great ideas... Will contact you in Twitter! Thanks! Tricia

  6. Hi Karen and friends - I too am just jumping into connecting globally with my First Graders down in Texas! I am just learning Twitter, blogging and love to Skype! I'm going to learn Kidblog and sign up my kiddos next year (our last day of school is June 5) and have registered for Global Read Aloud. I feel like I am ready to take the leap! Your blog is inspiring! - Maureen

    1. Awesome Maureen! You know where to find me both here and on twitter. Be in touch. And I'm not sure you are aware or not but I will be in Texas TWICE in the next few weeks. Once for ISTE (San Antonio) , and then again for the Apple Institute (Austin). Maybe we'll meet F2F? Karen

    2. Have fun in Texas this summer!! It will be VERY HOT to be sure! I am 5 hours north of San Antonio and 4 hours north of Austin -- be sure you see the Alamo while in San Antonio-it is right downtown and so awesome. Austin is just plain fun no matter what. If you ever are in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area would love to meet you! Texas is a HUGE state! Congratulations on your award!