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Videoconferencing: Take Your Students Back to the Future

Remember in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly goes forward in time? He travels to the year 2015. While kids may not have hoverboards or flying cars in the next two years, they already have handheld computers and the ability to videoconference as Marty did.  

Children today see and interact with far-away relatives before they can even talk. It's a wonderful thing. So why does it stop in so many classrooms?

One of the ways we encourage schools and extended learning organizations to connect with the world is by partnerships with other schools and classes around the world. 

Skype has created a low-cost, easy way to do this through Skype in the Classroom. Google Hangouts, or even Facetime  for those with Apple hardware, are other options. Whichever service, students will be engaged in learning through technology and teachers can become facilitators. 

Here are some ways teachers are using videoconferencing to link their classrooms to the world. The idea with any project is to go beyond an initial "meet and greet" conversation and engage in deeper project work. 

Project ideas: 

  • For younger students, ask them to bring in objects for show and tell that can allow them to open up and get over their initial shyness. But ask them to bring in something that relates to where they live or something they can use as part of a demonstration—models, food for a cooking demonstration, etc.

  • Writing a book together is another way to collaborate across borders. Clyde Erwin Elementary Magnet School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, connects with its sister school in Puebla, Mexico, through Elluminate, a Web conferencing program that also uses an interactive white board. Staff members won a grant to help Clyde Erwin learners and their counterparts in Puebla collaborate on a book-authoring and -publishing project. They collaboratively published a book about "Canela" and "Erwin," two teddy bears (one from each school) who visited each other's country and had interesting adventures. The book was published in both English and Spanish.

  • Speaking to an expert is a great way to make learning real. Math scholars at Walter Payton high school in Chicago, connected with a mathematician in Switzerland.  Students in Roosevelt High School in Portland, OR spoke with Gandhi's grandson as part of their unit on genocide. Skype in the classroom can help you make connections to various authors and experts.

  • If you can't find an expert, what about a college student studying abroad? The Cultural Correspondents program in North Carolina, connects K-8 classrooms with a local student studying abroad and provides curricular materials for the classroom teacher. 

  • Online debate is one way to explore culture. Students at Washington Latin PCS did just that with students in Qatar through an exercise facilitated through the Qatar Foundation.  Younger pupils can do presentations on the same subject to compare perspectives. For instance, Sugar Creek Elementary School students in Verona, Wisconsin researched Martin Luther King, Jr., as did their peers in Moreland Primary School in England. After sharing their presentations, students on each side of the ocean gained a fresh perception.

  • Students could play music with others around the world. If that is not possible, students can also listen together to a live concert online and analyze it. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra just announced that it will begin broadcasting virtual concerts.

  • You often hear of students making movies and sharing them online, but what if students created their own online radio station? They can research music from around the world and create shows around musical themes, mixing genres and years. They can share it widely with students around the world and have online live listening parties.

  • This is a great example from Ariel Schwartz, who witnessed a classroom playing "mystery Skype." Students were connected to a classroom somewhere else in the world and they used maps and logic to locate the other classroom. They also live-blogged their findings, allowing them to practice technology, teamwork, and communications skills simultaneously.

  • Google Hangouts allows you to save your sessions and presentations. Students could have their own channel and create their own online portfolio of work from kindergarten through graduation. 

Whichever option you chose, know that you are helping to give students a bright future. Now, about those flying cars....

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