Jun 18 2012

Help Students Learn from Peers in Other Schools with Skype

Video conferencing technologies transform the traditional field trip experience.

Field trips have long been a popular diversion for students of all ages. But schools were always hampered by distance and cost limitations: If a destination involved more than a few hours of travel, taking students there for the purposes of learning proved impossible. Today, thanks to video conferencing technologies, the entire world is within reach.

LESSON DESCRIPTION: When budgets are tight, field trips are typically among the first items on the chopping block. But a few simple technologies can help teachers break down classroom walls and open their students' eyes to the communities around them.

This lesson takes advantage of 21st century learners' innate interest in technology and collaboration to introduce them to the similarities and differences among schools and communities around the United States. The virtual field trips upon which students will embark can foster a greater understanding of the unique cultural and behavioral traits that characterize residents of the 50 states, reveal similarities that transcend regions, and help students develop their public speaking and listening skills.

Begin by signing up for a free Skype in the classroom account, and ensure that the classroom computer is equipped with a webcam, microphone, speakers and an Internet connection. Next, develop a questionnaire that can guide conversation during each virtual field trip with another class. (For example, students could prepare questions for their peers in other schools that focus on broad categories such as school, community and state.) Assign each student at least one question to ask during each field trip, and give students time to practice how they will ask their questions prior to the event. Model for them how they should sit in front of the webcam, the tone and volume they should use when asking their questions, and how they should react as they listen to their peers' responses.

Skype in the classroom allows teachers to post projects for which they'd like to connect with other classrooms and to search for similar projects. Use the site to schedule video conferencing sessions with other teachers who want to help their students learn more about schools and communities throughout the United States.

During each virtual field trip, have students ask their assigned questions and write down the answers provided by the other class. At the conclusion of each event, have students create Venn diagrams that compare and contrast the answers provided by each classroom. Students also could record their findings in a wiki or a written or graphical blog; in a VoiceThread slide show; or even on a class Facebook page.

SUBJECT AREA: This lesson was designed for elementary social studies, but it can be adapted for most content areas and grade levels.

CURRICULUM STANDARDS: This lesson fulfills several Iowa Core Social Studies standards established by the Iowa Department of Education, as well as the National Educational Technology Standards for Students set forth by the International Society for Technology in Education.



        Students should be graded on content accuracy, writing quality and presentation skills. 

Teaching Tips:

✔ Schedule a student-free Skype session with the teacher with whom your class will be connecting prior to your virtual field trip. That way, both sides will be able to steer the video conference between the two classrooms in the desired direction.
✔ Be mindful of time zone differences.
✔ Create a digital portfolio of each virtual field trip your students take. Such efforts provide a fascinating diary of the learning that takes place throughout the year.

Join us on April 16, 2013 for a webinar focusing on outside-the-box thinking and innovative technologies that drive schools’ successful distance learning programs. Learn more and register here.