Thursday, February 28, 2013

Building Classroom Connections With Skype

Why rely solely on textbooks and the internet for research when your students can Skype with an expert? How about having students develop their own questions to further their learning?

A handful of Los Altos teachers are turning to Skype and Skype in the Classroom to satisfy student curiosity and transform the acquisition of content knowledge into an engaging dialogue. We asked Lily Alberts and Melissa Dowling to contribute to our blog for a guest post on how they are incorporating Skype within their classrooms. If you teach in Los Altos and would like support with using Skype in your class, please contact Ellen Kraska at

Student asks questions during Skype with
Explorer Mark Wood
Why Skype? 
Skype is a great tool to connect students to professionals when they can’t visit them physically.  This technology also helps students become globally aware of people that live in different places and are of different cultures. It’s also free!

We started using Skype because we wanted our students to be able to get all of their wonderful questions answered.  By using this technology it puts the learning back on our students.  Students use their curiosity to come up with questions that help them dive deeper.  

Our Approach
We looked through our curriculum for topics that another professional/person would have more insight or first hand experience. Then we used our personal networks and Skype websites to find specific people to join our class for a Skype.

In my classroom, I thought it would be fun to find a scientist who could talk about the environment that they study.  I was not able to find one at the time, but while researching I found an explorer, Mark Wood, on the Skype website for educators that had explored both polar regions.  He was sponsored by Skype and had talked with classrooms before.  During our interview the students were super engaged and talked about it for weeks after.  Mark Wood our interviewee talked about his travels, his gear, his experiences, animals he had seen, etc.  He showed our students a polar bear tooth, Inuit glasses (which connected to our Island of the Blue Dolphin book), and some of his gear.  He even helped the students understand the difference of climate in the polar regions.  He was fabulous!
                                                        -Melissa Dowling 

In my classroom, we were reading a story called “A Very Important Day”. This story was about multiple families who immigrated to the US and on this important day, they were all becoming US citizens. While we were studying the story, many of my students had numerous questions about this citizen process. They were all wonderful questions; however, I realized that I could not answer most of them. It just so happens that one of my friends, Chris Frost, was getting his citizenship that same week. I connected with him and told him what we were doing in class and I asked if he would be willing to skype with my students. He agreed and on our skype interview, all of my students were able to get their questions answered and more! My students were so engaged and had fun asking him questions about his homeland, Scotland.
                                                                     -Lily Alberts 

Before both our interviews, we had students brainstorm questions that they would want the person to answer. We then picked about ten questions for the students to ask and wrote up a script so that students would know what to ask. To help make a successful interview/ conversations, we created roles for each student in the class. Our jobs were: greeter, closer, interviewers, data collectors, photographers, Google Earth/ Maps, and bloggers.
Student roles such as "Google Mapper" differentiate student responsibilities during the Skype video call.
Tips for Using Skype in Your Classroom
1.  Have the students practice introducing themselves and talking in front of a camera.
2.  Have students sit on the floor close together so that they all can be seen.
3.  Talk to students about minimizing background noises.
4.  Talk with students about lag time and if there is a lag to speak slower or pause to restart.
5.  Be sure to specifically teach each individual job-especially photography. During the call, students tend to get a bit camera happy and forget that a blurry picture is not a good one.

Our Next Steps
We both look forward to Skyping again.  Our ideas for new interviews are many.  Here are a few... someone who works on a ranch (ranchos), someone who lives on the prairie (Sarah, Plain and Tall), a geologist (rocks and minerals), an electrician (magnetism and electricity), an author, a zookeeper, another class in California or another country- the possibilities are endless!

Contributed by Lily Alberts, Loyola Fourth Grade Teacher
and Melissa Dowling, Almond Fourth Grade Teacher


  1. Thanks ladies for your post! You inspired me to use Skype within our iLearn class today! Hearing from others on Skype is a fun way to share knowledge and learn together.

  2. Lily and Melissa, your experiences sound great. My use of Skype in the classroom this year was a real eye-opener. I'm looking forward to including more connections next year. Now is probably a good time to post lesson requests for the fall and to see what is out there.