We have been experimenting with using Skype video calls quite a bit in the classroom lately, and I have found it to be such a useful tool.
The added bonus is that I have 100% student participation and focus! I use the interactive whiteboard, with a MacBook with built in webcam for our calls, so all the students can see the video, and can see the participant on our side.
Last year I Skyped my cousin, a quadriplegic,who I had grown up with in Zimbabwe. Until the very end of the conversation the students did not realise that he was physically disabled. We spoke about his childhood and growing up in Africa. He also told them that as a child I had stolen his ice-cream, which delivered roars of laughter, and made it all very real for my students.
Last term we were having a look at World Geography. I contacted my 14 year old nephew in Michigan, and my class were able to ask him questions about the climate, population, schooling and so on. What worked really well, was that we planned the questions before hand, and I forwarded them to him, so that he could prepare answers. Each child had a turn to introduce him/herself and then asked the question assigned to him. We practiced listening and responding to the answers. At the end of the conference some of my boys performed the haka for him, which was a great hit at the other end! I have many other friends all over the world, and if I repeat this unit, I will certainly draw on my contacts to talk to my students about their countries!
This term we are focusing more on health and body issues. Yesterday we had a call to a colleague, Sue Hodge, who is at home with a back injury. She had a discussion with the students about back injuries, possible treatments and prevention. Although we had not prepared questions this time, it went really well, and the student participation was once again excellent.
Success depends very much on good organization. You need to have informed the participant on the other side of your learning intentions, and what type of questions they can expect.Remember to work out the time difference and agree on a suitable time and date! America is particularly tricky, as the time difference can be up to 16 hours! Also make sure that your students are prepared with questions, and understand what procedure is being used. A chat about protocols and ettiquette, and also interview techniques is very important. I like to send a quick chat message about half an hour before our call, just to make sure the participant is standing by, and that connectivity is OK.
I'm looking forward to Skyping more often, and will keep you posted. I would love to hear from anyone else that has used Skype in an interesting way!
I found this interesting post by Vicky Davis (Coolcat Teacher blog) on how she has implemented Skype in her classroom: Skype in the Classroom. She has a great video, so have a look!