Over the summer, I read Kevin McLaughlin’s blog post about using Skype in his classroom to connect with a museum in Egypt when his class were learning about the Ancient Egyptians. I was truly inspired by this and knew that I had to get Skype installed on my school laptop so that I could use this valuable resource to really bring learning to life for the children in my class. Without delay, I sent an email to my Local Authority IT Services and asked for it to be installed on my laptop. Shortly afterwards, I received a reply:
“For security reasons we will not be able to install Skype on schools Pc’s [sic].”
I’m not one to take “no” for an answer, and I’m certainly not one to take “no” for an answer when the excuse is so vague. So off I went in pursuit of why this posed a security risk. While I waited for a response, I started a Twitter hashtag to find out who else is using Skype in schools and where they are. The #skypeinschools hashtag proved to be extremely popular and I received lots of responses from all over the world about where and how people were using Skype in school. The reason I started this hashtag was to have a bank of evidence of how schools in other Local Authorities are using Skype to enhance learning, but thankfully I didn’t need to use this, as my Headteacher convinced the powers-that-be that having Skype was necessary. We were granted access on a trial basis, and so Skype was finally installed!
Within a week of Skype being up-and-running, my class were having their first conversation with someone far away from where we are in Newcastle: Julia Skinner, the founder of the 100 Word Challenge paid us a visit! (Not my classroom, as my projector was at the projector hospital that day):
I felt that the children in my class were starting to lose interest in doing the 100 Word Challenge each week, so Julia paid us a visit to enthuse them and to give them some real-time feedback on their work. The result? Almost every child entered the 100 Word Challenge that week, completing the work at home that they had started in school. Success! Since we Skyped with Julia, the children regularly talk about “Mrs Skinner,” as they have been able to put a face to the name they see commenting on our class blog. This was a valuable experience and I thank Julia profusely for giving up her time to help us out.
This year, we have been taking part in the fantastic Quadblogging project run by the inspirational David Mitchell. Two of our Quadblogging partners are in Canada and the USA. We attempted to have a Skype conversation with our partners in Canada, however technology did let us down – the connection in Canada wasn’t strong enough to allow us to chat to each other face-to-face, however both classes were still able to type their questions and answers.
A small blip like this was not going to stop us, however! A couple of weeks ago, the @HotspurClass12 Twitter account got some feedback about our class blog from Lord Knight of Weymouth, formerly known as Jim Knight MP, who was Schools Minister under the Labour Government. I was very excited to tell the children that someone well-known had not only been on our blog, but had also been in touch. I emailed Lord Knight to ask if he would be interested in a Skype conversation with us, so that the children in my class could learn about the House of Lords and about how government in general works. Although this didn’t fit in at all with anything that we’re learning about in class, I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this and I’m always striving to teach the children in my class as much about the world we live in as possible. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting a reply, as being in government isn’t a particularly leisurely job and I wasn’t sure Lord Knight would have time to speak to a class of nine and ten year olds and their over-enthusiastic teacher, yet a couple of hours after I sent my email, a reply came back saying that he would be delighted to talk to us.
Earlier this week, we managed to find a time that suited both my class and Lord Knight, and so the Skype conversation was arranged. The visual timetable in my classroom that day was quite unique:
In preparation for the conversation, the children had had a thinking homework of what they might like to ask Lord Knight. They came up with some great questions, so we collated as many of the questions as possible:
So at 10.30am, I collected my class from singing practice and we said hello to Lord Knight:
This was an amazing learning experience for the children in my class. A lot of them have never been to London, so having someone speak to us live from the House of Lords was a big novelty. They asked some fantastic questions and learned lots from Lord Knight’s responses. We were able to learn about him and his background, but also about the roles of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I felt that aspirations in my class were really raised by this, as some children realised that they, too, could be an important politician some day if they wanted to be.
I feel that I should share one part of the conversation that really made me laugh:
Lord Knight: Do any of you know who the Prime Minister was before David Cameron?
Child: Gordon Ramsay.
Jokes, chefs and Scottish Prime Ministers aside, teaching children about the world we live in and about the way our country is run is vital if they are to become the next generation of voters, politicians and responsible citizens. Experiences like this will never be forgotten by the children in my class, and I am extremely grateful that there are politicians out there willing to give up their time to help educate the decision-makers of the future.
What does the future hold for Skype in my classroom? In just over a week, I’ll be heading to Belgium for a few days to a Comenius Contact Seminar. I plan to set a few challenges for my class while I’m gone, and I’ll be able to appear in the classroom and see them all thanks to Skype. I also hope to link my class with Tim Handley‘s class in the near future, as part of his Friday Conversations project.
Imagine if I had taken “no” for an answer…