I See You! Now Let's Read!

More and more lately, when I ask people if they "Know how to Skype," or know about Skype, the answer is in the affirmative. I've seen a dramatic shift even since last year. Another interesting thing, is that when I ask my students who they're Skyping with, they say it's mostly with their Grandparents (who usually live "far away"). On the flip-side, my wife who owns a Toy Store, is hearing the same thing—from the Grandparents. This makes sense: Students have time to Skype, and most Grandparents have the time and desire to connect with their grandkids. Perfect. We are finally there!

Seriously, here are a few anecdotal interactions my wife has had with her grandparent customers:

*a senior customer wasn't sure if the toy she was going to buy was right for her granddaughter. "No problem," she said. "I'll buy it and Skype with her sister [the other granddaughter], and show it to her and make sure it's a good fit."
*many senior customers talk to my wife about sending the toys, and then playing with the child on Skype once it arrives!
*and of course, many seniors are reading books to their grandchildren on Skype.

There are many more examples (and my students are backing up what my wife has told me), but I truly think we have come a very far distance with Video Chat (be it Skype, iChat, FaceTime, etc). People are comfortable with it. They realize the benefits: it's free, it's easy once someone shows you how to set it up, and it's the next best thing to being there.

But... what I'd like to do in this post is have us dig a little deeper. If Skype is working so well out of school (and not just for Grandparents/grandchildren... plenty of us are also using Skype), then why are we not using it more in school?

I will be as bold to say that I think Skype (or some counter part) should be used daily in classrooms! Perhaps several times a day. Perhaps throughout the entire day!

Ok: hear me out.

If grandparents and grandkids are already connecting through Skype in the home lives, doesn't it make sense to incorporate it into school?

Scenario: Wanda, a student in 3rd grade has a grandmother who is free every single day at 1:00. Wanda's grandmother could Skype everyday (or at least some days) to listen to students read during Wanda's Reading block. Can you see it? One computer, or iPad, or iPhone, or iTouch with Wanda's grandma on one end and she is set up as a "Reading Center" where 4 students get to read to her that day.

Now, I know: here comes all the safety talk (i.e., how well does the teacher know Wanda's grandma?). There are many factors (as with the use of all technology that will need to be discussed), but until the Teacher gets to know Wanda's grandmother, perhaps the teacher asks her own mother: "Would you want to volunteer in my classroom "x-number a times" a week?" It doesn't matter if she lives 2,000 miles away. As long as the Internet is working, the Teacher's mother (who may be a senior citizen with plenty of time on her hands) gets the opportunity to volunteer and feel and be incredibly helpful.

There are so many ways to connect with "Skype-Volunteers" to enhance our students' learning. I'm a teacher on the East Coast of the USA. I could commit once a week to Skype with a class on the West Coast or even Australia, when I'm not working (this is when Time Zones work in our favor).

So, teachers: grab your IT folks (if you need tech assistance), give them chocolate and ask them to set your one computer in your classroom (more true than not for most classrooms) to become a Volunteer center where daily Skype Centers (or weekly, or monthly... but I hope you get to be a "Daily Champ!") can happen.

I know I don't need to give you ideas for how the Centers could be used (the can parallel the way you're already using your "in class" Volunteers now), but I'll get the juices flowing:

*Students reading to the Skype-Volunteers
*Skype-Volunteers reading to the children
*Skype-Volunteers and students playing Math Games or even poker! (why not? there's a lot of higher level thinking in poker! Now, I know this one might be hard to set up... you'd have to make sure the deck of cards are split correctly on each side of the conversation... I would just find a kid-friendly site to play)
*Speaking of which, get those Skype-Volunteers playing ARCADEMICS (a great Math Game site)
*Students work on writing with Skype-Volunteers (scan and send draft ahead of time)
*Students report on what they just learned in Science (or any other subject) with Skype-Volunteers
*Students read their writing or written reports to Skype-Volunteer
*Skype-Volunteers give class presentations on subjects they are well versed in
*Students and Skype-Volunteers compare and chart weather daily
*Students and Skype-Volunteers read an online article (chosen by teacher) together and talk about it after
*Students and Skype-Volunteers have lunch together! And just "hang out!"

Etc., etc., etc. There is no end to what could be done. In fact, as you think of them, would you share them here in the comments section.

One more thing: my title, "I See You!" comes from the fact that every Skype conversation I've been in, someone (or all in the call) says this at the beginning of each call. One reason I think is to assure the other party that we've made the connection. But the other reason is because I think we are still amazed by this. You're halfway around the world, and I can see you. And learn with you.

cross-posted on http://bobsprankle.com/bitbybit_wordpress