May 162010

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with teachers and students from Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires, Argentina. We connected Preschoolers (4/5 year olds), Kindergarteners (5/6 year olds) first (6/7 year olds), and 6th (11/12 year olds) graders.

The success of these Skype connections are due mainly to the planning and commitment of the teachers involved on both sides of the webcam. I know without a doubt that their enthusiasm, adventurism and even blind trust in me with whatever I throw at them, contributes to being able to expose our students to a classroom open to a big world out there.

Here goes my shoutout to Heidi Musteros from Argentina, Tatiana Ugaz from Peru, Kathy Balek, Jane Cassette, Lisa Cronin, Allison Weaver & Terry Pickering from the USA. Without them, I would not have been able to see and hear our students so excited, surprised that the kids on the screen are “real”, learn about cultural differences and similarities and simply becoming “aware”.

An invaluable resource for me in preparing and setting the conferences up was Kim Cofino’s post 4 Steps to a Skype-tastic Video Conference. I set up 4 “hot seats” in the first row. The webcam was directly aimed at them, while we set up a few more rows up behind them for the rest of the class. It only took one time to show students that how to enter and exit efficiently out of the hot seat row.

6th graders from Buenos Aires and ours were the “guinea pigs” of our first skype conference. We wanted them to introduce each other and get a feel for the other group that they would be working on a video for, describing what life was like around the city that they lived in. On Halloween we received a invitation to skype the kids in Argentina again, as they had a “surprise” …. they dressed up in masks for us,

6th graders had never thought about the fact that Halloween might not be celebrated outside the US. How do you explain to someone “Trick or Treat”? What? Ring people’s doorbells and get candy from them? Maybe that might sound strange to someone else.

With the Kindergarten class we planned three Skype sessions with a class in Lima, Peru. The first one we wanted to play a game, where the five year olds would be able to introduce themselves. We lined up in a half circle on either side of the webcam and used a counting out rhyme in Spanish. The child that was picked went to the webcam and introduced themselves with “Me llama” or “My name is..”. The other side welcomed each student then personally with an enthusiastic “HOLA”.

For the second session, the class learned together with our Spanish teacher , a song in Spanish called “Una mano, dos manos”. Tatiana in Peru had also prepared the same song with her students. It was great to be able to sing together, although we were on 2 different continents, thousands of miles apart.

The students in Peru then taught us another song in Spanish called “La vaca Lola”

From that song, we asked each other what kind of sounds do other animals make in our countries. We found out that the dog says “wau-wau” in Peru, while in the USA it say “woof”. Cats in both countries say “Miau”, while a rooster will say “cacadoodledoo” in the USA and in Peru will sing “Kikeriki”.

Each class had a chance to ask questions : What is the weather like today?, What time is it?

We finished the video conference by singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in English and Spanish.

We can’t wait for our next videoconference with Peru next week as we will have a combined bilingual storytime.

Another video conference took place between two first grade classes (Argentina/USA). This time the children did not have one language in common. I started out by showing Google Earth on our screen and pointing the webcam at the screen at the same time, so both classes could see. We zoomed into Florida all the way to our school campus and then “flew” to South America into Buenos Aires.

We planned on a TPR (Total Physical Response) style lesson for both students. We gave each other commands, such as stand up, sit down, touch your nose, turn around, clap, dance, etc.

The realization that the kids on the screen are real and are watching us the same way that we were watching them came for the students, when they would sit down or touch their noses at the same time as we did.

How exciting to watch and hear the little ones talk about playing and talking with kids in Argentina and Peru, like it is the most natural thing in the world!

Looking forward to continuing to expose our elementary school students to something that seems to come so natural to them.

Global Awareness Going On

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May 062010

If you are NOT teaching or attending an international school, nor live in a metropolitan city, raising global awareness among your students does not happen by osmosis.

As a teacher, you have to work hard to expose your students to multiple languages, cultures, geography, different customs and traditions.

Global Awareness, according to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, includes:

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding  other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages

According to the National Geographic Roper Public Affairs Report 2006- Geographic Literacy Study  (pdf),

Young Americans appear to stick close to home, reporting limited contact with other
cultures outside the U.S.

  • Three-quarters (74%) have traveled to another state in the past year, but seven in ten (70%) have not traveled abroad at all in the past three years.
  • Six in ten (62%) cannot speak a second language “fluently.”
  • Nine in ten (89%) do not correspond regularly with anyone outside the U.S.
  • Only two in ten (22%) have a passport.

Raising global awareness and making global connections for teachers and students has been one of my goals this year. Although isolated, one time connections are better than none. I am witnessing a transformation in students and teachers who are regularly participating in global connections.

Let me give you an example:

Third graders have had opportunities to connect live via Skype to Italy, Israel, New Zealand, Finland, Canada and various states within the USA this year.

Alison Quinn, the teacher from Finland, wrote a reflective blog post about our connection:

They asked and answered great questions that highlighted both the differences (geographically and culturally) and similarities – this was so key. The similarities now seem insignificant – two kids on opposite sides of the ocean have art as their favourite subject – both groups of kids like pizza, the same TV shows – and the same Hannah Montana song. But these seemingly insignificant shared pieces of pop culture astounded and united the kids who were oceans away from each other.

I am in complete agreement with Alison. Although seemingly insignificant, these kinds of interactions contribute to a connected feeling, they contribute to a global awareness, that otherwise would not exist.

Seeing students being aware of a bigger world than their own backyard is a first step towards global education. Hearing students use names of far away countries, talk about different languages, cultures and traditions as if they were frequent travelers and jet-setters is a step in the right direction. Making connections with students from around the world is becoming “just the way it is”… normal… part of their lives in the 21st Century.

Take a moment to watch and listen to the third graders (from the US) talk about what had surprised them when skyping with third graders from Helsinki, Finland.


Using Experience to Reach Others

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May 062010

The title of this post “Use Experience to Reach Others” is from a blog post one of our 7th grade (Jewish) students wrote after skyping with (Muslim) students from Minnesota. (Thanks Micah!)

Last month, our Middle School students became the Experts as they were talking bout Judaism to 7th grade classes from Michigan, who were studying World Religions. Our students asked the class from Michigan if they had any Jewish students (which they didn’t) and if they knew any Jews personally (which they didn’t). There was one Muslim student in their class and our students immediately asked her questions about Islam. After the Skype call was over, our students expressed interest in contacting and connecting with other Muslim students in order to learn more about their religion.

A quick tweet out put me in contact with the Banadiir Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the American School of Khartoum, Sudan. Thank you Trey Wodele and Damianne for making the connection !

The first Skype call was set up with Minnesota. During the call, which lasted almost an hour, I witnessed what I am defining as a transformative learning experience. Students had a list of questions prepared about Islam. In the beginning (first 20-30 minutes), the conversations felt very scripted as students read and answered the questions off their list. That changed when students from Minnesota asked “Do you want to see how we pray?” There was an enthusiastic “Yes” on the Florida end of the screen. As they were watching and listening to the explanation, one student ran to get his Tallit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin to show and demonstrate how Jews dress while they pray.

From that moment on, students truly interacted with each other on both sides of the screen. It was the moment that questions came off the list they had prepared and curiosity took over, connections and articulation of their own experiences reached a new level. Skype made it a transformative learning experience by:

  • making it a conversation… a back and forth
  • personalizing the questions and answers
  • connecting it to their own experiences
  • making learning go far beyond what a static text book page can provide

I could tell that the wheels in the students’ minds were still turning as the Skype call ended. After leaving the “Social Studies” class and heading over to their next period, the 7th grade “Language Arts”teacher jumped on the opportunity to build on this learning experience of her students. She asked them to take the notes they had taken during the Skype call and write a reflective blog post about their experience.

Find an excerpt of their posts below with links to their classroom blog and a short 90 second video of the Skype connection.


An Eye-Opening Experience

I believe that not only should we Skype with people of different religions, we should want to Skype with them. The experience is eye opening and very informative. I now understand many things about Muslims that I did not before, and they probably learned things about us that they did not know before. This was fun and a great learning experience. If you are someone who is ready to learn about new things and people, you should try Skyping, too!

Reflection on this Morning

Hopefully, technology can bring us together so we can see the good and the similarities in each other, instead of the differences.

Skyping with Muslims in Minneapolis

There are so many disagreements with our cultures. Those disagreements break the chains of our friendships. We need to take a stand and connect the chains back together. They are great people; some other religions like Catholic and Hindu, and not just us, need to Skype with them.

What I Learned

I want to write letters to the Somalian Muslim students that my class and I skyped with, like “Pen Pals”; and maybe, just maybe, we can become close friends – you never know.

Using our Experience to Reach others

I am Jewish and I just skyped with kids who are Muslims. From this experience, I realized that we have more similarities than differences. We, and people of all religions, need to put our differences aside and look at our similarities.[…] If we take the time to get to know religions other than our own we will understand, just like I did, that we can get along. So, my one wish for the world, is that one day we will have peace – it is up to every one of us, and can begin with a single conversation.

Skyping with Muslims in Minnesota

Rational hate would be us Americans hating the people who were behind 9/11. Irrational hate would be us hating every Muslim we see, just because they are Muslim. What is the reason behind it? It’s the same as saying you never want to speak to a German again because of the Holocaust. That person could be totally against Hitler. Never judge a book by its cover; those who do may miss the best read of their life.

7th Grade + Modern Technology = An Endless World of Learning

It was just a normal morning in March. I walked through the school doors ready for my daily classes: Hebrew, math, science, English, and history. Today, though, I learned so much more than those subjects. At 10:00 A.M., we dived into the beliefs and traditions of a different religion, Islam…via our modern technology, Skype. […] Over all, this was a fantastic experience that many people would probably never get to have. We shared information about ourselves and learned about a different religion. Hopefully, one friendly interaction at a time, more and more people will begin to realize the similarities connecting people around the world.

A Skype Odyssey

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May 062010

An Odyssey is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

1 : a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune
2 : an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest

image licensed under CC by Let Ideas Compete

I can’t help but make the association with the above definition of “wandering” ,”changes of fortune” and “quest” with my Around the World with 80 Schools project.

The Quest

It has been over a year, since I have embarked on making connections with and for my teachers and students around the world. The journey has been nothing short of eye opening and wondrous.

Broaden your Horizon

When I first thought of using Skype in the classroom, I wanted to broaden my students’ (and other teachers’) horizon. I wanted them to say “We talked to someone in Argentina today” or “The kids in Thailand are just like us” or “Teachers in New Zealand are preparing similar lessons than I do”. I wanted to bring the geography and global awareness of other countries and cultures into everyday vocabulary.


I wanted them (students & teachers) to be “awed” at the possibilities that technology can open up to us. I wanted them to be shocked at how easy and economical it was to make the world part of their classroom.

Change in Fortune

The “Awwws” ,”Wows” and “That is incredible” did come, but also did the “I don’t have the time to prepare my students for skype calls with other classes”, “It takes too much time away from curriculum content” and other variations of “It’s nice, but…”.

Wes Fryer says It takes leadership to get creative in schools and support the use of Skype. Wes addresses the technology (bandwidth and security) part of that equation in his post. I am venturing out to say that leadership at schools also need to be creative and understand the pedagogical value and curriculum connections that video conferencing has in terms of learning.

Leadership needs to support “pioneering” educators. They need to be allowed to go through a process of experimenting, evaluating, reflecting to see the effects of regular video conferencing on cross-curricula integration, student learning, motivation and engagement. We also need to get creative in involving and educating parents. With many of them unfamiliar with the technology (which appears to include such a strikingly different method than they remember from their own school days), they might not understand the educational use for such a tool in the classroom.



There had to be something more to merely using a webcam and calling another class in another city and country. There had to be subject area integration, there had to be ways to support (20th AND) 21st century skills and literacies, there had to be something more than an initial “Wow”.

The wandering paid off. There IS something more than the tool:

It is NOT about the tools...

The Understanding

The understanding that it never was about the tool (Skype or the webcam) started settling in. As students (and teachers) started to be part of regular Skype calls, it crystallized itself that it was all about the connections, the authentic experiences and knowledge we were able to bring to our students in addition to the communication opportunities. More and more students took their experiences home and asked their parents to install Skype in order for them to talk to far away grandparents or friends who had moved away.

It became apparent...

Experiences such as learning about whales from kids in Canada or becoming the experts for other students from Michigan or interviewing Jews from around the world as part of a research project were just the beginning to help us understand that it is about an awareness for teachers and students.

An awareness:

  • which takes learning off the pages of textbooks
  • that gives students the tools to make connections with experts and eyewitnesses
  • that can lead them to authentic information”just in time” [personalized] for them
  • that our classrooms can be as big as the world

An Odyssey transforms the traveler. I believe that we are catching a glimpse of how Skype, the tool, is transforming learning and teaching. It is making a real impact on how information is accessed, who we are communicating with and how we are connecting to the world around us.

Here are some journal entries from second graders about their thoughts of Skype:

If I could talk to anyone on Skype, I would choose my Au Pair, Magdalena, because I haven’t seen her in a while.

Skyping is learning new things to me.

I learned how to talk to different people from different countries.

I have learned to make friends.

I would Skype with my Tante Heni, she is my aunt.

I learned about the Olympics skyping.

I would like to skype with Houston, because I would like to talk about football.

Skype is like Facebook, but better.

I would like to skype with the president.

Skype is a way to meet new people who speak different languages.

A window to the world...

Our students are learning and understanding that there are more available resources to them than printed material. Our teachers are starting to include potential Skype connections in their planning in order to extend learning. There is a buzz around school that has is shifting from “Where are we skyping to…” to “We are studying… and skyping to learn about…”

The following video is from clips, I have been recording over the last few months. Nothing was scripted, many times just recorded when passing by in the hallway. I am hoping to continue recording students to see if a shift in their answers will also become apparent.

Becoming the Experts

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May 062010

I received a tweet from Michael Kaechele, Technology Teacher at Valleywood Middle School.

What an opportunity!

Michael and I set the Skype calls up for the following week. I had a meeting with our Judaica teachers to get them involved and Brian, the Social Studies teacher from Michigan, shared a Google Doc with the questions his students were interested in asking.

Our students were very excited in being seen as “experts” and talked with their teachers about the questions and how to articulate their answers.

Since there were three sections of Social Studies classes from Michigan, we involved our 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to take over one section each.


After our Skype calls, I received the following email from Michael:

Just wanted to say thanks for the calls yesterday. It was a great experience for our students to learn from yours. The social studies teacher liked it and wants to try again. Quote from student “They are just like us”

That says it all for me-breaking down walls of stereotypes that they might have just because we do not have a large Jewish community here.

I could not agree more with Michael. Opportunities like these, facilitated by technology tools (such as video conferencing) and Twitter (to make the initial connection), are taking learning off the pages of a book for our students (social studies book in this case). They give young people the opportunity to articulate what they have learned and share it. It brings in a kind of authentic learning that ordinarily the students in Michigan might not have had (meeting and talking to other Jewish kids their age).

Is that what “transforming” learning is about? Not doing the same assignments… the same content…simply with a different tool…?

Is it being able to do something that was simply not possible before…?

Tom Barrett on his blog wrote:

transformative learning is what I am looking for, because replication offers no benefit to a teacher – all it produces is ostensibly a better presented piece of work and more of a headache to setup. The technology has to offer a whole new level of interaction […] that cannot be gained from the traditional method explained above.

The learning activity has to be transformed into something that provides a greater depth of learning and interaction. There has to be a pedagogical shift.

I am thinking that the above mentioned learning example could not have been possible “before”.

  • … before Twitter… most likely @concretekax and I would not have connected
  • … before Skype … we would not have been able to bring our students together. Video conferencing is the closest we have to a face to face meeting. A phone call would not have produced the same results of the feeling to be in “one” classroom.
  • … before… our students would not have been called upon to be teachers to their peers across the country.
  • … before… students from Michigan would have learned about Judaism from their teacher, from the pages of their social studies book and quite likely would not know or meet anyone Jewish in their community.

Skype Connection Rituals

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May 062010


In the process of Skype becoming more and more popular in schools and teachers are becoming more comfortable in using it with their students. there seems to be something else emerging:


Two of the Around the World with 80 Schools participants have let me know of a ritual that they are observing at the start of a Skype conversation another school.

Lorraine Leo from the Jackson School writes:

Our class traditionally sings ‘The Circle Song’ at the beginning of our Skype contact with schools followed by a short chat.

The lyrics the song are:

Come and join the circle, come and take my hand. Come and join the circle. Come and be my friend. Gather round and see what the world can be. Come and join the circle. Come and share God’s word with me.

Another ritual came to me via the wiki invitation from one of the participants ( I am sorry, but I can’t remember who it exactly was. You know who you are, please drop me an e-mail or comment here, so I can give you properly credit :) )

We start out every Skype conversation with a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. The winner out of three games, wins cookies from the other class.

I think the idea of a ritual is a great one. On wikipedia, you can read

The purposes of rituals are varied; they include […] strengthening of social bonds […] stating one’s affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event — or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself.

I have added a page on the Project’s Wiki to add your existing school’s Skype ritual or an idea of one.

Leave us your school’s ritual or routine as a comment on this post.

I am off to think of one for my school… :)

Skype Jobs for Students

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May 062010

There is a sense of excitement in the room, when our students get ready to conduct a Skype call. I almost want to compare it to a “traditional” vision of a newsroom before a deadline. Everyone is buzzing, running here, running there to get ready for their job assignment. Don’t ask why, but I have the memory of a scene in the “Watergate”movie with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in my mind.
Skyping: Assigned Roles

(click on the image for a larger version):

  1. Calendar
    • Responsible for adding Date & Time of planned Skype connection to shard & embedded Google Calendar
  2. Greeter
    • Greets the partner school.
    • Makes initial introduction.Talks about Geographic location.
  3. Share
    • Shares something special about class, school, city, state or country.
    1. Could be song, dance, souvenir, project, sports team, etc.
  4. Q &A
    • Asks specific questions for data collection.
    • Responsible for keeping conversation fluid
  5. Photographer
    • Responsible for documenting connection with still images.
  6. Videographer
    • Responsible for documenting connection with video.
  7. Backchannel Writers
    • Documenting conversation, questions, answers and classroom happenings during the connection on a backchannel chat (Ex. Today’s Meet)
  8. Backchannel Cleanup
    • Responsible to save backchannel chat as a Word Document and cleaning up duplicate comments and mark questionable statements to be verified.
  9. Live Blogger
    • Blogs skype call live to classroom blog
  10. Blogger Word Problem
    • Creates a Math word problem from data, questions and answers collected during skype call
  11. Google Earth
    • Finds location of skype partner and measures distance in miles & kilometers.
  12. Google Map
    • Responsible for adding placemark of Skype partner’s location to embedded Google Map on classroom blog.
  13. Info Station
    • Responsible to search for any data question on the spot.
    • Verifies any questionable information as well.
  14. Data Entry
    • Responsible for adding data collected into embedded google form on classroom blog. Ex. distance miles/km, temperature in F/C.
  15. Elapsed time
    • Responsible for noting time Skype call started and ended as well as calculating elapsed time.

Around the World with 80 Schools

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Apr 162010

Welcome to the Around the World with 80 Schools blog.

Around the World with 80 Schools started in January 2009 and is an ongoing project.

In order to join you have to be directly involved with students (Pre-K-16, Adult Language Learners, etc.). This is NOT the platform for you, if you are charging a fee in order to skype with students.

Become a member by creating an account, so  you can contact other members (or viceversa) in order to coordinate a Skype connection.

Also consider creating a blog on to document your connections and to be part of a group of educators who are interested in seeing how exactly video conferencing is impacting student learning.

The challenge is to connect your students with 80 schools from around the world via Skype (a free video conferencing tool).

Once completed, you will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of “Skyping Certified Educator” :)
So make sure you keep documentation of your connections (for example as blog posts).

It is up to you how regularly and for how long you connect with your Skype partners. The only requirement to count as a “connection” is that you are connecting your students with another school anywhere in the world.

While it will take some participants a few months to complete the challenge, it might take others several years and different student groups to connect with 80 schools. There is no time limit nor pressure to make a certain amount of Skype connections in a given time period.

You are welcome to join with your students at any time. There is no grade nor subject area limitations.


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