Saturday, June 16, 2012

Scaffolding Skype

I think most people can agree that science happens to be one of those subjects that kids naturally get excited about. I always say that I have the best "gig" in the building. Students come into my room from day one with enthusiasm and great questions. They are ready to roll!

Of course, many images like this comes to their mind!

In any case, the love for science is already there! 5th graders are natively the best scientists around. So, I feel that the best thing I can do for them is to CONNECT them to other scientists. My task then becomes giving them a forum to continue their conversations, ask questions, learn together, create and build representations of their learning and ideas!

Skype offers this forum. I can connect my students to other classrooms of scientists around the country! The possibilities are endless. Right? Right! However, I wanted to do this well. So, like any activity I want my students to do well, I scaffold the experience giving them opportunities to practice, experience success, and expand on the activity.

How? This is how I approached it with 100+ students in a day...

*We started SMALL!

I set up short 15-20 minute Mystery Skypes with other 4th and 5th grade classrooms that I had connected professionally on twitter. (You can find out a TON about Mystery Skypes and the roles students perform during these skypes by doing a simple google search.)

I was able to give the students pre-Mystery Skype practices by calling another one of my accounts with a student in another classroom. Or, my classes called other teachers in my building or my friend, Gary in Oregon. Just giving them an opportunity to do a quick run through made ALL the difference when the Skype calls really got rolling!

These Mystery Skypes allowed me to have conversations with my students about the content we were sharing (geography, science, map skills, etc) AND the manners and behaviors required of a this type of connection. We talked about clarity of voice, eye contact, asking follow up questions, and showing interest in the other class.

Side note---the content my students shared became SO ingrained in them because of the practice and sharing sessions. Information about our ecosystem, geography, economy, and culture was repeated over and over...pretty cool!

*Spreading our wings...

After my students gained confidence in the Mystery Skype mode, we were ready to spread our wings and expand our delivery of content. skypes!

We used our classes that we had connected with to share other science content that we were learning. Our calls to our partner scientists ranged from:
*performing investigations for each other
*singing and dancing our science songs
*showing our water cycle model
*sharing our NASA moon and meteorite samples
*playing game shows with our science content

These skypes always ended with smiles and high fives amongst my students. They scurried out into the hall sharing with the incoming students about how awesome our partner classes were! Science conversations continued all day long.

*Ready for more...

With our science learning including great videos from TED Talks and The Symphony of Science, my students were ready to talk to scientists around the country. I didn't initially know if any scientist would respond to my emails. But, I was SUPER fortunate to not have one scientist respond...but two!

After watching Phil Plait, @BadAstronomer discuss meteor impacts on a TED Talk, my students had so many awesome questions. So, I contacted Dr. Plait through the TED Talk profile pages, and we set up a time to Skype. WOW! He was awesome! So kid friendly, patient, and excited...the skype was phenomenal. My students had created and voted on questions to ask. They stood before the camera with the most respectful, professional manners. And, it was truly a moment of pride for me! At the end of the Skype, the kids were cheering, and I gave away a couple of his books.

This success gave me the courage to send an email to another scientist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. My students had listened to several of his videos. They were singing along to Symphony of Science, Onward to the Edge. They were hooked! So, it seemed logical to send a request his way.

I didn't think that we were going to be able to connect because he is a REALLY busy guy! But, when I read the email from Dr. Tyson's assistant confirming a Skype meet up, my hands were shaking with excitement!

This was the grand finale to the year for us! The students were ready for this. I was MORE than excited. We were all nervous. But, when the skype call got going, it was amazing how poised, confident, and inquisitive the students were.

Video of Tyson Skype

I truly believe that this experience was so powerful for many reasons:
*Dr. Tyson is just AWESOME!
*The students had control over the science conversation.
*The students were practiced, seasoned Skypers through the scaffolded interactions through the year.

So, this was my process. I'm sure I made some mistakes, but I'm positive that next year I'll be ready to embark on this journey with another 100+ fifth grade scientists. And, we will learn together.


  1. Leah,
    We were very fortunate to be one of the recipient classrooms you skyped with this year. Your students were wonderful explaining the water cycle and sharing their knowledge of the moon via the moon rocks.

    You not only make science come alive for your fifth graders but you truly flatten your classroom walls and share your expertise with other classes like ours. I have learned so much from you and you inspired me to become a better, more involved science teacher.

    Kids are naturally excited about science and we need to capitalize on that to expand their knowledge base. I love that you have used skype to find scientists who are willing to share with elementary students. This deepens the excitement/engagement of the kids and makes the learning real world.

    Thank you for outlining your use. You provide incentive for people who are in various stages of Skype use in the classroom.

    Looking forward to connecting again next year!

    1. Nancy,
      I've tried to reply a couple, I hope you get this!
      I am thrilled that you want to connect our students again because I think we all benefited so much in the conversations and excitement level. I am excited to connect in the fall. :)

  2. I love your Mystery SKYPE idea and I think that I will try it for science this year! I will be looking for other classes this year to SKYPE with too. Check out my website if you are interested.

    Mrs. Esswein

    1. Your site looks great! The science and learning with technology is wicked cool! I would LOVE to connect in the fall. I look forward to setting that up. We can build a really good schedule for sharing and learning. :) Thanks!