Friday, November 6, 2015

Skype in the Classroom Lessons Inspire Global Citizens

After two years of working as a curriculum coach, helping teachers and students find really incredible learning experiences, I have switched roles this year.  For the first time in my 19 year career I am teaching 3rd-5th grade science.  In many ways this is a dream job for me. My philosophy that learners should be encouraged to wonder, experiment, learn from failure, and connect with others around the world fit perfectly in an elementary science lab.  Since I am in the same school, I have the added benefit of working with students who have learned with me for the past two years.  They know the power of using their learning to do good for others, and they feel empowered that they can make a positive change in this world through their actions.  They know they don't have to wait until they are adults to make a difference.

It is this culture of service and student empowerment that led to the post I am writing today. Two recent Skype in the Classroom lessons were such powerful learning experiences that they inspired my students to take action to make the world better. I am so proud of my students, and so convinced that these type of global videoconferences with passionate experts are vital to 21st Century learning environments that I had to share. 

Earlier this year I was searching on Skype in the Classroom for lessons that fit our state science standards.  I saw that SANCCOB, a sea bird rehabilitation facility in South Africa, offered a lesson that showed students the effects of plastic pollution on penguins with a live penguin on the Skype call. I booked this virtual field trip to help my 4th graders learn about the way animals interact with their environment. I also came across a lesson from the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher that showed students the effects of ocean acidification on sea creatures.  This fit right along with our 5th grade studies of human impact on the environment and wildlife.

Both calls were amazing experiences for my students. Student engagement was off the charts, and the kids learned the exact concepts that I was hoping they'd learn. The aquarium actually did demonstrations with sea shells and vinegar to show how acid affects ocean animals, and showed live echinoderms and shelled mollusks on a document camera so kids could learn about them.

 Tamyln from SANCCOB was equally amazing and along with Princess, a live penguin who helped out, she shared pictures and examples of sea birds who have been harmed by plastics in the ocean.

As incredible as those calls were, it was my students' reaction to the learning that made me happiest. After students have a Skype experience, I always ask them to share their learning in some way with other classes who didn't get the same opportunity. My 5th grade students decided to create posters for my science classroom sharing ways to reduce factory production of carbon dioxide, which leads to ocean acidification. As they were making their posters, they started talking about ways to reuse materials in school. 

At the same time, my 4th graders were so inspired by their call with SANCCOB that they were seeking ways to solve the plastic pollution problem outside of science class. In between our Skype call and their next science class, several of the students got together and requested a meeting with my principal to demand we start a school recycling program. He told them that we would start a program if they planned it and agreed to run it.

When those 4th grade students came to their next class, they saw the posters from our 5th graders and saw that a "reusing" program would do even more good than a "recycling" program.  Together, the two classes began collecting water bottles at home and at school, and they began to look at ways that the bottles could be reused instead of discarded or recycled. 

The 5th graders are in the process of using many of those bottles to build a walk-in cell museum for their parents during parent-teacher conferences in an empty classroom.  Most of the organelles are being built by students out of materials that otherwise would have been thrown away. The 4th graders have begun planning ways to use bottles as planters and to build a drip irrigation system for the vegetable plants that will be planted in our school gardens in the spring as part of the Global Garden Project

One of the concerns I had when I switched roles this year was that the culture of student empowerment and service that I had helped develop in our school during my time as a curriculum coach would start to fade. I'm so proud of my students for showing me that my fears were baseless, and that they are continuing to look for ways to take action to make the world a better place.