Skype as a Research Tool in Kindergarten
I have recently started an online course called COETAIL (Certificate in Educational Technology and Information Literacy). I've arrived at the end of my first course which means a final project! This first course has really made me think more carefully about why and how I am using technology in the classroom. I am now trying harder to always ask myself if it's just a cool presentation or if there is some learning and/or benefit to integrating it into a lesson.
***This is a post I put on my COETAIL blog and am reposting here***
As I started to think about my final project, I focused my thinking on one main thing:
How can I integrate technology so that it enhances learning in a part of the curriculum we are already doing?
After going through each curriculum area and what unit we were on in each of them, I saw the most possibility in our Social Studies unit entitled "We all have a History" with a focus on personal histories. Some of the major ideas that this unit focused on were:
Sequencing of events over time
Things change over time
Connecting these two concepts to their personal lives
Skype as a Research Tool
I decided that I would plant a seed to get my kids wondering. We discussed our class and what a timline might look like for us. Some children brought up our daily schedule and talked about how we always have Writing workshop in the morning and Mandarin in the aftenoon. They also found patterns in our recess and lunch times. Then I asked, "Do you think Kindergarten is the same everywhere?" I got a mix of answers, both 'yes' and 'no', but none could fully justify or say that they knew for sure because we had no evidence. So then I asked, "Ms. Peter's class is all the way on the other side by the hallway, we never see them working because their classroom is so far. Do you know if they do the same things as us in Kindergarten? How could we find out?" Some said we could run over there and look, but then that would mean we would have to keep running back and forth. I also mentioned that Ms. Peter's class was wondering what we do in our class too, so if we went to visit them, they wouldn't get to see what we were doing at that time. Plus, the kids also decided it wasn't very pratical or time efficient.
Our class has used Skype over the year to make global connections with other Kindergarten classes around the world. The children were familiar with the calling process and understood how it worked. So, eventually one of the kids suggested we just call them on Skype and we would be able to see what the other class was doing and they could see us too.
The one thing that I feel is missing from a lot of global collaboration projects in early childhood is the element of hands-on learning. So, I thought that this opportunity to conduct Skype calls with people we see at recess and in the lunchroom everyday would give the kids a better awareness that we are calling real people.
We called each other once a day over one week at school. The students helped me to brainstorm questions that would give us the answers we needed for each call:
What are you learning right now?
Can you show us?
What time is it?
The calls were short but informative and they really got into it, always reminding me or asking me what time we were going to call Ms. Peter's class. The other thing that I thought worked well was that the use of Skype meant we could look at the timeline of our week in real time. Often when we do units on history or our lives, the students rely heavily on stories they were told by their family members, memories, photograps and videos as evidence. In this case, we were documenting a part of our lives as we lived it!
Each time we conducted a Skype call, the teachers took a picture of the classes within the activity they were doing during the call and these were printed out. The children helped me to sort the photos sequentially along a timeline according to the days of the week and I also used this as a way to authentically conduct interactive writing. We as researchers had to document our findings so each day we collaboratively worked on writing the day, time and activity that we were doing during the call and also what the other class was doing. The best part about this was that this was the first time ever that my studetns were ASKING me to do interactive writing. They were engaged and excited about documenting their findings as researchers! Here is an image of both timelines completed:
At the end of the week, the children interpreted this information by writing their observation into a page which would be combined into a class book. Here are two examples of pages from this book:
The other wonderful thing that came out of both the interactive writing and the class book is that my students noticed the funny "comma" I used that was "floating in the air". They were referring to the apostrophe and I used this curiosity to teach them about how and apostrophe with 's' made something possessive. Now, they use it in their own writing, both correctly and incorrectly, but they are definitely remembering it and experimenting with it!
Once we had finished the week conducting Skype calls with a class within our school, we still hadn't been able to answer the question about whether or not Kindergarten is the same in other places. So, with a little prompting, "Who could we call to find out?" the kids unanimously decided we should call our friends in Mr. Joe's (@pep073) Class in Singapore, whom we had called many times before. The whole process was repeated with this second class in Singapore including the creation of timelines and a class book.
The kids found these calls really interesting and they lasted for longer because more questions had to be asked to find out information. In the first week when we called a class within our school, we usually understood what the other class was doing when they told us and the calls were short. For instance, if they said they were having Writing Workshop, no further questions came up because we had Writing Workshop too and the students knew what it was. This time the students inquired more about the activities because a lot of the time, we were unfamiliar with the activity or called it by a different name. For instance, during one call, Mr. Joe's class was choosing 'passwords'. My students had no idea what this was so the questions started flowing!
"How do you choose a password?"
"What do you do with the password?"
"What if you can't read it? Can you still get into the classroom?"
I love that the calls took on a life of their own, and the kids let their curiosity direct the calls!
The big question was, did we forget to call each other at any point? ABSOLUTELY! Wonderful thing about Skype was we could leave each other video messages when that happened explaining what we were doing.
To wrap it all up, we brainstormed together as a class our "Big Understandings" about the whole project and what we learned about timelines, change and Kindergarten.
As a last mini reflection, I had the students work in partners to video record each other saying one big thing that they learned. I like having the students work in partners with the iPads because they have now learned how to encourage and extend each other to say more by asking further questions such as "why?" or "how?" I used these videos as overlays in Aurasma. In one of the class books, their picture is will be next to their writing and their peers can use their iPad to scan the picture and listen to what their friends learned from the experience. The children enjoy this because they make connections and like to comment on who had the same or similar ideas as they did.
Here are a few examples of the Auras. I screencasted them so that you wouldn't have to download Aurasma to view them if you didn't want to. Enjoy!
Would love to hear any comments! Would you have done something differently? Would this work somewhere in your curriculum?