Can you imagine Homewood students talking with students in Poland or Puerto Rico, or visiting the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland? Those are just a few of the 22 destinations students in Homewood District 153 have been able visit and learn about through Skype the past several months.
Can you imagine Homewood students talking with students in Poland or Puerto Rico, or visiting the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland?
Those are just a few of the 22 destinations students in Homewood District 153 have been able visit and learn about through Skype the past several months.
Teacher Sandra Pons is taking advantage of technology that allows for voice and video phone calls over the Internet. She finds a teacher in another part of the United States or around the world that is willing to have students use a question-and-answer guessing game to learn where the other class is.
Each class uses a video camera. The visiting classroom is projected on the whiteboard in Homewood, and images of Homewood students travel via satellite relay to classrooms elsewhere.
On Monday, March 12, Homewood students brought out their maps and began asking questions to see if they could pinpoint the location of their partnering school. Are you near the equator? Are you in Asia? Are you near water?
Eventually, Abby Dean guessed that she and her classmates were reaching a class in the United Kingdom — Wales to be more precise. It was 8:30 a.m. in Homewood and 1:30 p.m. in the fifth and sixth grade in Wales.
Students at the other end of the call pinpointed the United States but had to ask numerous questions, including the importance of sports teams, before they could identify Illinois and then Chicago.
These Skype visits have students trading information on favorite foods, subjects and class sizes. It was shocking to local students that in Belarus students enjoy cucumbers on pizza.
“We thought it was weird,” said Naykeya Turner, 12. “Sometimes we talk about classes,” she added.
Students have discovered that schools typically don’t offer a District 153-type curriculum, and in Belarus the kids go to school until 6 p.m., and they have an afternoon class to learn English.
The weekly “trips” have helped Pons’ special education students learn geography, how to address questions and discover new things. Pons uses Microsoft Education, a special program for teachers that helps her develop a lesson around their visit. She typically uses Twitter or the software program to find a teacher willing to Skype.
The class remembers the visit to San Juan, Puerto Rico, because the school was without electricity after Hurricane Maria. The teacher had to take her students into a hallway for their Skype visit. Homewood students also picked out a Spanish accent as the class spoke English. Naykeya remembered they asked about recycling at Hart School.
Students enjoyed the virtual field trip to the zoo in Scotland where they saw the largest outdoor penguin pool in Europe. Pons used it for a science lesson on animal habitats.
“We got up close and personal with the penguins,” she said.
And U.S. park rangers gave them a tour of Grand Teton National Park so they could see a glacier and learn about the animals there. Students also worked on an amphibian unit by visiting a rain forest center in New York.
“They like the virtual field trips but I think they like more of Skypeing because it’s hands-on for them,” the teacher said. “I think a lot of that is the social piece and the cultural awareness.”
Pons doesn’t announce that her students are special needs. Her class of 10 has students at various levels of ability. What she finds is that both classes get just as excited when they answer the probing questions correctly.
To Pons, it shows no matter where you are “we’re all similar and want to get excited and try to guess. We just jump into it because I feel like they’re like the other kids in this one aspect. Culturally we’re different but really, we’re all the same.”