Skype at Ampilatwatja

Towards the end of last term I was contacted via Twitter by Kim from Holy Eucharist Primary School, about setting up a Skype between our students. Harmony was to be a focus of theirs in term two and Kim was keen to set up some real life experiences in relation to this topic. We hoped to talk about the concept of happiness and what it means to be happy where the students live (Melbourne and Ampilatwatja).

I would say I am quite the experienced ‘Skyper’ however in the lead up to this session I was quite nervous, yet also quite excited. It was to be my first Skype experience with my Alyawarr speaking class of 3/4 students.

As most teachers do, I have very friendly and positive relationships with my students. But being in the context I am in, it has taken these students a number of months to completely warm up to me and truly come out of their shells. So I was nervous about how these kids may react when faced with 20-30 complete strangers. I shared these concerns with Kim and she was very understanding, we decided to focus on developing relationships and links between the classes, rather than the concept of harmony. This idea aligned nicely with my rationale to use Skype as a way to ‘travel’ around the world, allowing students to meet people of different cultures, religions and backgrounds.

At Ampilatwatja School we spent some time preparing. We wrote questions and practised asking and answering these. Being an experienced Skyper I was able to explain the concept and purpose of the session to my students. Much to my delight, they were very excited. So much so that when Kim had some technical difficulties on the day our Skype session was scheduled my class got very upset with me when I told them we were needed to postpone it.

So, today we had our very first Skype session and it was FANTASTIC. I was so impressed with my class’ confidence, manners and voice projection. They did have lots of giggles, but this is just the way they express their nervousness. Kim’s class had prepared some fantastic questions and we mostly spent our 20 minute Skype session answering these. We have already agreed to Skype again and next time it will be time for the Ampilatwatja students to ask their questions and listen to the answers of the Holy Eucharist students, they’re very keen to learn about ‘those trains that drive on the road’.


Only in the Territory

The school year is well and truly underway and already many lessons have been learnt thus far. This year I have left the creature comforts of city life and headed to the Australian Outback. Yep, I now live smack bang in the middle of the desert. I’m teaching in the remote community of Ampilatwatja, approximately 320km north-east of Alice Springs.

I arrived in red centre on Wednesday January 21st and quickly found myself in a Vietnamese nail salon, as it was the only place this city girl felt like she fit in. To say I felt out of place in such a tiny little town is a complete understatement. I couldn’t quite get my head around how quiet it was at a time of the day when the peak hour hustle and bustle of Melbourne would have been infuriating for even the most patient of people. But naturally, I soon found my feet, ventured back to my hotel and spent the rest of my day lazing by the pool. In the following days I met people who I knew would become lifelong friends. Out here everything is heightened, you meet somebody and within five minutes you’re besties swapping stories over tequila shots. It’s quite refreshing.

My drive out to community was interesting to say the least. In weeks prior to my arrival the Sandover Highway had been completely under water for close to a month. Add to this the fact I had only ever driven a manual once before in my entire life. Luckily we drove out in convoy, so I wasn’t actually able to get lost or stranded in the middle of the desert. Winning! From the moment I stepped out of the Troopie I felt as though I belonged. The next few days involved me getting to know my new colleagues (aka. family) meeting members of the community, trips out bush to gather tucker and of course getting to know my beautiful grade 3/4s.

I have found life in the classroom to be quite challenging at times and have often wanted to throw my hands up in the air and scream ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!!!’ But never once have I felt the need or want to pack up and leave. Fortunately, I have a beautiful support network of friends and family who are only a phone call away.

The country is beautiful, the community is welcoming and my students are funny and bright. Just last night I was dancing to Flo Rida’s Low at the Friday night disco, and I tell you what… There’s been very few moments in my life that compare to that. The smiles, the laughs, the genuine happiness.

In just four short weeks I feel like I have conquered the world! I traded in my Victorian Driver’s Licence, racked up almost 5000km in a manual 4×4, witnessed the most beautiful of sunsets, been attacked by a terrifying spider, climbed The Devils Marbles, ran over a deadly snake, partied with Ray Martin at a roadside pub, attended a community funeral, watched a lizard dance on my verandah and ate bush berries and bush bananas with some local women.

I don’t think I’m ever coming home.

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Firstly, apologies for not updating my blog in an entire year! Although I feel incredibly lazy for not doing so, 2014 has been a HUGE year for me, both professionally and personally.

As you may, or may not, be aware Skype in the Classroom is a big passion of mine. I began Skyping with my class in 2013 when I was thrown into the deep end… A classroom without 1:1 devices (shock horror!). Since then I have had my classes connect with numerous locations around the world including the UK, US, Sweden, Ireland and most recently Cambodia.

This year I organised and held Manor Lakes P-12 College’s 2nd Annual Skypathon. At the beginning of term 2 I created a lesson on Skype Classroom and away we went. We had teachers and schools signing up immediately and within a few weeks we already had 10 schools signed up!

School Council approved the event unanimously and notes went home, they were returned quickly by some very excited grade 3 students.

Last year my grade 3 class and Michelle Meracis’ grade 6 class were apart of the big event, this year however only my grade 3 class participated. I had the assistance of Michelle on the evening as well as another colleague Mark.

Students arrived back at school at 8pm and our first call was underway within an hour. We spoke with a school in Ireland, it was a Mystery Skype. Students took turns asking yes/no questions in order to guess the country each class was from. We then connected with our friends at Norbridge Academy in the UK and after that had a short 40 minute nap. Then we were up and Skyping with Canada and 6 different schools across the US. We didn’t stop Skyping until 5.30am, when 19 students and 3 extremely tired teachers made their way to their makeshift beds in the performing arts room. Students were collected at 8am and much needed sleep was had by all.

Once again my students were extremely excited to hear the accents of all the different countries we connected with, having a giggle every time somebody mentioned we ourselves had an awesome accent.

We kept parents and the wider community updated throughout the night with posts and photos on our class Twitter @3JessMLP12C.

I believe that #mlp12cskypathon14 provided my students with not only an authentic learning experience, but also a chance to explore the world from the comfort of their own school. And if we hadn’t stayed overnight, connecting with places such as the UK and the US becomes almost impossible due to timezone differences.

A massive thank-you to all of those who signed up to our Skypathon, my PLN for their support, Michelle and Mark for having as little sleep as I did and my students for being passionate and inquisitive learners.

Skypathon 2014

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A Skypathon @ Manor Lakes!

For the first 2 years of my teaching career I was fortunate enough to be involved in a 1:1 iPad program. In 2013 I moved from grade 6 into grade 3… And I had no 1:1 iPad program anymore. At first I panicked. I knew how to use iPads as an effective teaching tool, how on earth was I going to provide authentic, exciting and engaging learning experiences without them?

This move was the biggest blessing in disguise. I very quickly learnt to think outside the box, stepping away from my comfort zone. I got my hands on some iPods, we began using Twitter heavily, started to blog, explored new tech tools each week… And we ventured down the path of Skype in the classroom.

We dived straight in the deep end! Our first call was to a class from Norbridge Academy in Nottinghamshire, UK and it was absolutely amazing. My class couldn’t have loved it more and didn’t stop raving about it for weeks. Our students communicated in a question/ answer format and I found that I needed to do very little ‘crowd-control’, the conversation just seemed to flow. And it continued to do so for almost an hour, an amazing effort for a group of 9 year olds!

I came across Norbridge’s ICT Coordinator, Camilla, via @SkypeClassroom on Twitter. I soon learnt that Skype in the Classroom is a massive network of teachers keen to connect their students with other students all around the world.

Norbridge Academy were taking part in an overnight Blogathon, they were making Skype calls to all different parts of the world and blogging about them. After this call I knew what my next big aspiration was, to organise and hold a Skypathon of our very own.

I got the ball rolling straight away, drafting a proposal for School Council when I got home that night. It was enthusiastically passed and I soon placed the ‘lesson’ onto the Skype in the Classroom website. This allowed other educators to sign their classes up to our Skypathon. I had registrations almost straight away, many from the UK and the US, even one from Sweden and Argentina!

After a term and a half of organisation and planning, my colleague Michelle and I (and our classes) held the very first Skypathon of Manor Lakes P-12 College on a Friday evening. Students came back to school at 8pm and we were off! We had set up two Skype spaces so we could speak to as many students around the world as possible. We spoke to several classes in the UK and the US, a class from Ireland and some university students from Sweden. Our students were absolutely fantastic, even at the early hours of the morning! They were engaging in conversations about culture and education, music and art, food and landmarks.

We were keeping parents and other interested parties updated throughout the night via our class Twitter accounts, which led to other classes signing up to the Skypathon on the evening.

The students were incredibly excited to hear the accents of different countries and learn about the things that are important to those students as well as what school life is like for them. There were some very intriguing similarities and differences.

I believe that Skype has allowed my class to learn in a way that is exciting and authentic. They can put faces to names of towns and countries and have been told first hand what people eat and do for fun in these places.

Skype has shown me that there is always, always, always a way we can provide exciting opportunities for our students no matter what resources we are, or aren’t, provided with. It’s all about thinking outside the box.

Skype goes crazy in 3Jess!

Over the past few weeks Skype has gone crazy in my classroom! And the students have loved every minute of it, as have I.

Warringa Park, Hoppers Crossing:

During Book Week I assisted in the facilitation of a number of eReads between our grade 3 classes and Warringa Park School. There were a few hiccups along the way, mainly due to DEECD restrictions, and we did briefly have to use FaceTime. However these hiccups were sorted fairly quickly and the successful eReads soon followed. These eReads involved the students from Warringa Park School reading ‘One Wooly Wombat’ to a grade 3 class. Some of the older classes were able to sign the story in Auslan and one of the early years classes had created masks to wear throughout the storytelling. In return our grade 3 classes read books written by Dr. Suess and Pamela Allen to the Warringa Park School classes. The sessions were a huge success; with both the students and teachers involved. We look forward to connecting with Warringa Park School over the next few weeks.

Squid Acres Kennel, Alaska:

About a month ago I received an email from Zofia from Skype Classroom (see previous posts for more information) asking if I wanted to be involved in a Skype session that would be organised and arranged by them. This Skype session was also to be photographed and filmed for commercial purposes. How could I say no?

Zofia connected me with Paige and Cody from Squid Acres Kennel and Lachlan Moore from Lachlan Moore Photography. Prior to the actual Skype call with Squid Acres Kennel I did a test call with Zofia in the UK and Paige and Cody in the US, both worked great!

So on Tuesday morning of this week Lachlan and his colleague, Michael, arrived at Manor Lakes P-12 College at 7.45am and proceeded to transform my classroom into what looked like a photography studio. There was big lamps and flashes, there was cameras and microphones and there was 20 very excited grade 3 students ready to talk to Paige and Cody.

The Skype session was fantastic. Paige and Cody from Squid Acres Kennel raise and race Alaskan Huskies in dogsled races across the continent of North America. Firstly they spoke to my class about where they are located and what the weather is like. Then they got onto what my class had been so excited for, the huskies. They spoke about the competitions they’ve been involved in, what the huskies eat, how to harness them up and what they take on a dogsled race with them. Then they introduced us to some of their dogs, adults and pups.

Again we had some slight technical difficulties, but I solved this by disconnecting from our college network and resuming the call via the 3G network.

I have gained access to the photos that Lachlan took, and they are absolutely brilliant! The excitement and wonder on the students’ faces is beautiful. Unfortunately I am unable to share these with you at the moment as they need to be approved by the Microsoft legal team, but stay tuned!

I have received some fantastic feedback from parents, which is really touching. It’s great to know that the opportunities and experiences I try to provide my students with are being shared and valued at home.

Canteen Creek, Northern Territory:

This week my class was to begin buddy Skype sessions with a class of indigenous students in the Northern Territory, well at least that was the plan. Lachlan Carlyle, a former colleague of mine, is now teaching in the remote community of Canteen Creek. Both of us were keen to provide our students with the opportunity to connect.

The project began with a few students in my class making a short clip about our class and school on Explain Everything and giving Canteen Creek access to this via Dropbox. In return Lachlan sent us a clip that showed my class just how remote, and warm, Canteen Creek is! Of course my students thought it was fantastic and couldn’t wait to connect.

So last week Lachlan and I connected via Skype, had a bit of a chinwag and got things rolling. We decided that it would be a great idea, given the age and cultutal differences of our students, to buddy 2 of my students up with 2 of his students up via Skype, rather than the whole class participating as this might have be slightly too intimidating and we wanted to ensure that conversation would flow. We could rotate through the students, and everyone would get the chamnce to connect with someone. We also tested out iMessage just in case Skpye decided to be temperamental on the big day.

Much to my disappointment I recieved an email from Lachlan on the morning of our Skype call, the NT had decided to undertake an outage, therefore Skype would not work. Luckily we grad tested out iMessage!

2 of my students and 2 of Lachlan’s students got onto an iPad and communicated to each other via image and text using iMessage. The iPad, in both my classroom and Lachlan’s, was projected so the whole class was able to see and contribute to the conversation taking place. And it went really well! There was questions being asked, answers being given and photos being taken. Hopefully next week we will be able to connect via Skype.

As you’ve probably already gathered, I’m a huge fan of Skype in the classroom. In fact huge is probably an understatement. I believe Skype assists in the development of communication skills and confidence in students, in both a fun and interactive way. I’m now in the process of planning for my next big Skype project, a Skypathon!


Recently I introduced ‘Tech tool of the week’ in my classroom. The purpose of this is to provide my students with a greater knowledge of websites and apps that they can use to present, publish and share their work on. Each week we have one technology tool to focus. At the conclusion of the week, once this tool is mastered by the class, it is added to ‘Tools we know how to use…’.

Students learnt how to use Dropbox, Twitter, Tourwrist and QR reader throughout semester 1. This week our ‘Tech tool of the week’ was Storybird.

On Wednesday afternoon I ran a lesson which was split into three parts. Firstly I explicitly taught my class about the aspects of the tool, what it could do and how they could use it via the digital projector set up in my room. Next a few students modelled what they now knew about the tool. This was my favourite part of the lesson! It was great to see these students playing the teacher role, calling on other students and speaking with clear and confident voices. The final part involved students pairing up and creating a digital story using Storybird on the class laptops.

We are using one account, which is a teacher/class account. I have logged into this account on each one of our laptops. We spoke about responsible use of the program, students are aware as to why they are not to use names or addresses in their work. I also made it clear that nobody was to publish their story without me looking over it first. Luckily, I have a fantastic class and I can trust that they will follow this instruction. I also spoke to students about creating their own accounts at home. I explained that they needed to do this with their parents, not by themselves. However the only Storybird account that will be used at school is our teacher/class account.

On Thursday and Friday my class was in the process of publishing their Alphabet poems they had written earlier in the week. Of course many chose to use Storybird, and they did so with great confidence! They were happy to solve problems themselves, or with peers. Not one student came to me for anything other than to sign into our account or to look over their work before publishing. This gave me some of an indication that ‘Tech tool of the week’ was a great success!

Posters where we display ‘Tech tool of the week’ and ‘Tools we know how to use’.

Tara publishing her Alphabet poem using Storybird.

The homepage of our teacher/class account, displaying the front cover of our digital stories.

Skyping the UK

Yesterday’s Skype session was a complete success!

At 11.30am on the last day of term 2 3Jess eagerly awaited a Skype video call from @CCMercer‘s class in Nottinghamshire, UK. And it came right on time.

It was 2am in the UK, so the students began by telling us they were very cold and sleepy. They were having a bit of trouble with their webcam, so they switched it over and from there the connection was fantastic! Discussion quickly moved on to the location of our school and the current temperature. They couldn’t believe that it was winter yet still 12 degrees. My class were very excited and began asking many questions, including ‘What’s your favourite sport?’, ‘What do you do for fun?’, ‘What’s  your favourite book?’ and ‘How many students in your class and school?’.

We learnt a lot about our new friends. We found out they have 300 students in their class, they were quite impressed with our 1600!  They barrack for Manchester United and love Harry Potter. They learn French at school and wear a navy blue school uniform. They love to eat pizza and they have a class pet (dog) named Izzy. We even got to meet Izzy! We showed them outside our classroom window, they got to see the streets and houses and around our school. The students seemed fairly impressed.

There was a little bit of confusion when they told us they helpt the younger students at dinner time, but we soon figured out that they call lunch dinner in the UK. That caused quite a few laughs amongst all of us.

Our chat lasted 45 minutes, a fantastic effort by all of those involved! I was so proud of my students. They were all so patient and listened beautifully. When they wanted to ask a question they put their hand up and spoke in loud and clear voices. And there was never any fight over who was going to answer the questions being asked of us, it was if they were all in sync. Of course I had set clear expectations prior to the Skype chat, but their enthusiasm and behaviour just made the experience that much more rewarding.

Thanks to Class Six at Norbridge Academy, it was great to meet you! Be sure to check out their class blog!

3Jess can’t wait for term 3… Hopefully we can hold a 24 hour Skypathon of our own!


Skype in the classroom

Recently I spent some spare time on Twitter and came across @SkypeClassroom, a global community of educators all wanting to connect with other classes around the world. This Twitter account led me to their website where I created a Skype in the Classroom profile for my class.

After I had created this profile I was able to view, and join, Skype lessons. These Skype lessons have a ‘looking for’ section that lets the reader know if they are suitable for that particular Skype lesson. For example, Norbridge by Night is looking for a class with students aged between 6 and 11 to connect an collaborate with. There is also a brief paragraph about the finer details of the lesson. I was able to read that Norbridge by Night is having a 24 hour blogathon from 9am GMT on Thursday 27th June to 9am on Friday 28th.

I also have the ability to create my own lessons, which I will definitely be doing next term. I plan to create a lesson for our Inquiry unit ‘Where in the world is Werribee?’, asking other classes to share their historical knowledge of their own local area.

Tomorrow @3Jess are very excited to be connecting with @CCMercer‘s class in Nottinghamshire, UK. And in July we will be connecting with students in Argentina, South America and Leeds, UK.

My class have been glued to the world map in our classroom, identifying where their new ‘friends’ live and go to school. We have been discussing what questions we will ask and what we expect they will ask us. I highly recommend using Skype in the classroom!

TeachMeet Melbourne @ Scienceworks

On Saturday I attended a TeachMeet at Scienceworks, hosted by Simon Kelly. It was the first TeachMeet I have attended and it was AMAZING!

I heard from many educators sharing the interesting things they’ve been doing in their classrooms. From book drives to QR codes, all fantastic! We then spent 40 minutes in the Planetarium while Simon showcased the new projector system. That was completely mind blowing!

I left that afternoon completely inspired. I had a vision! This morning when I got to school I placed QR codes around the classroom, all linked to our new unit of Inquiry ‘Where in the world is Werribee?’. I spent some time showing my Grade 3 class how to use a QR code reader and we set class expectations for the technology. I was also lucky enough to get my hands on some iPods, with cameras! Which means students can use these MANY iPods to read the QR codes, rather than just my one lonesome iPad. As a class we decided that these iPods can be used during independent reading sessions, students will scan the the QR code and then read the material that is linked. Unbeknownst to my class we will also be using QR codes to display the work that the class does throughout this unit. Exciting stuff!

We also discussed cloud technology, many students were already familiar with iCloud so it was quite an easy concept to explain. I plan to set up a class Dropbox (as I have done in the past in a 1:1 setting) during the holidays so students are able to save and share their work with one another quite easily.

So as you can see exciting things to come for 3Jess in Term 3!



Unit 7: The future of learning

I have had a fantastic time completing the VicPLN13 course. It has reminded me why I love teaching and learning with technology so much. It encourages creativity and collaboration amongst students and creates an exciting buzz in any classroom.

This course has encouraged me to write blog posts more often, reflecting on my teaching and learning on a regular basis. To share what I know and what I have learnt.

The highlight for me has been the large amount of Twitter and blog followers I have gained, my PLN has grown greatly and I love it!

Here is a short video I created using the free version of GoAnimate. I had some trouble embedding it, but I got there!

Check out my screencast on Strorybird! 

VicPLN by gallagher.jessica.s on GoAnimate

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