A fictional Englishman's quest to circle the globe in 80 days inspired technology integration facilitator Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano to take her students on a similar adventure, without physically traveling to different countries.
That's where Skype comes in. The Internet-based software allows her to make video and voice calls from her Florida school to other schools, and she uses the tool to help her students learn.
As of March 12, the elementary school students at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville had called 51 other schools and spoken with kids their age for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour, depending on their schedules. More than 300 schools have joined them in the Around the World with 80 Schools project (named after the novel by Jules Verne), which has allowed them to make authentic connections with real people who can answer questions about their culture and history.
“It's not about the Skype tool," Rosenthal Tolisano said, "it's about being able to get first-hand information, being able to take the learning really off the page of the book."
While Kelly Hines' fourth grade class at Chocowinity Primary School in North Carolina read a book about Lewis and Clark's adventures, students in a St. Louis school were taking field trips to learn more about the two explorers. When they talked on Skype, her kids could meaningfully link the two experiences.
“They’re starting to recognize and build connections between who we’re talking to and things that we’re learning,” Hines said.
And her class is learning that a world exists beyond the little town in which they live; the students get so excited when they find out that a student in a different school has the same name or ate pizza for lunch.
This year, she's focused on collecting data for a graphing project. The kids develop questions about topics such as what they ate for lunch, how many kids were in their class and whether they had to wear uniforms. Then they add the information into their project and write posts on their class blog about what they learned through the Skype call.
In San Isidro, Buenos Aires, English teacher Christine Premoli is providing a way for her students at Colegio Goethe to compare their lives with children's lives in other parts of the world.
They talk about their daily lives, what they do in their free time, what food they like and what sports they follow. The nine-year-old to 12-year-old kids at the German school have different native languages, but still became friends with students in Indonesia through a Skype conversation in English.
“As they are learning English — and they are in the first steps of this language — they realize that they can communicate through any other language that is not their mother tongue," Premoli said, "and how useful it is not only to learn English, but also to learn some other languages.”
The students at the American School of Madrid come from more than 50 countries around the world, and recently, the first grade students studied weather. They talked with kids on another continent and learned about their country's climate, what they wear during the day and how the weather impacts their lives, said Nancy von Wahlde, educational technology specialist.
“This week when we spoke with South Africa, the first graders were having a hard time wrapping their minds around that it was summer there and it’s almost spring here,” von Wahlde said.
Through talking with students in other countries, Rosenthal Tolisano's class in Florida is learning essential skills, such as communication, collaboration, speaking and listening. The students are also learning about the world around them, without the expense of physically traveling.
“Those kids might never leave the country, but through this they will meet other people, they’ll talk to kids just like them in other countries, and they’ll catch a glimpse out of their window.”