Friday, May 6, 2011

Authentic Learning With Skype - Sea Turtles

I recently worked with a grade 4 class in one of my elementary schools. Mrs. McLeod and her students were very interested in sea turtles. Her students were conducting research on the various types of turtles. Mrs. McLeod attended a workshop that I presented on video conferencing in the classroom. Upon completion of this workshop she gained access to a webcam and a microphone that can attach directly to her interactive whiteboard. This is where the fun began!

Project Planning

Mrs. McLeod contacted me expressing interest in connecting her students with someone who could teach them more about Sea Turtles. Although i do consider myself resourceful, I did not have a contact that could fulfill this need. However, a simple Google search on "sea turtle experts" returned websites that pointed to Dr. Spotila, a professor with Drexel University. Dr. Spotila is one of the worlds leading experts on sea turtles. A quick email to Dr. Spotila requesting an opportunity to video conference with him via Skype was all it took! Dr. Spotila agreed and on May 5 our students connected with Dr. Spotila to discuss Sea Turtles!

The Result

The experience was one to remember. Our students conducted research on  specific sea turtles in advance. They also created digital posters using Glogster about the sea turtle they were researching. Mrs. McLeod had the students develop questions in advance for Dr. Spotila. We also organized roles for the video conference. We had question groups,  a videographer, photographers and note takers.

The students presented Dr. Spotila with a number of excellent questions. After the last prepared question was asked, what ensued was what every classroom teacher seeks. The students continued to engage Dr. Spotila in conversation by asking additional questions. Each question was well thought out, relative and sparked additional questions. The students remained engaged and enthusiastic for 30 minutes of conversation.

At the end of the session Mrs. McLeod presented the students with a closure activity in which they discussed what they had learned. Later that day the students published reflective essays on what they learned form Dr. Spotila. All of these materials as well as a video of the conference is published on our Google Site.


This was a terrific experience for our students. By providing such an authentic learning experience using technology we engaged students in the learning process. The excitement over the activity still continues and the students continue to reflect. The best part of the entire story is that Dr. Spotila did not have access to video that day! For this entire event the students could only hear him, yet their focus was astounding!

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