A teacher’s journey with Skype in the Classroom

By Iro Stefopoulou as written on blogs.skype.com

The start of an inspiring adventure

In August 2013, while all my friends were enjoying the sea and the sun in Greece, I was spending the summer holidays in my new apartment getting ready for the next school year, trying to find new resources and ideas that would attract my students’ interest and motivate them. It was that summer that I discovered Skype in the Classroom. I immediately knew that I had struck gold and that this community would be life changing for my students and me as a teacher.

I started exploring the possibilities and was like a kid on Christmas day: Skype lessons, guest speakers, virtual field trips to places around the world and classroom projects and collaborations. What would that mean for my learners? How would it influence their learning experience? Could it transform the way students perceive the world? Would my students feel that they are part of a global learning community?

Going back to school that year, I was super excited about my new discovery that could virtually break down the walls of my classroom. I had searched the Skype in the Classroom lessons for days to decide where to begin, and settled on the Night Zookeeper’s lesson. I scheduled a Skype call to meet the person who would deliver the lesson and chatted with him for a while. I now feel really proud to call Paul Hutson the Night Zookeeper my friend as what he did for me and my students was unique, unforgettable and the stepping stone for what followed next.

During the rest of 2013, I used Skype every week. I started participating in global projects with my classes, making use of Skype in the Classroom to create a global environment for my students. At the end of that school year it was clear that my students had started thinking beyond the walls of our classroom and every connection or project they participated in was turning them into thinkers, leaders and doers. The borders of our small town seemed non-existent as we communicated in real time with schoolchildren from all over the world, doing various activities and projects together. Not only did my pupils practice their English (Greek is our first language), they also became citizens of the world, and learn about facts and problems concerning other communities, the natural world, traditions, customs and so much more.

Becoming a Skype Master Teacher

Throughout that first school year of using Skype in my classroom, I met countless teachers who have become friends and mentors. One of them, Dyane Smorokowski encouraged me to apply to become a Skype Master Teacher. I had no idea what it meant at the time but I decided to apply because I had a passion for global learning and the vision for providing my classroom with more opportunities.

Becoming a Skype Master Teacher, and joining this amazing group of innovative and game-changing educator pioneers, has allowed me to develop as a person and as an educator. It gave me to opportunity to collaborate with teachers from around the globe on several global projects that had a great impact on my students’ lives and changed their perspective and understanding of the world. I also started sharing best practices with other educators at conferences and delivering online professional development courses through Skype.

After joining this program, in addition to feeling excited and proud to be part of this amazing group of teachers from all around the globe, I felt that I belonged to a family. I can proudly say that I belong to a family of like-minded educators with whom I can share ideas, best practices, collaborate on projects and help each other when needed.

Join the Skype Master Teacher Program

We are really excited to announce that the Skype Master Teacher Program is opening its doors to even more teachers. Teachers who have been selected as Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts (MIEEs) can complete their self-nomination to join this program. MIE Experts are teachers work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education. They advocate and share their thoughts on the effective use of technology in education with peers and policy makers, provide insight for Microsoft on new products and tools for education, and exchange best practices as they work together to promote innovation in teaching and learning. The self-nominations are open until September 15th.

What other Skype Master Teachers say about the SMT Program

“The Skype Master Teacher Program is special to me because it is about people who empower and impassion me. If I have an idea that I want to try or a project that I’m experimenting with, I know I can count on my SMT tribe to give me input or jump in with me. They are the risk-takers and change makers who make me a better teacher, and help me grow stronger as an educator.” – Gina Ruffcorn, MIEE, Skype Master Teacher, Iowa, USA

“I love being part of the SMT Program because it connects me with an amazing group of passionate educators who inspire me constantly.” – Steve Auslander, MIEE, Skype Master Teacher, Indianapolis, USA

“Being a part of the Skype Master Teacher Program has definitely made me a better teacher. This is a group of inspiring, innovative and supportive educators who are doing game-changing things for kids. Skype Master Teachers dream big for kids, and support each other to make dreams and ideas, big or small, a reality.” – Stacey Ryan, MIEE, Skype Master Teacher, Kansas, USA

Beatrice_vignette-lead-image-1600x700 managed solution

With online access comes education, opportunity

by Aimee Riordan, Microsoft News Center Staff
The first antennae connecting the town of Nanyuki to the Internet using underutilized broadcast bandwidth, or TV white spaces, was placed two and a half years ago at Gakawa school.
The signal from Mawingu, a local company, traveled more than five miles in every direction, connecting the secondary school with the Male School down the road, and opening up the world to residents and students alike.
Gakawa Principal Beatrice Ndorongo remembers how excited her students were — and how hungry they were for information.
“All the students would ask when the computer time each day would be. We did it over lunch time. And in the evening. And they didn’t want to leave,” she says. “Every student wanted to have access. To sit and work on a computer. It was very exciting.”
You can still hear that enthusiasm in Ndorongo’s voice. And see it in the eyes of the students at Gakawa.
A collection of cinderblock buildings perched on the precipice of an expansive valley, Gakawa Secondary School is at the terminus of a long, winding dirt road. There’s a mural of Mount Kenya on one wall and a view of the peak in the distance.
Like many places in Nanyuki and the surrounding area, the school lacks running water. Still, its students show up daily in uniform: maroon v-neck sweaters, ties and slacks for the boys, colored shirts, green sweaters and shirts for the girls. They are enthusiastic, and curious.
Ndorongo says that in the two and a half years since the connection was established, students at Gakawa Secondary School have improved their scores in every single subject on the Kenya National Exam.
It’s opened up new ways of teaching, helping students to better prepare for the future and become independent learners, Ndorongo explains.
“We are far different. Today, they have a new way of learning,” she explains. “The teacher helps the students access the material. The student can work on his or her own. There is independence. Without any assistance from the teacher. That is good practice for the future.”
Self-charted learning is a practice schools in developing countries are also starting to get their arms around. Advocates say it’s necessary for growing independent, lifelong learners with the modern skills needed to thrive in a global marketplace. With access to the Internet, these Kenyan students will have a better chance at unlocking some of the same opportunities as their peers in larger cities.
“It’s so satisfying as a teacher and as a principal when you’re able to give your students what other students are receiving,” Ndorongo says. “We live in a hardship area. Before, if our students wanted to use a computer, they had to travel 11 kilometers [nearly 7 miles].”
Most of the school’s 213 students, who range in age from 15 to 21, were not computer literate before Mawingu brought access to the Internet. Today the subjects they study online range from English and the humanities to geography, science and math.
Gakawa Secondary School student Tabitha Wanjiku Kieru, 17, arrives early, around sunrise every morning, to study. She’s interested in business and economics and says the Internet has already had an impact on how she learns.
“Before the computer lab, we couldn’t get much information. Many of our textbooks were old and outdated. Now I can look up the things I need to know. I improved from a B+ to an A-,” she says. “Having a computer in the school will help me with my future learning. I will know how to operate in business.”
Students and teachers alike picked up on how to use the devices easily, Ndorongo says. “They are quick learners. Very sharp.”
Computer literacy is essential here, as it is anywhere, to get into university, to get a job, and ultimately, to make a living. Now that Mawingu has brought affordable, high-speed Internet to Nanyuki, everyone wants to go to the schools where there are computers.
“It’s a new dawn for our students,” Ndorongo says, smiling broadly. “Society will be happy to have more students going to university. They won’t have to do hard labor. These students will be more marketable. They will be the masters of their society. This is a miracle.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella visited Gakawa Secondary School on Wednesday as part of his visit to Nanyuki, Kenya. There, he and Ndorongo’s students used Skype to communicate with a classroom in India.
“I admire the passion every one of you have and the fearlessness with which you go for what you want to achieve,” he told them.
Before he left, Nadella presented Ndorongo with a copy of a collection of poems from T.S. Eliot.
“This is my most favorite poet, and a great inspiration to me,” Nadella said. “You have been a great inspiration with what you’ve done here and what you continue to do. When I think about why we exist as a company, it’s because of examples like these. Your students are the future. The fact that tech is playing a role is heartening to see.”

For more information on Education Technology Solutions call Managed Solution at 800-308-6107.

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