How do you keep 81 fourth-grade students engaged for over an hour? The answer is simple: Skype with a group of soldiers overseas in Afghanistan! That's exactly what we did today! At approximately 0900 we received a call via Skype from Petty Officer Second Class Christine Henault. She and 4 other soldiers who are part of the NTM-A spent some time describing their days in Afghanistan to our three (3) fourth grade classes.
Back in November of 2011 our class was writing 'Thank You' letters to our veterans, and one of my students wrote to Miss Henault (who is my neighbor's sister). After that, we sent her a package at Christmas time. When she came home on leave at the end of March she made a surprise visit to my class. At that time she described her training and how she ended up in Afghanistan. Her presentation included a Powerpoint, sharing artifacts and doing some calisthenics with the group. They loved it and HER! As she left, I asked if she might be interested in skyping with the class.
And so, we planned the call. During the Skype call Christine introduced her fellow soldiers, some were Army, some Navy. The students were introduced to Major Shelly Frank (USAF), Technical Sergeant Alysia Parsons USAF, Master Sergeant Conrad Hernandez, USAF, Technical Sergeant Jason Girvin, USAF, and Sergeant First Class Miguel Soriano, USA. The soldiers took turns speaking to the students about their jobs in Afghanistan, their hometowns and life in overseas. They fielded questions from the 10 year olds who asked: "What do you miss most about the USA?", "What kinds of food do Afghan people eat?" "Can you compare the weather of Afghanistan to your hometown?" "What do the schools look like?" "What kinds of missions have you gone on?" and many more. The students applauded and pumped their fists in a "Power to the Team" (a gesture that Miss Henault had taught them when she visited.)
The soldiers were wonderful with these kids. They explained things appropriately and succinctly. Some of them are getting ready to leave Afghanistan while some are newly appointed. Some have been all over the world and for some it was their first assignment away. Some were there in charge of the construction crews and some were part of the Computer Operations.
One thing the soldiers all had in common was that they left families back home that they miss dearly, and yet they were all upbeat and positive and excited about the work they are doing because they know they are helping the Afghan people while serving their country at the same time.
My gut feeling is that the Soldiers truly enjoyed their visit to our school as much as the students enjoyed seeing and listening to them. However, I'm not sure the students fully understand or appreciate the magnanimity of the call. But one thing is certain, this experience will remain in their memories for a lifetime. Speaking with these brave men and women and learning about life in the Military will surely be remembered for years to come.
(One side note: I am so proud of the 4th grade students for their thoughtful questions, their rapt attention and their excellent behavior. It is tough to keep the attention of children that age and the students were just so good!)
Do you see the value of Skype in Schools? How have you used it?
Skype in Schools: Wikispace outline ways to use Skype.
Projects on Skype in the Classroom: from Skype, a place to find or list your projects.
Skype Resources: A collection of sites compiled by Cybrary Man (Jerry Blumengarten)