Keen Young Scientists Collaborate with “Nano Girl” Via Skype

Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. Nano Girl Skyping with our students in Year 4 & Year 6

Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. Nano Girl Skyping with our students in Year 4 & Year 6

Collaboration. There is that word again – it’s proving to be a recurrent theme running through some of the recent blog posts I’ve written and this post epitomises the value of collaboration amongst teachers and the wider education sector.

Ten staff from St Andrew’s College travelled to Auckland earlier this month for the #edchatnz conference and a popular speaker was Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. “Nano Girl.” Ginny, who teachers across both the Preparatory and Secondary schools, talked to Dr Dickinson at the conference suggesting it would be great if she could connect with our students in some way.

Quite independently, Mr Wilj Dekkers and Mrs Penny Munro-Foster had heard an interview on the radio with “Nano Girl” and also reached out to her with a request to Skype with our classes in Years 4 and 6.

Mrs Munro-Foster’s class had been looking at science in a range of different areas throughout the year, exploring ideas such as:

  • The rhythm of nature
  • Electricity, including making basic parallel circuits
  • Chemical reactions
  • Superconductors

The students had demonstrated their knowledge and understanding to their parents during a Celebration of Learning Evening much like this one with the Year6 students.

A focus was on developing rich, open questions as part of their oral language skills development and being inquisitive of the world all around them. The students had been very inspired by the TED talk given by Dr Dickinson, actually asking to re-watch the clip multiple times over the last few weeks, and each time they were getting different understanding from it:

This concept that “science is everywhere” connected with our students and led to Ginny receiving confirmation of a chance to Skype with the Year 4 and Year 6 classes today at 11:30am. With many excited students, not to mention teachers, the Skype went ahead.

Here is the first question being asked by a Year 4 student, and Dr Dickinson’s reply (the full Skype session can be seen further down the post):

Talking with Mr Dekkers and Mrs Munro-Foster after this Skype session, they both described their students as “super excited” “incredibly inspired” and “absolutely buzzing” from their chance to listen to a world class scientist working in the field of nano technology.

The Full Skype Session With Dr Michelle Dickinson


I am personally very excited by learning stories such as this one.

In this instance there are three different teachers, from different syndicates and departments across both the Preparatory School and Secondary School collaborating to connect with an external expert to bring rich, authentic and inspiring learning opportunties to our students. Obviously “Nano Girl” actually works in a cutting edge technology sector, but behind the scenes there is lots of great technology making this type of learning possible.

Earlier in the year we have skyped with Vikings in York in the United Kingdom as well as connecting via Skype with an international school in Singapore through a Mystery Skype session. Today’s session builds on these earlier initiatives and highlights our teachers willingness to extend their students’ knowledge and connect with true experts in their field to inspire our learners.

RectorWhat could be more exciting than that?

At the beginning of this year the College Rector, Mrs Christine Leighton, observed in her opening address in Regulus

I am always mindful that we cannot sit still and simply enjoy the benefits of success. William Pollard (Episcopal priest and physicist) wrote in the 1960s “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”


In this light, we have adopted the theme for St Andrew’s College in 2014 of Innovation and Collaboration – two qualities that are at the heart of 21st century learning.

I am thrilled that our teachers are picking up on this challenge and actively innovating and collaborating both internally within the College, and like today’s session with Dr Michelle Dickinson shows, further afield. For some of our staff this was their first time using Skype in the Classroom:

Based off the success of the session today, I am confident more teachers will look further afield to connect in this way.

UPDATE: Student reflections from class 4T on the Skype Session:

Dr. Michelle Dickinson of the University of Auckland also known as ‘Nano Girl’ Skyped us and answered our science questions. We all agreed that we felt both very excited and nervous at the same time. It was our first experience in a Skype classroom and we were going to talk to our science hero. We have followed her experiments, conducted our own chemistry experiments and explored electrical circuits. We were so excited that we knew about electrical currents, static electricity and chemical reactions and we could understand the conversation. Below are some extracts by 4TMF students, reflecting on their learning in a Skype classroom.

“I was very inspired when Casey asked his question and we found out that it could be possible to really fly, and you need really cold shoes.” – Maddy

“When I asked my question about super conductors and how cold the shoes would need to be to make the shoes fly, Nano Girl said -109 Celsius. The material she would use to make the boots is Yttrium, which acts as an insulator inside her shoes so that her feet wouldn’t get cold.” – Casey

“Nano Girl inspires people to try new things. She tries to make New Zealand and the world a better place.”- Padric

“Nano Girl was engaging with her smile and made me feel relaxed and calm when asking my question.”- Caitlin

“It was almost my turn; I felt so nervous. What if she couldn’t answer my question? What if I mucked up and said the wrong question? But when I was in front of the microphone she smiled a very kind smile which took away my nerves. I wanted to know what advice she would give someone who wanted to be a scientist. She said “Just do science all the time!”- Jenna

“I took a deep breath and read my question: ‘If you had to choose one subject science or maths, which would you like more?’ She answered chemistry because she likes blowing things up, then she added maths at the end. I love maths too.” – Kinda

“She smiled and waved and always knew what to say.”- Chloe

I asked, “What was the first machine that you saw in the fractal mechanics laboratory at university.” She told us it was a charpy machine that is like a hammer, used to break things into very small pieces. Of course the first thing we wanted to do was research what a charpy machine looked like and see what it did.” – Sam

“She said that collaboration and team work were important to meet your goals. I thought that she was very inspiring because she follows her dreams and I think that her advice was great.”- Caitlin “Nano Girl wanted to be a superhero when she was little. I was nervous talking to Nano Girl but she gave an encouraging smile and I felt confident and asked “What is your latest creation and why did you make it?” She said “Delightful, well it’s not really science but my latest creations are these butterfly wing earrings.” I was really surprised, but Ginny wasn’t surprised a bit! We had lots of questions after the Skype session. We wanted to find out what a 3D printer that could print the earrings looked like. We are studying shapes in maths so we want to find out. We only have a 2D printer at school. We couldn’t wait to look at the periodic table to find Yttrium. Yttrium is a chemical element symbol Y. It is a silvery-metallic transition metal and is called a “rare earth element.” It is the answer to insulating our shoes so our feet won’t freeze when we put them on to fly.” – Jedd

“There were lots of laughs because Nano Girl made science fun.” – Tom

We can’t wait to Skype a world expert again.

Year 4T

2 thoughts on “Keen Young Scientists Collaborate with “Nano Girl” Via Skype

  1. Pingback: Hashtags Connect NZ Educators | StAC e-Learning Stories

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s