Hosting a TeachMeet at St Andrew’s College

This week, St Andrew’s College hosted the first TeachMeet event in Christchurch for 2016 and over 40 staff from 15 different schools attended. If you’re unsure of what a TeachMeet actually is, you can find more at the website http://www.teachmeet.co.nz  but in short:

A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology.

Participants volunteer (via the TeachMeet website) to demonstrate good practice they’ve delivered over the past year, or discuss a product that enhances classroom practice.

Source: Wikipedia

To help promote the event, I took to a new tool I’ve been using recently called Canva which allows you to very quickly and easily develop stylish posters, images and social media banners through their website:

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One of the key reasons TeachMeets are successful is that presenters are limited to only 2minutes or 7minutes for their presentations. This results in a fast-paced event and a range of different ideas and solutions being shared. It also means that preparation for the volunteer presenters is kept at a minimum – it’s not onerous to share something you’re already doing in your classroom or researching to give a go.

From the slides above, you can see there were seven presenters who shared on the following topics:

  1. Wilj Dekkers (St Andrew’s College) Using MineCraft and OneNote for Creative Writing
  2. Tom Neumann (Riccarton High) Using an alphanumeric self marking video game in Moodle to review content of Yr11 Economics
  3. Sue McLachlan (Hagley College) Using OneNote Learning Tools in the classroom
  4. Tam Yuill Proctor (St Andrew’s College) Using OneNote as a Digital Teacher’s Planbook
  5. Karyn Gray (Haeta Community Campus) The Quest for Personalisation of Learning- My Thinking, My Research, My Questions
  6. Schira Withers (Our Lady Of The Star Of The Sea) How we as educators can help students with low working memories improve their self-management skills using digital technologies, thus  allowing them to experience success and move from a fixed to growth mindset.
  7. Donna Jones (St Andrew’s College) Using a 3D app to inspire creative thought and ideas for creative writing.

When one of the presenters was unable to attend at the last minute, I added some thoughts on using Google Earth to create personalised tours to round out the afternoon.

A number of attendees contributed on the designated Twitter hashtag of #TMChch and you can see the entire timeline here with a small selection being:

Continue reading

Presenting At Microsoft Analyst Summit 2016

image006This week I’ve had the privilege of attending, as well as co-presenting, at the annual Microsoft Analyst Summit for Asia Pacific, hosted at the St Regis Hotel in Singapore.⊗ The focus of this summit was Fuelling Customer Digital Transformation Through Innovation and was an opportunity for Microsoft to present their product and solutions roadmaps for industry analysts from the likes of Forrester, IDC and Gartner (amongst others) and where possible, highlight the value through the voice of partners and clients.

This is how I ended up at the Summit – Anne Taylor, from Microsoft NZ, inquired if I would be interested in co-presenting with Guenter Weimer the General Manager of Windows & Devices Marketing for Microsoft Asia Pacific. This seemed like a great opportunity to build on the 2015 video case study below that showcased some of the amazing work from our teachers and students:

Guenter had already seen the video and decided he wanted to show it in its entirety to the Analysts present, before discussing a few other developments at St Andrew’s, including:

  • How do we measure success when it comes to the integration of technology in education
  • To what extent has technology such as OneNote & Office365 increased collaboration amongst students and also between students and teachers
  • Did teachers need encouraging to adopt the use of a digital pen for inking on their Surface devices, or was it a natural transition
  • What plans does St Andrew’s College have for deploying Windows 10
  • In a BYOD environment that allows choice within parameters, how do we ensure cross platform compatibility and successful outcomes

MSAnalystSummit1With an audience of over 90 industry technology analysts, I was unsure what sort of reception a session that focused on education would have, however I was really pleased that after Guenter and I finished talking, there were a number of insightful questions from the analysts during the open Q&A session that followed.

Additionally, based on the Twitter feedback from the Summit’s hashtag of #MSAnalystSummit the session was well received:

Being the first conference of this sort that I’ve attended, I was really pleased to discover how open and engaging the different analysts were that I spoke with during the various breakouts and meals over the course of the two days.

I was also privileged to listen to some phenomenal presentations from other industry experts, including Mr Simon Challis the Managing Director from Ryman Healthcare in New Zealand, talking about how they are using Surface Pro tablets with every client in their retirement villages. Another interesting and relevant session was from Mr Mahendra Vaswani the Director of Teaching and Learning from Hale School in Perth, Australia.

Hale at home

As part of his presentation, he discussed the Hale @ Home programme they run which is described on their website as:

Hale@home is an innovative online learning programme that helps students prepare for the transition to Hale as a boarder. The boys undertake the programme in Year 6, prior to attending the School.

Hale@home provides a welcoming, online forum where boys meet others on the same journey to becoming a boarder. The programme is designed to build their confidence, familiarise them with technology and introduce them to their fellow boarders; all while they are still at home.

This is an outstanding initiative and a fantastic demonstration of how technology can bring both current, and future, students together into a virtual classroom.

Overall, this Summit has been a valuable learning and networking experience for me and represented a great opportunity to showcase the innovation happening at St Andrew’s College to a wider audience.

⊗ Full Disclosure: Microsoft covered all travel costs and expenses for me to attend this summit.

Guest Post: Mr Wilj Dekkers Attends Microsoft Educator Exchange

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This post was written by Mr Wilj Dekkers who attended the Annual E2 Conference. He is the second St Andrew’s College teacher to be invited to this global conference, after Mr Ben Hilliam attended in 2015.

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Mr Wilj Dekkers

Microsoft Education hold an annual event that celebrates the achievements of educators who combine pedagogy and technology in their classrooms and schools.  The event is held in a different global location each year, with 2016 seeing Microsoft Innovative Educator experts (MIE experts) converge on Budapest, Hungary.

I was fortunate to be selected as one of five New Zealand educators to attend this year.  The E2 educator conference ran during the week of March 7th and was based at the Corinthia Hotel in the heart of Budapest.

300 educators from across the globe were given opportunities to collaborate and share our experiences integrating technology within our schools in ways that enhance and move learning forward.

As with every conference, a series of keynotes and discussion panels provided all delegates with inspiration and thought provoking ideas.

Picture3Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, spoke to us about recent trends and the move towards 21st century skills in education.  His keynote reinforced that the world our children are growing up in will require new skill sets; that employers are looking for collaborative, critical problem solvers.  I was impressed that all the concepts discussed came from a pedagogical background and never placed technology above learning but made it an integral part of the lifelong learning process.  As Anthony said, “What we’re here to do is help every student on the planet achieve more.”

Two of the highlights of the morning keynotes were Stephen Reid and Jacqueline Russell.

Stephen runs a company called Immersive Minds and for the past 20 years has been using technology as a learning tool in classrooms.  Stephen works with students and teachers to create new learning environments though a mix of digital and real world tools, developing confidence in the learning process on both sides as well as competence in the use of technology to support pedagogy, classroom management and assessment.  Stephen presented how he uses Minecraft to help develop Key Competencies through History and Science.  I attended one of Stephen’s workshops and spent time speaking with him about my own use of Minecraft to enhance literacy and accepted his kind offer to help us at St Andrew’s with ideas we are developing using Minecraft as part of the school centenary.

Jacqueline presented a keynote focussed on the Surface Pro 4.  Before leaving for the conference, Jacqueline sat with her daughter and talked about where she was going and together, mother and daughter used the Surface and stylus to research, collate and create a digital scrapbook within MS OneNote.  This was an honest representation of the power and ease of this tool when placed in the hands of children.  This reflected my own views as detailed at the end of last year when Microsoft interviewed and filmed teacher’s perspectives of the Surface device being used as a learning tool.

Picture1The workshops this year were diverse with subjects such as flipping your classroom using OneNote, Surface and digital inking to engage students; Minecraft application throughout Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM); building a world in Project Spark that reflected the collective understanding of the ideal learning environment; digital literacy and creative programming in the classroom.

One particular workshop was run by Nikkie Laing, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow from Opaheke School in Auckland.  Nikkie’s workshop centred on the use of Office 365 SharePoint Sites.  In detail Nikkie shared how to minimize the time teachers spend collating and preparing resources and the time learners spend looking for materials and get on with learning.  Her presentation and workshop was so well structured and delivered that she won the prize of best presentation of the conference.  An overview of Nikkie’s workshop is below.

Office Mix

The conference also provided opportunities to showcase what each educator had been working on back in their own countries. I shared the use of Minecraft and OneNote to write detailed pick-a-path narratives. A large number of delegates were quite interested in what the children in Year 6 had achieved with Mike Tholfsen, the Product Manager for OneNote recognising what the children had worked on.  Mike was very interested in how OneNote was being used for learning at our school, being particularly excited by the inclusion of Minecraft in the writing process.  A journalist, Jordan Shapiro also came over, interested in what was happening at St Andrew’s. This has led to a mention in his article for Forbes magazine:

Another teacher tells me how he uses Minecraft to teach creative writing. “I used to tell them to write a story and they’d give me these blank stares. Now I ask them to act out a story in the Minecraft world first and then, together, we figure out how to articulate it in writing.” He describes how the virtual block world lets him walk his students back to specific locations so he can interrogate them about the details. “I encourage them to get more descriptive and specific; I tell them to imagine how things might smell, what the grass might feel like under their feet.”

Overall the experience has both reinforced my beliefs in the importance of integrating technology purposefully in learning and motivated me to expand upon my own pedagogical learning.  The people I met have continued to amaze me with their enthusiasm and creativity.  The New Zealand and Australian contingent have remained in contact post conference, having developed both a close network and long lasting friendship. We are already planning continued collaborative, cross Tasman learning opportunities for our students.

Duncan Ferguson – Apple Distinguished Educator 2016

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Mr Duncan Ferguson

Congratulations to St Andrew’s College’s Head of Music Mr Duncan Ferguson who has been selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator for 2016.

Mr Ferguson is one of five New Zealanders to be selected to attend the Apple Distinguished Educators conference in Berlin, Germany.

Attending an ADE Institute provides powerful opportunities for collaboration and ongoing professional growth for ADE alumni members. This 4-day intensive professional learning experience, will bring 400 ADEs together to collaborate, share, and learn. By collaborating directly with peers from across the world, ADEs will return home with a shared sense of purpose as they develop content and promote powerful ideas for improving teaching and learning worldwide.

To see the iBook about Collaborative Composition that Mr Ferguson wrote as a result of the 2015 ADE Institute in Singapore please visit:

https://itunes.apple.com/nz/book/collaborative-composition/id1052956067?mt=13

Congratulations and have a great trip to Berlin!

Collaborating With The Future Schools Expo

This week I was excited to receive correspondence from David Colville, from DataCom Australia. He was present at the 2016 Future Schools Expo in Sydney. His request was that a group of St Andrew’s College students could be made available to share ideas with small groups of students from Mount Sinai College, Sydney. These students had been taking part in one of four future challenges as part of the Maker’s Playground of this conference.

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Collaborative Skype Session with Mount Sinai Hill College

The 4 Challenges:

  1. There was a tornado in Sydney last year. Some houses were destroyed. What sort of house could survive a tornado?
  2. We know that you learn better at school when you are happy, but some times you come to school sad because you might have had a fight with your brother or got told off by your Mum. How can we cheer students up when they get to school so they are ready to learn?
  3. We love Lego, but cleaning up the pieces and finding the right one can be difficult. Is there a way to sort Lego pieces out quickly and make packing up our lego kits more effective?
  4. We don’t have enough refs for our netball games. How can technology help our shortage of refs?

After a quick bit of organisation from preparatory school eLearning expert Wilj Dekkers, it was decided that our recently formed Year 8 Gifted and Talented group would be perfect for this opportunity. This group are working with Mrs Julie Rogers as part of the College’s GATE program.

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew's College

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew’s College

With only a few minutes preparation time afforded, it was great to see this small group of students independently agree to use the Collaboration Space on a OneNote Notebook, set up a dedicated area of this space so that they could collaborate on their ideas during the Skype Call, and then test the functionality of this space. This setup was all done independently of any teacher input and took only a few minutes.

The structure of the Skype conversation was simple. A small group of Mount Sinai students explained their solution to one of the problems described above, and the St Andrew’s students responded with their critiques, ideas and encouragements.

During the activity the students from both school were extremely engaged. They listened carefully to the input from all students and the questioning and reasoning on show was impressive. This activity was a really great example of students, in two different locations, displaying their collaborative and teamwork skills in an unfamiliar setting.

I liked the future problem solving Skype, because I enjoyed helping them with their problems to come up with better solutions. I also enjoyed discussing these problems with our group. We all put our solutions together to make the best one. Our group of year eights all had an input to help improve their solutions, because even if we didn’t want to say out loud, we had our OneNote to write our suggestions on, so our other group members could say it for us. – Maya, St Andrew’s College Year 8 Student

Here, at St Andrew’s College, we enjoying using Skype to connect with other Educators or Students across the globe. We have enjoyed a number of Mystery Skypes, have engaged with a children’s author, and brought experts into the classroom. We all look forward to the next opportunity to use Skype to help complement the other great learning that occurs in our classrooms!

Sprout – An Almost “Magical” Technology

This week I’m in Melbourne, Australia and yesterday I spent the day at HP’s Experience Centre seeing a range of products (more to come on this), however there was one technology that genuinely blew my mind with the wide range of possibilities for application within Education.

This technology was Sprout by HP.

To get an idea of what this looks like, check out this promo video:

In short, Sprout by HP is an all-in-one computer with a touch screen but also has a built in downwards facing projector above the screen that doubles as a 3D scanner and an interactive mat that functions as a second input device and soft keyboard. This combination of technology allows you to do some crazy things, such as:

  • Take a photo of any “real world” object by placing it on the mat and then immediately start interacting with it in the software and adding it to other artefacts you’re collecting
    • Example: you find a photo of a skirt you really like on the internet, but you want to see what it would look like if you made it in a fabric pattern you already have. Place the fabric on the mat, scan it, and then by drawing an outline over the skirt in the photo you can “punch out” the original skirt and insert the fabric pattern you just scanned.
  • Place a real object on the mat such as toy or wrist watch, scan it into the Sprout, and then start interacting with it in various ways by adding colour, textures and other filters.
    • Example: you could scan a real world object, make some basic modifications, and then output these to a 3D printer so you can effectively “clone” real objects
  • Create collages with a combination of both existing digital images you already have, but add in scanned physical items around you and then mark up with text
    • Example: in NCEA English students need to create static images (e.g. AS.90855 at Level 1) – using a Sprout they could truly combine all physical and digital artefacts and allow their creativity to take over.
StaticImage exemplar

An exemplar of a traditional Static Image for NCEA Level 1 English. A Sprout could revolutionise how these are created by combining both physical and digital artefacts

What was clear from the demonstration presented by Paul Burman from HP was that the Sprout is perhaps not the best tool for creating incredibly detailed and accurate finished products, but it is unparalleled in combining a range of features that would normally require exceptionally high skill levels in programmes such as Photoshop or AutoCAD.

For this reason, there is significant appeal for a device such as this in all year levels of schools, as I can see that students in our Preparatory School could easily apply their creativity to using this tool in effective ways. Likewise, Secondary School students in a range of curriculum areas could engage with this to very quickly create engaging conceptual designs using a range of media.

Below are some quickly taken videos from the presentation yesterday that illustrate a range of functions of the Sprout and, hopefully, how easy and relatively simply it is to quickly use. In the room watching was around 10 ICT Directors and Managers and all were riveted – most filming the presentation on their phones too – highlighting that this technology appears to bridge the traditional design / 3D print space and allow creativity to just flow:

Visualising a skirt re-designed with a physical fabric swatch

Scanning a physical object into a 3D model with Sprout by HP

Editing a photo from the web quickly with Sprout by HP

The Power Of Data

PowerBIIncreasingly, most organisations are seeking to “do more” with the data they collect and store and in this respect, St Andrew’s College is no different. For the last two years I have been looking at a number of tools that would allow us to easily collect, analyse, display and share critical information amongst key stakeholders.

As part of this investigation we have looked at tools such as Crystal Reports, Tableau and Microsoft Excel connected via MS-Query to our MS-SQL server and outputting pivot tables for analysis. Here are some examples of this:

In the end, we decided to progress with Microsoft’s PowerBI solution, which is described on their website as:

Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Stay in the know, spot trends as they happen, and push your business further.

Some of the reasons we selected this solution include:

  • It’s browser based – you can access it from “anywhere” and see live data. You can also bookmark certain reports in your browser for near instant access.
  • There is also an app available (iPhone/iPad/Android/Windows10) so the data is accessible anytime / anywhere
  • We can tweak reports / visuals quickly and easily, based off feedback from stakeholders
  • Being browser based, you don’t need a local file on your computer that is “out of date” once a new version with improved features is built. What you see is always the “latest version”
  • It’s part of our existing Office365 Suite, so our existing username/password logs you into the reports.
  • Security permissions are centrally managed based off AD users and role based groups.
  • It connects to our on-premise MS-SQL Server, allowing for scheduled data updates (hourly / daily).

To best demonstrate the power of this tool, we built a proof of concept based around analysing NCEA student achievement, in particular University Entrance requirements and course/subject endorsement. Here is a screencast walking through the tool:

Note: identifiable data such as student names / ID numbers have been blurred out in this video.

To accelerate the development of some of this reporting, we have:

  • Partnered with DataCom New Zealand and are getting expert advice from their Business Intelligence team in terms of configuring the ETL process via Microsoft SSIS, building a tabular data model and connecting to PowerBI in the cloud for presenting the data to staff.
  • Hired a new staff member to join the ICT Services team in the role of Business Intelligence Report Writer. The responsibilities for this role will be to interface with the various business units in the College (e.g. Academic Data, Enrolments, Development, Communications etc), understand their reporting requirements and then build the reports in PowerBI.

The key with any Business Intelligence project is to help inform the decision making process and not just be contented with pretty visualisations. To that end, a robust conversation and scoping of what is required to be seen by the stakeholder needs to be established. However, with a wide range of visualisations being added regularly to PowerBI, there is a number of ways to present data in an easily comprehensible format. One of my favourites in a 3D, interactive globe that significantly improves on the PowerMap in Excel (see above):

This visualisation could be very useful in mapping where our current students or Old Collegians live or identifying where donations are coming from globally mapped either by volume or value for example.

We are in the very early stages of this project, yet the potential is very obvious to the leadership teams at St Andrew’s. The focus over the next few weeks will be configuring the backend infrastructure: the ETL processes (Extraction, Transformation, Loading), the Data Warehouse and the connectivity into PowerBI. Subsequently, the rapid development of reporting dashboards will proceed.

If this interests you, please do check back regularly on the blog for updates or drop a comment below to discuss further.

Microsoft Video Showcases Innovative Educators

On the 23rd November 2015 Microsoft NZ arranged for a TV crew to film and interview a number of staff and students at St Andrew’s College. The focus of the day was showcasing how the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote were being used creatively within the College. The three teaching staff interviewed were Mr Wilj Dekkers (Year 6 class teacher in the Preparatory School), Ms Tam Yuill Proctor (Assistant Head of English) and Mr Ben Hilliam (Assistant Head of Maths).

These three were chosen as they have been using the Surface Pro 3 since our initial trial group was formed in late 2014 and also because they have recently been named as Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016:

St Andrew’s College’s three Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016 from left to right: Mr Ben Hillian, Ms Tam Yuill Proctor and Mr Wilj Dekkers

All three have featured on this blog before, with some of my favourite posts about their teaching being:

What impresses me about these teachers is how natural the integration of technology and eLearning strategies are. As I noted on the post about Mr Hilliam above:

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

Certainly, the technology available to achieve this integration is available and well supported at St Andrew’s, something that Ms Yuill Proctor noted in a blog post published today:

At StAC I count myself very lucky to have the technology, infrastructure and guidance available to try new tools to enhance the learning programs and assist with day to day teaching.

Having access to the tools and support increases the confidence of teachers to try new things – sometimes this is simply at a “Substitution” level on the SAMR scale of technology integration – but often it goes deeper into Modification and Redefinition:

SAMR Diving

These three teachers, recognised externally by Microsoft for the innovative work they’re doing in their classrooms, along with our eLearning Integrator Mr Tom Adams, need to function as change agents and ambassadors within the College in 2016, sharing their pedagogy and encouraging colleagues to follow their lead.

In 2014 St Andrew’s introduced the 1:1 Computing Programme to Year 9 students, making it compulsory for all students in that year group to bring a laptop. We have now successfully concluded the second year of this and, in 2016, are rolling back this requirement to Year 8 students in our Preparatory School as well.

Both Mr Dekkers and Mr Adams have been heavily involved in planning the rationale and support for the Year 8 programme. The result of this is that close to 700 students in Years 8-11 will be required to bring a laptop to school each day: clearly the need for eLearning leaders such as those recognised above is critical to ensure staff and students can maximise the value of this technology.

I am really pleased that this video, and the recognition from Microsoft of these three teachers, reflects the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into teaching with technology at St Andrew’s College.

Footnote: One of the happy outcomes from the day Microsoft spent filming was the chance to interview Toby, a budding game developer in Mr Dekkers’ class. This led to a followup Skype interview that I blogged about here

Toby 3

OneNote Embraces Learning Management Systems

LTI-Blog-Composite-FIIn a recent announcement this week, Microsoft have revealed tighter integration between OneNote and a range of Learning Management Systems including Moodle, which St Andrew’s College uses. One of the key new features is automatic enrolment of students from a Moodle course into the Class NoteBook in OneNote which would streamline the setup for teachers.

I am really pleased to see this announcement because it highlights that Microsoft continue to see OneNote as complementing the function of Learning Management Systems in schools, rather than replacing them. I wrote a detailed blog post about how OneNote and Moodle work fantastically together as each platform has it’s relative strengths and weaknesses that are rounded out by the other.

Pleasingly, new features have been added to the web browser version of OneNote Online, allowing the direct recording of audio into a NoteBook through the browser along with the inserting of files directly into the page:

Recording audio directly into OneNote Online in a browser is a new feature of Microsoft

Recording audio directly into OneNote Online in a browser is a new feature of Microsoft

Lastly, a useful free app that Microsoft released last year called Office Lens now integrates directly into OneNote and and Office365, allowing students and teachers to take photos and save and share them within the school collaborative environment:

Whether collaborating on a project together in OneNote, or simply wanting to record an image or brainstorm and mindmap for future reference, the ability to take a photo and know that it can be retrieved later is invaluable.

It is really pleasing to see that these tools, that have become indispensable in education, have continued to receive regular updates and enhancements from Microsoft and I look forward to seeing how our teachers and students will maximise their value in (and out) of the classroom.

#CEM15 Guest Post – Explore The World With Mystery Skype

MysterySkypeThis post was written for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog as part of Connected Educators Month of October 2015. You can read the original post here.

Mystery Skype is a fun activity being played by classrooms all over the world and presents a fantastic opportunity for students to become “global citizens” as they meet other students from around the country and globe. On their website, it is described as:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

SkypeThe St Andrew’s College Preparatory School has completed many Mystery Skype sessions now, ranging from students in Year 3 through to Year 8 and the students always thoroughly enjoy the challenge of guessing the location of the other classroom. So far we have played with schools in:

Given the time zone of New Zealand, there are many parts of the world where it is virtually impossible to connect (although check out this Skype we did with the Viking Museum in York, where students came before breakfast to connect)

The Mystery Skype to Russia was one of the more exciting and challenging Skypes, as the class was very small and every student appeared to have a different nationality. It turned out that it was an International School set up by Shell Oil and all of the students had parents involved in the oil industry. Here is a video of our Mystery Skype (If you’re interested in recording your Skype calls, check out this affordable plugin):

It’s interesting seeing how different teachers have prepared their students to play Mystery Skype – the American schools often have very formalised “jobs” where some students are researchers, others are questioners, whilst others hold up signs confirming if a question was answered correctly or not. Ultimately, it’s up to each teacher how they choose to play, but preparing students to think about how to ask effective closed questions is critical since answers can only be “yes” or “no”.

The temptation for students to zoom in and ask very detailed questions is almost overwhelming. For example, given the amount of American and Australian television we have in New Zealand our students can guess the accent of the students very quickly, but they tend to then ask very narrow questions such as “Are you in Los Angeles?” or “Are you in Sydney?” Teaching the effective use of atlases is really helpful and can then lead to more useful questions such as:

  • Are you landlocked?
  • Are you north of the equator?
  • Are you on the West Coast?

One of the real privileges I have had helping classes with Mystery Skype is the sharing of Māori culture with other schools that may never have seen any aspects of it before. The students in our Preparatory School jump at the opportunity to sing waiata and perform the College haka and invariably the students overseas love it:

Mr Craig Kemp, the teacher at the school in Singapore and an ex-pat Kiwi, tweeted the view from his classroom:

CONCLUSION:

Mystery Skype is a fun way to connect with classes all over the world and I would really encourage you to give it a go. It is easy to find other classes thanks to the Mystery Skype website and our experience has been the other teachers are thrilled to find classes in New Zealand because they are often “so far away.” Once a connection is made, it is fun to then re-connect and ask questions of the other class for curriculum related topics e.g. if you’re studying weather patterns or transport, why not Skype that class in the US and find out their experiences or views on these things? Finally, Mystery Skyping is contagious – once classes find out their friends in different classes have done it, they start asking their own teacher to get involved. Have fun!