Click here to find out more about our project. Essentially, we paired up with a teacher and his Chem 30 classroom to hold video conferences with scientist working in current science related jobs.
This post is to take you through the success and possible road blocks that you might run into when trying to connect your students to people outside the classroom. Although I specifically write in the context of a science classroom, these ideas can be applied on a larger spectrum of subjects.
1) What is your focus?
Are you focused on career exploration, science content or both? Is video conferencing with a scientist going to lead you into a section of content? Is it going to conclude a section of content? What do you want the students to learn from this experience?
2) What kind of scientist is going to be the right fit for you?
a) Try to make a curriculum connection. During our project, the class we were working with was doing a solution chemistry unit. To connect to this we wanted to find scientists working in water quality (sediment, dissolved metals and minerals) and someone in potash (Saskatchewan emphasis, specifically solution potash mining).
b) Don’t stress about the direct curriculum connection. One bump in the road during this project was trying to find a scientist with a direct link to what the students were doing in class. In our situation, students were learning about chlorine in water and calculating the values of free and total chlorine in a sample. Originally, we wanted to bring in a scientist that monitors chlorine in our drinking water, so there would be a direct match to what they were learning. We found it near impossible to find someone with this direct correlation so we opened our minds. In the end, students ended up speaking with a scientist who monitored water quality in bodies of water near new industrial developments. Her job was to ensure that work in industry was not hurting the surrounding ecosystems. Her job involved biology and ecology as well as chemistry. Even though she did not discuss chlorine, there were many other connections made to what the students had already learned, and were about to learn.
3) Where do you find scientists?
a) Twitter. Use the power of social media. A success we had was following and tweeting with Universities all over the world. Universities are focused on both scientific research and education so most of the time they are more than willing to invest in your students.
b) Companies. We found that large companies were really interested in working with us. These companies are invested in their image to the public, so the chance for them to talk about what they do is important to them. They want to talk their positive impacts on society, economy and the environment. They also want to encourage students to look to careers in science, because they will always need scientists working for them!
c) about.me is a website where people can make a profile that encompasses all their social media connections and websites. This makes it very easy to find someone appropriate for your classroom. Simply type in key words into the search bar at the top of the page and you will be scrolling through scientist profiles in no time! Their contact information is usually directly on that page.
d) Classroom 2.0 and Educators PLN are two personal learning networks for teachers. You can make a profile and easily connect to other teachers who are video conferencing with scientists too! The wonderful thing about technology is, if you have classes at the same time, scientists can three way conference with your classroom and another.
4) Prep your students. Prep your scientist.
Video conferencing can be an awkward experience at first. It is odd to communicate over a screen, but I promise you that your students are more comfortable talking to a screen then you are, so let the experience flow.
a) To decrease the awkward pauses I encourage you to prep your students by having them brainstorm questions for their presenter. You can go about this in anyway you like, but here is an example of how we went about it for our project. Ensure your students know who is responsible for asking which questions.
b) I prefer an interview style video conference where the students and the scientist talk back and forth, simulating a more authentic conversation. If you prefer a more presentation style conference, where your students listen and the scientists speaks, that will work too! Be sure your presenter is prepared for either direction. If your students will be doing an “interview” style conference, give the questions to the presenter in advance. If the scientist is doing a presentation, be sure that you ask for any power points and pictures in advance.
c) Test your technology with your chosen presenter a few days in advance. I suggest you try it in the same room that you will be doing the real conference in. Do the mics work? Can students at the back of the classroom hear? Can the presenter hear students asking questions from the back of the room?
5) What technology should I use?
I would always err on the side of what is comfortable for your presenter if possible. You will probably be the more tech savvy individual so try to work with them. I am going to go through the positives and negatives of the two video conferencing giants as I see it. I clearly have a bias towards one.
-Skype will work on any mobile device (app) or desk top computer.
-Multi-way video conferencing costs money. You will not be able to Skype in more then one presenter or classroom.
-You must download Skype on to your computer or phone before you can use it. Most schools have restrictions on downloading without the sign off of a principal or technician.
-I find that Skype will drop calls, or the audio and visual can get choppy and begin to lag.
– No need to make a new account. An account will be made off whatever exiting email you would like to use.
– You do not need to download anything! It will run right off the internet page in Chrome, IE, Firefox and Safari. If you have any questions about the system requirements, I would refer you to this page.
– You can add other callers to muti-way conference at no cost.
– Superior visual and audio
– Broadcasting option: you can broadcast your conference to whoever you would like. They do not get to participate in the conversation, but they can watch and listen to what is happening.
– if you have something to add to this list let me know
a) Scroll up to the top of this post, see #1? Did you accomplish what you wanted to?
b) Have your students do some sort of evaluation. Whether or not you choose to grade this is up to you. We had our student do fast writes based on prompts and we also had them to fast talks on their cell phones. It is important to know id this is working for your class or not. Are they reaching the goals that you wanted to focus on in #1? You won’t know until you ask!
You can see our video reflection of our project here. It also includes student reflections.
Just Dive In! Get your classroom connected to the world! It may be uncomfortable for you to email strangers and ask them to video conference with you but it is worth it. If there is one thing I learned during this project, it is that people really want to help you. You will see more benefit for your students then I can even begin to tell you here.