Thursday, November 12, 2015

Trekkers Skype



If you are a fourth grade teacher in Virginia, you have probably heard of the Virginia Trekkers. This group of four ITRTs from Henrico County Public Schools traveled across the state, creating podcasts along the way, to showcase the various people, places, and things mentioned in the state curriculum guide. They added their videos to a website and voila! Their personal journeys became shared resources for a global audience.


If you are a fourth grade student, however, the Virginia Trekkers are like a magical troupe of explorers, discovering hidden secrets as they traverse from mountain to shoreline. Just the mention of "The Trekkers" brings smiles, applause, and excitement.

Last Friday, our fourth grade students had the opportunity to share a conversation with two of the Trekkers via Skype. Oh, the anticipation! Students had written questions in their journals, ready to be answered, and waited all day for their opportunity to interact with a "REAL" Trekker.

Since the regular classroom was too small to hold 60+ students, we held the Skype event in the library. We got all the technical hardware connected and did a test run before students entered the room to make sure everything worked correctly. There were no glitches, so everything seemed to be going as planned. 

The students entered the library, their excitement like an electrical current zipping through the air. After a few minutes we got everyone settled in their seats, on the floor, even standing in the back. We dialed the Trekkers through Skype, waited for them to answer the call, and then...

Silence.

Their faces showed on the screen, big smiles and hand waves, but there was no sound. 



Everyone looked at me, the ITRT, who surely could fix this issue. I checked the microphone and speakers but lights were on and operating; the volume button on the computer showed no issues with the mute off. We disconnected the call, tried again, and this time it worked, but their voices were too soft to hear for the 60+ students in the room. We scrambled to find another set of speakers (mine were apparently too weak) and in the process of detaching and reattaching, we lost the volume again.

Has this ever happened to you? Where you plan a lesson involving technology and then lo and behold something goes wrong and panic rises within you like an ocean wave, waiting to crash, drowning you AND your lesson? You are not alone! I think there is an ironic moment of satisfaction for a classroom teacher to observe a tech integrator in the same boat as well - we are in good company, trying to fix a problem that is sometimes out of our control!

After a little more scrambling, we finally reached a crossroads, realizing we couldn't get the microphone and speakers to work correctly at the same time. It was in this moment we made the choice: it was more important for our students to hear the Trekkers than for them to hear us.

Within seconds a marker and paper appeared and we organized students in a line to write their questions. Students then held their handwritten questions in front of the webcam for the Trekkers to read and answer for the group. Success!


Despite our technical difficulties, we learned a lot about the Trekkers - what they enjoy doing in their spare time, their favorite places to visit even their favorite flavors of ice cream! It was a wonderful experience to "meet" the Trekkers live and discover new things about them.

We are thankful they took time out of their busy schedules to chat with us!