Connecting with the world in the classroom
Teacher Jacques Smiley is standing before a class full of junior English students at South Kamloops secondary.
He’s talking about poems. He makes a joke. The students laugh.
It sounds like a typical day in a typical Kamloops high school classroom, but it’s not.
Smiley is speaking to the South Kam students from more than 3,500 kilometres away, in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
He’s appearing on the Smart Board in Kamloops teacher Lynda Hall’s classroom, thanks to the magic of Skype.
Over the summer break, Hall began using a program called Skype for Education — a tool for teachers to connect classrooms and curriculums across the globe.
Think of it as a 21st-century version of the cross-continent pen pals many elementary students had in decades past.
“It’s the same idea,” Hall said. “Each teacher can do their own thing with it and use it how they want to.”
Hall met Smiley — a transplanted Texan who is teaching English at Colgio Lincoln School, a private institution in the central Mexican city of about 700,000 — after posting a message on Skype for Education.
They decided to partner up. Now, each one of Hall’s classes has regular Skype chats with Smiley’s classes.
“The cultural experience has been amazing,” she said.
“The students love it. They ask every day, ‘When are we Skyping? Is it a Skype day?’
“I just can’t believe how good it’s been.”
There are many differences between Smiley’s Mexican class and Hall’s Kamloops students.
For one, Smiley’s students don’t have desks. They sit on folding chairs in their classroom.
The door to the classroom leads to an open-air hallway, which you also don’t see in Kamloops schools.
But, the students are teenagers just the same, albeit from a much different culture and a much different country.
That’s what the students like about it.
“I think it’s cool because we get to see what’s happening in other places,” said 13-year-old South Kam student Jacob Harder, who also happens to work as a KTW carrier.
“Normally, we wouldn’t be able to do that unless we flew there.”
Harder has been to Mexico, on a vacation with his family to Puerto Vallarta — which is 300 kilometres west of Aguascalientes.
“But, we just saw the tourist parts,” he said.
Hall said one of the best parts about the Skype relationship she has built with Smiley’s classes is the social awareness being instilled in students on both sides.
She said questions are often asked about sports teams, weather, music and other common curiosities for teenagers everywhere.
On Tuesday morning (Oct. 19), while Hall had her class open to the media during one of the Skype conversations with students in Mexico, the topic of social-networking came up.
One of the Mexican students asked, “What is your Facebook?”
But, partially because of the sometimes-poor audio coming through on Skype and partially because of the language barrier, it was misinterpreted.
Hall’s students thought they heard, “What is your favourite food?”
The Canadian response? “Tacos.”
For his part, Smiley said he’s happy to have Hall’s classes join his virtually.
“I thought it would be a good idea to bring Canada, India, the U.S., into our classroom,” he said.
Hall said she is the only South Kam teacher making use of Skype for Education, but she wants that to change.
“I hope so,” she said.
“I’m hoping that other teachers will say, ‘You know what? This is cool. We need to try this.’”