Using Skype to get students talking

I teach students who need to talk.  You get better communicating by talking, and you can learn more by talking about something and explaining it.  I wanted to use technology to get them talking and researched pieces of software that we could use.  I received several recommendations for Skype (since it is peer to peer and also it is very good at getting through firewalls) and set up suitable accounts to use (I’ve previously used Skype at school myself for some long calls and knew that it works fine on our broadband connection).

I set a laptop up in a remote location in school together with a USB telephone handset (which Skype detected with no problems).  This laptop was logged onto Skype and the screen positioned (and lighting checked) so that I would be able to see the person using the handset on the video stream.  Students had a very brief lesson in Skype (how to dial and hang-up was all they required) and sent to the computer to call back.  Students took it in turn to call back to the classroom and their video was displayed on the whiteboard.  I used a headset microphone and acted as intermediate between the rest of the class (who were asking questions) and the caller.

What surprised me was the level of engagement, and even my most reluctant speakers were willing to have a go at phoning back to the classroom.  Students who passed by were keen to join in and several asked if we could use Skype in their lesson.  The technology worked well and we enjoyed clear and lag-free conversations about a number of topics.

I plan to use Skype again next week to work on our telephone skills (this was a careers lesson).   Other ideas to try soon in other lessons include telephone hot seating (students take on a role and we take turns to phone them up and ask a question), telephone interviews and ‘ask an expert’.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has used Skype in this way.

Using low/mid range visualisers for chemistry demos and why homemade might be best.

I’ve had a visualiser for a while now after I saw them in everyday use in Chinese schools.  Mine is an Avermedia CP130 visualiser which I generally use connected to a PC (greater resolution/ability to capture video/images).  I’ve used it to project up examples of student work for which it works very well.  It works well with printed images/flashcards and I’ve always been pleased with the results.

My KS4 students have been looking at trends in the periodic table.  I thought that a visualiser would be perfect for showing the reactions of the alkali metals, and for recording them to show absent students.  I tried to get the camera head into a suitable position but where it wouldn’t be at risk of jumping potassium which was easier said than done (I didn’t want to risk damaging it).  Let’s say I wasn’t very impressed.

This is typical of the still images I collected

This is typical of the video I recorded (I’ve removed the sound since it was captured using the microphone on my laptop and wasn’t much use).

I wasn’t impressed with the quality of the recorded video, and having the flexible neck on the camera didn’t allow the range of usable viewing angles that you would imagine.  My advice?  I’ve seen fellow bloggers talk about building a low cost visualiser (e.g. GlenGilchrist).  My advice is build your own – the quality of video from a home built visualiser will at worse be equal to the quality of the video I captured and would likely be much better.  As well as saving money you are more likely to be adventurous with a camera costing under £50.

BTW I’ll stick to recording my demonstrations with my Flipcam and mini-tripod!

Using data logging technology with special needs students

Many departments have small numbers of data loggers, stuck at the back of cupboards with flat batteries, neglected because no-one really knows what to do with them.  Perhaps they don’t get used because you haven’t got a class set or because the teacher lacks the confidence to use them in front of a group of tech-savvy students.

My advice – if you have PGCE students get them on the case.  PGCE students have to show capability in ICT skills and what better way to learn than by mastering data logging equipment and rolling out activities to the rest of the department.

Data loggers are excellent tools for SEN students – hopefully the ideas below will encourage you to dig yours out and get them up and running again!

Using data loggers as a digital measuring device

At the simplest level just using a data logger as a digital thermometer works.  It is easy to read and using like this is a good way to introduce the technology to students.

Using data loggers on the IWB to show live data

Most data logging equipment can be connected to a PC and used to show live data from an experiment on the IWB.  You could even get students to take regular readings from this live data, building up skills like timing and recording results, whilst keeping the activity simple.  This is especially useful where there could be health & safety implications from the experiment.

The image shows the data captured from an experiment investigating the insulating properties of dog fur!  This graph was displayed at the end of the experiment, with live data being displayed on the screen as the experiment was underway.

Data loggers also allow many students with poor numeracy skills to visualise the results and answer questions like ‘did the temperature go up or down?’ which they might not have been able to do from a table of numbers.

Using data loggers to capture data and create a graph of results.

For students who lack the necessary coordination or organisational skills to collect results over a period of time, why not give them a data logger and get the hardware to do the work for them.  Students are released from the requirement to collect readings at fixed intervals, they don’t have to struggle to read the thermometer and the data is even graphed at the end by the data logging software.  More advanced students can even export their data into Excel.

This graph shows the temperatures collected during the dog hair insulation experiment (unfortunately I didn’t start the data logging collecting data until we had finished using the live display on the IWB).   Again this allows students with poor numeracy to visualise the results, and to make comparisons between the different data sets collected (e.g. which temperature dropped the fastest? the most? the slowest?)

Do you use data logging hardware/software with SEN students.  Leave me a comment and share your ideas with others.