Room 208 and Room 310 are classrooms without walls. Those rooms in Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Asbury Park are places where students have traveled over 30,000 virtual miles and counting.

The school’s Skype in the Classroom project began in the 2015-16 school year as a collaborative effort between the building’s speech-language therapists and occupational therapist. They sought to give meaning to the Asbury Park School District’s new mission to ensure that students “possess the skills and character to succeed in a diverse, evolving global society.”

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By participating in Skype’s Virtual Field Trip program, the students have experienced what it means to be “global.”

Our students have traveled virtually to many different states and continents and have connected with professionals, interesting animals, and even other students while developing important 21st-century skills. This type of authentic learning experience has provided our students, who themselves come from diverse backgrounds and heritages, opportunities to learn about the world.

The effect has been profound. Students are able to see places in realtime and have purposeful interactions, taking them steps beyond seeing pictures in a book or locating places on a map. The Skype sessions bring the vocabulary they study to life.

As part of “Arctic Live!” students met explorer Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop. He answered our students’ questions about his Arctic adventure and even shared his personal pictures of the Northern Lights. The Arctic explorer told our students he was lucky not to have seen a polar bear!

They were introduced to the Adélie penguins (and chicks!) in Antarctica and spoke with penguin researcher Jean Pennycook. When a student asked, “Where is the ocean?” Pennycook simply turned her camera around and showed it to the class—along with an amazing volcano on the horizon.

Tailoring lessons to students’ needs

The Skype format has succeeded in maintaining students’ excitement and motivation.

In addition, the nature of this project has allowed the therapists to tailor lessons to the individual needs and goals of the student. Prior to each connection, the students are taught the essential vocabulary, facts and geography specific to the topic. Students look forward to each “trip” and to practicing their skills in this fun and innovative way.

Because the virtual field trips are interactive, they promote a high level of engagement and participation from students. Some of our students’ most memorable experiences include meeting a marine biologist and rescued sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key, Florida, interacting with the staff and “Icky” the Asian elephant at the Center for Elephant Conservation, speaking with the teachers and students at HIP Academy in Kenya, and learning about cheetahs at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

This year, students have already been to Mount Rainier National Park and the Intrepid Air and Space Museum. Next they are off to the Lisbon Zoo, and both the Badlands and Denali National Parks.

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How to plan your class’s trip

It’s simple and free to join Skype in the Classroom. Here’s how:

  1. Visit education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom.
  2. Select the JOIN NOW icon located on the top right of the page.
  3. Download the Skype App onto your device and create your free account. Contact your school/ district’s technology teacher for guidance.
  4. Once you have created accounts for both, take time to browse the Skype in the Classroom page.
  5. Find a Virtual Field Trip that’s right for your class and select “Register for Virtual Field Trip.”
  6. Choose a date and time that fits your schedule

Skype Virtual Field trips can connect students of all abilities to the world so make your reservations now!

Bon Voyage! 

Dacia DeAngelis M.A., C.C.C./S.L.P., is a speech-language specialist working in the Asbury Park School District. She can be reached at deangelisd@asburypark.k12.nj.us. Her Twitter handle is  @slpasbury.

Carolyn Michelle Jones, M.A. CCC/SLP, has worked as a speech-language specialist in the Asbury Park School District for 24 years primarily at the elementary level. She can be reached at JonesCarolyn@asburypark.k12.nj.us. Her Twitter handle is @crlynsher.

Jodie Redman M.S., O.T.R./L. is certified in pediatrics. Currently, she is enjoying her position as an occupational therapist working with students in the Asbury Park School District. She can be reached at RedmanJ@asburypark.k12.nj.us.