Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Skyping with History

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Skyping with History

Article excerpt

A majority of the students at my inner city middle school in Ohio are eligible for free and reducedprice lunch. Many are not able to travel beyond their neighborhood or venture outside the city in which they live. How can the content we cover in class have any sort of meaning for them when they have such a limited view of the world?

My students need to experience the world from a global perspective. Because field trips are out of the question, I turned to technology and developed a distance-learning component using whiteboards, Chromebooks, iPads, and a solid Internet connection.

I looked at my eighth grade social studies curriculum map and began making connections. We were going to study the Declaration of Independence, so I could somehow connect with the National Archives. For our study of the branches of government, I would reach out to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court. If there was an "expert" on a particular topic, I wanted that person to talk to my students.

Reaching Out

I began with the National Archives. When I asked whom I could speak with about a distancelearning event for my students, the employee took my name and said someone would get back with me. I felt deflated, believing my quest would end before it began.

But one day, my phone rang in the middle of class. It was Missy McNatt from the National Archives and Records Administration. I explained that I wanted to create a distance learning opportunity for my students so they could learn more about the Declaration of Independence. Ms. McNatt said she would be delighted to talk to my class-this would be her inaugural Skype session with a group of students.

She presented a content-rich experience that made the history of the Declaration of Independence come alive. What's more, my students were able to ask her questions. One student shared, "Being able to talk to someone who works with the document allowed me to have a greater understanding of the Declaration of Independence. She presented information in a way that was more engaging than a lecture in the classroom or reading from a textbook."

My students were thoroughly impressed by the session and asked if they could do something similar again. I was determined to bring them the world.

I sent an email to the U. S. Capitol website inquiring whether someone could talk to my students about the congressional powers described in Article 1 of the U. S. Constitution. Within a day or two, I received a reply from Ellen Stanton, the public programs coordinator at the U. S. Capitol Visitor Center. She shared that they had never done a Skype session with a school, but they were interested in trying it.

Ms. Stanton sent the students pocket copies of the U. S. Constitution and a graphic that showed the evolution of a specific bill that had been passed by Congress, vetoed by the president, and overridden by the Congress.

Prior to the Skype session, students prepared questions based on their research about Article 1. I emailed those questions to Ms. Stanton so she would be prepared to answer each of the students' questions and present them with relevant information.

One eighth grade student commented, "It was great to talk with Ms. Stanton....Seeing pictures and hearing her explain the process a bill goes through has helped me to have a better understanding of Congress and the role they play within the federal government. …

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