Not everyone on the Scarborough MCHP team did prior to January 12, but they do now.
That was the date of the first of several scheduled Skype sessions at Scarborough Middle School between six members of the Scarborough Historical Society and rotating groups of approximately the same number of 7th and 8th grade students in teacher Jessica Kelly’s Gifted and Talented class. Team leader Celeste Shinay, of Scarborough Public Library, also sat in on the event.
If you’re asking yourself Just what the heck is Skype? you might take a few minutes and wander over here to find out more (and even download the FREE software while you’re at it). Basically, it’s a web-based phone-and-video conference system that allows you to talk to folks and look at them at the same time. If you can’t be in the same room together, this is the next best thing.
And we all know that just living in the same community, and working on the same project, doesn’t necessarily translate into unlimited time and logistical ease of gathering together. So while the students had taken a field trip to the society early on in the project, and historical society members had some flexibility to come into the classroom, Jessica quickly realized that some other mechanism would have to come into play. Her students needed much more frequent contact with the members to establish a true dialogue about the historical items and topics they were researching. Enter 21st century technology.
Skype seemed like the ideal solution, but there was a bit of understandable hesitancy on the part of some who were unfamiliar with it. After all, talking on camera is different for most of us than just plain talking. By all accounts, however, the experience was a resounding success on both sides of the video screen and generation gap.
For the students, who had prepared questions in advance and for whom technology like Skype is just another device in their technological toolbox, it was an ideal way to make instruction more relevant to their daily lives. (It was also groundbreaking in that it was the first Skype session ever held at the school; the school’s laptop services coordinator was on hand and is planning how to use the application in other areas of the curriculum.) For a planned exhibit on Scarborough schools, they asked questions of the historical society members such as, “How can I find out how many students attended the school in such-and-such a year?” (Answer: Old town reports, housed at the library, include attendance records as part of the superintendent’s report.)
For the historical society members, any initial hesitation dissolved away once they realized how easy and engaging the experience could be. Some who initially started out off-camera, were sitting front and center by the end to share their knowledge and stories. One historical society member said, “This is the most fun I’ve had in months.”
Clearly, it “extended the intergenerational relationship to another level,” said teacher Jessica Kelly. Older participants learned from the younger set to embrace the technology that is part of our world today. And while the younger participants absorbed a great deal of Scarborough history, the process of communicating with their elders may have imparted even greater wisdom. Revealing a generousness of spirit and maturity beyond their years, two 7th grade girls went up to Jessica after the session and said, simply, “We are so proud of them.”