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The Power of Skype to Inspire a New Generation of STEM

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Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

Every time I interact with a K-12 classroom to share my research, I am re-energized. After each visit I feel ready to face the world, or at least my dissertation (which on some days feels like the world)! Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to use and explore Skype in the classroom and to witness its incredible power to inspire students throughout the disciplines. So I wanted to share some of the ways that scientists and teachers can use Skype in the classroom to connect.

Over a two-week period I connected on four different occasions with three different classrooms in Canada (P.S. I live in North Carolina) as part of November's "Exploring Oceans" unit. I joined the Ocean GEMS team to share a little bit about my own research. When you sign up for Skype in the classroom you receive a free year of Skype Premium which allows for group Skyping and more. Using Skype Premium I was able to simultaneously share the video of me as well as a PowerPoint, chock full of pictures about my research. I could see the classroom and the students as they reacted to pictures of Hawaiian spinner dolphins and the sounds I had for them to listen to. In one class, there were two girls in the front row who occasionally sent me big smiles and two thumbs up, encouraging me as I went along. It was like I was right there in the classroom with them.

Two of the classes I Skyped with, Mme. Moccio's class and Mr. Grabowski's class, had blogs which added to our Skype experience. I was able to continue conversations and answer questions before and after my Skype with the students and their families. Mme. Moccio's classroom posted their top ten questions before our Skype which allowed me to incorporate the answers to these questions in my virtual visit. There are many ways to implement Skype in the classroom, I chose to individually Skype with each class instead of setting up a time when classes could sign on and join me in a great big group Skype lesson. This, of course, limited the number of classrooms I could interact with but it allowed me to tailor the lessons to the age group and the needs of the class.

There are so many possible applications of Skype in the classroom for STEM. Imagine visiting an Adelie penguin colony in Antarctica! Or taking a walk along a glacier in Iceland! Or getting a tour of a research cruise ship, or working through real-world math problems, or building something along with an engineer. The opportunities are endless and I encourage scientists to think about Skype in the classroom as a way to achieve those broader impacts and for teachers to explore the lessons on the Skype in the classroom website and to think about how to incorporate Skype in their own classrooms.

To further illustrate the power of these interactions I want to tell you about one of the classes I worked with, Mr. Joe Grabowski's class. For a great example of how to use Skype in a classroom, check out his blog. Mr. Grabowski not only has guest Skype in the Classroom speakers but is also a Skype in the Classroom speaker himself and uses Skype to connect with classrooms worldwide through Mystery Skype. During the Exploring Oceans unit, the class hosted a few shark experts. This exposure to marine science and knowledge about sharks empowered the students and encouraged them to use their voice in response to a controversial policy by the Western Australia government to kill sharks which has garnered global news coverage. The class wrote a letter to the government, received a response, wrote a rebuttal, were covered in Australia news, were covered by their local news this week and got loads of tweets and retweets! Mr. Grabowski's work is a great example of how powerful Skype in the classroom and interactions with scientists can be. He shared that he was "hoping to teach students that they can have a voice and be heard, and it has gone better than I hoped."

Whether you are a teacher or a scientist... please share in the comments below how you currently use or might plan to use Skype in the classroom!