Saturday, December 3, 2016

Skype-a-Thon 2016 In The Library

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I was selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert in the fall of 2015. Shortly after receiving that honor, I learned about the global Skype-a-Thon event. This activity encourages educators to connect their classrooms to get as many virtual miles as possible over the two day period. During the Skype-a-Thon in 2015, we participated in a few Mystery Skype activities. It was a lot of fun for our learning community, and I knew I wanted to try to participate again in 2016.

Test Skype connection (& selfie) with Robyn Hrivnatz

We wanted to use the Skype-a-Thon event to give our learners an opportunity to connect with professionals outside of Arkansas during our lunch periods. There are typically 50-70 students in the library during lunch periods, so it is a perfect time to have programs like this. I began emailing colleagues to see who might be available to connect with our students. It didn't take long for a schedule to develop.
Anne Menotti, U.S. Department of State

Anne Skyped with us from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms
Anne works at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms for the U.S. Department of State. I collaborated with her previously during the first year of the Arkansas Declaration of Learning program in 2015. This program encourages participants to select art and objects to create powerful collaborative lessons for students. (I plan to write more about this experience on the blog in the future.)

She agreed to connect with us and share about her job in Washington, D.C. Our students really enjoyed learning about the many American art pieces and objects in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. She even showed our learners the very desk where the Treaty of Paris was signed! Anne offered to connect with us again at a later date so we can invite some of our history classes to attend. This is a future opportunity I am very excited about!

Students listen to Anne talk about the Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft

About a month before the Skype-a-Thon, I received an email from Marketing and Education Programs Manager, US Education at Microsoft, Robyn Hrivnatz. She asked me if I would be interested in having our students Skype with Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, during the Skype-a-Thon. I was very excited to say yes! Anthony stays up for 24 consecutive hours each year to connect with schools all over the world during the Skype-a-Thon event. Since the organizers offered to allow our students to showcase their work, we decided to invite the students who had recently presented to an education cooperative that had visited us to learn about innovation spaces.

Jared shows off his Minecraft creation

Krystyna shows off her robots

The EAST team presents their 3D printing technology

On the day of the big event, our students did a wonderful job. Madison and Zoey served as our hostesses. Krystyna presented about her robots. Jordan and Jared presented Minecraft. Four EAST students presented about their 3D printing technology. Nathan and Hayden presented about their Breakout EDU faculty presentation. Anthony was very interactive with each learner. It was an event we will never forget. Our learning community was extremely grateful to be selected among 43 schools globally and 5 nationally.

Robyn Hrivnatz, Marketing and Education Programs Manager, US Education at Microsoft

Robyn on the screen of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4
I had met Robyn in person this past summer while attending the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert US Forum in Denver, Colorado. I was intrigued to learn that she had previously been an educator before moving into her current position at Microsoft. I knew a Skype session with her would be inspiring to our learners, especially if she shared her career path to Microsoft. She was actually my first contact to request a session for the Skype-a-Thon. Robyn replied back quickly that she could do the session with us. We were so excited!

On the day of the event, Robyn shared how her career journey started as a public school educator to approximately 30 students that attended the session. She discussed how building relationships, connections, and growth mindset had helped her move forward in each new opportunity eventually leading to her current job at Microsoft. This truly inspired our learners. In fact, one student, Krystyna, asked Robyn how to go about applying for a job at Microsoft. Krystyna was still talking about the interaction with Robyn two days later. I have encouraged her to write an article for this blog to share about how this connection changed her thinking. (Hopefully, she will take me up on this!)

Robyn speaking to our library lunch crowd

A student asking Robyn questions

Student Reflections

I asked our learners to reflect on their experiences after the Skype-a-Thon. These were the responses they shared with me:

"Being able to converse so normally with someone so important was truly inspirational. It's good to know that hard work can get you anywhere in life." - Nathan E.

"I really did enjoy calling him, because he works at Microsoft! We all got to show our achievements to him, and how it will impact the world. I had an awesome time." - Jordan L. 

"Today I had an amazing opportunity to present, via Skype, with an employee from Microsoft. I presented my robots and got amazing feedback from him. I also got to ask him about new products that were innovative and got information on the Microsoft OneNote and the Hololens (my favorite thing since sliced bread), which he had sitting by. I am very excited for future events like this and I am anxious to find out other ways to talk about robots with others from around the world. We can expand our horizons and dream big thanks to Skype and an open library staff at Lakeside! Thank you for making my voice heard." - Krystyna V.

Next Steps

I don't think any of us will ever know the full impact of these three experiences on our learners. Each Skype session was unique and very different from any previous sessions we have attempted from the school library. My biggest takeaway is that I need to take bigger risks to get connections for our learning community. These sessions gave me confidence that our learners are ready to communicate and learn from anyone (or any organization) in the world. As I reflect back to the nervousness we all experienced (students included) as we discussed connecting with important personnel from the U.S. Department of State and Microsoft Corporation, I now realize that this uneasiness is normal. These two days caused us all to grow outside of our comfort zones.

American businessman and writer, Max DePree, stated that "In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be, by remaining what we are." I will work harder to make our students' voices heard. I will also continue to seek out new connections and learning opportunities for our learners at Lakeside High School. As I've written many times before, I can't wait to see what happens next!

How a Recent Graduate Shared Her Library Story With Us

How the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Program Changed Me

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