'Skype in the Classroom' Connects Kids to NASA and Global Experts

In the year since Skype launched its global community for educators, Skype in the Classroom, over 38,000 teachers from 200 countries have built virtual relationships and connections with each other. Now in celebration of World Teachers' Day, Skype's doubling down on their commitment to connecting teachers and students to meaningful learning opportunities by adding some top-notch partner organizations—places like NASA’s Digital Learning Center—making their expertise available to educators, and using the platform to promote intercultural understanding.

Making experts available to classrooms for Skype video calls wasn't intially in the plans says Andy Schmidt, Skype's head of social good. The hope was simply that the platform would foster international collaboration. That goal’s certainly been met since educators are sharing lesson plans in over 60 languages and thousands of joint projects are currently in progress.

"We're seeing anything from students coming together to work on a project over a longer period of time, or they could just be having a one-off call on understanding life in a different part—what are your birthday traditions like? What are your foods like?" says Schmidt.

But, since the platform's always been "teacher led and teacher driven," says Schmidt, when they found that teachers were clamoring for opportunities to connect their students to reknowned experts and authors, it became a natural evolution to facilitate access. Classrooms that connect with NASA’s Digital Learning Center, for example, will be able to interact with scientists and engineers to learn how to design a spacesuit mission patch, prep for takeoff, find out what living and working in space is like, and learn basic robotics.

In addition to expanding their offerings as a global education resource, says Schmidt, Skype wants to use the platform "to contribute directly to peace." To that end, they’re working with Peace One Day, an organization devoted to promoting non-violence in all its forms, to help share "curriculum material for teachers on intercultural cooperation, anti bullying, and diplomacy" with every school on Earth.

Late last month they launched Skype For Peace, a crowdfunding initiative to help Peace One Day put the curriculum in the hands of more teachers "so they can instill the idea in next generation that creating peace is essential," says Schmidt. Skype plans to match every dollar of the first $100,000 donated. The crowdfunding campaign lasts through Giving Tuesday, November 27.

Connecting students to experts, their peers around the globe, and facilitating cultural understanding won’t happen if teachers aren’t involved in Skype in the Classroom's community. To that end, says Schmidt, "if you’re an educator, check out Skype in the Classroom and sign up for it." If you're not a teacher, but "you believe in the mission of Peace One Day," says Schmidt, make a donation to the Skype for Peace Campaign, and "if there’s an organization that would be interested in potentially working with Skype in the Classroom," and sharing their expertise with students, he adds, reach out to Skype and get involved.

Photo via Skype

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