The wonders of Skype in connecting classes in Seattle in the USA and Hillcrest in South Africa

Submitted by Fiona Beal

In July 2011 I was very privileged to attend the inaugural Microsoft Partner’s in Learning Institute in Seattle. Whilst there I connected with a virtual blogging friend, Julie Hembree, who visited me at my hotel. It is really exciting to meet virtual technology friends for the first time. Since then Julie has gone on to be an Edublogs winner with her amazing librarian blog, Bulldog Readers, plus a United States finalist in the Partners in Learning Global Forum held in Prague 2013. I used her insights in a post I recently wrote about the Forum. Last year Julie wrote and asked if I knew of anyone she could send books to and form a virtual connection with in South Africa. I wrote a blogpost about it and sent the respondents’ names to Julie. Well, that connection has happened which I am very excited about, and I have asked Julie if I could use her  posts as a guest post. The books have actually gone to a semi-rural school in Kwazulu-Natal near the Inanda Dam. Highbury School collaborates with the school. On March 18th, the 7th year students at Highbury will travel to Ndlokolo Primary School to deliver the books for Julie. Thank you Julie for sharing the story on the Internet! So in this post we will first tell you about the background to the books, and then we will tell you about the skype conversation with Highbury Prep that took place on World Reaad Aloud Day!


This first part of the story comes from Julie’s Books on their way to Africa post

“Our first shipment of books is en route to South Africa!

These boxes are going to our partner school, Highbury Prep School in Hillcrest, South Africa. We will be Skyping with some 3rd year students from Highbury on Wednesday before school to jointly celebrate World Read Aloud Day.

Highbury Prep School works with a semi-rural school near the Inanda Dam. On March 18th, the 7th year students at Highbury will travel to Ndlokolo Primary School.

The students have been collecting “mealie meals” a type of breakfast porridge made from white maize, beans and Easter eggs to bring to the students at Ndlokolo. They will also bring the books we have sent, as long as they get there in time! Mealie meal is made from the same ingredients as corn flakes. It is a staple meal in most African countries.

It took a lot of work and fundraising to get to the shipment stage of our project! To make this exchange more personal, our students placed stickers inside each book and then signed them.

Then we counted out piles of books and made sure we had the most books we could fit into each box. The maximum weight for a box has to be less than 20 pounds. We figured out that we can fit about 50 paperback picture books  in a 20 pound box.

We also added some handmade bookmarks and some cards.

The boxes were closed and taped up. Mrs. Hembree filled out the customs paperwork and then took them to the post office. It is supposed to take between 6-10 business days for the boxes to arrive.”


This next part of the story comes from Julie’s Skyping across 10000 miles post

“This morning we made a Skype video call with some students at Highbury Prep School in Hillscrest, South Africa. If you would like to go on a virtual tour of the school, click on this Highbury Prep School link.

It was 8:15 am in Seattle, WA and 6:16pm in Hillcrest. That’s a 9 hour time difference!

We chose to Skype on this particular day because it’s World Read Aloud Day, an international day to draw attention to the importance of literacy around the world.

Before the call, the students brainstormed some questions to ask the students at Highbury.

Then at 8:15 we made the video call, with no technical difficulties! We were communicating across 10,100 or more miles (16,976 km).

We had students from kindergarten to 5th grade,  two teachers -Mrs. Hynden, Mrs. Lustgarten and a parent- Mrs. Yates participate in the call.

We exchanged questions back and forth and learned we have a lot of similarities and some differences too.

Here are some of the similarities:

  • we study study English, math, science.
  • we love PE!
  • we like books
  • we have technology
  • we attend great schools

Here are some differences:

  • they wear uniforms to school
  • only boys attend their school
  • they study two languages at school (in addition to English): Afrikaans and isiZulu
  • they have 11 official languages in South Africa
  • their school day is 7:30am – 2:00pm, except on days they have “sport”
  • the entire school attends after school sport and learn swimming, rugby, soccer, etc.
  • it’s hot there right now – in the 90′s (32 Celcius)
  • we use Netbooks and they use iPads

During our call, we tried speaking Afrikaans and isiZulu. They taught us how to say Hello in both languages. They were also surprised to hear how many of our students speak another language. They said we are very “international”!

We found out the boxes of books we sent have not yet arrived, but hopefully will soon. Mrs. Dunstone said sometimes things take longer in Africa. As soon as they do arrive, she promised to take pictures and share with us.

Our call lasted about 20-25 minutes and then it was time to say goodbye! The time just flew by! However, we did have a few minutes for donuts and juice before school. Mrs. Hynden showed us some of her photos from South Africa and figurines from Swaziland when she visited there in the late 80′s. She remembered going to the beach in Durban, which is about 45 minutes from Hillcrest.

Everyone filled out a card and shared a positive statement about the call. Here are some of the students said:

  • “I liked seeing how different things were in African and that they have iPads for every student.” Eleni
  • “Asking and answering questions.” Yennhi
  • “Asking if I can join their school!” Kailer
  • “It was funny when they said we have an accent.” Samantha
  • “It was really interesting when I heard they all had iPads.” Gabe
  • “…just seeing them!” Madelyn
  • “What I liked about Skyping was when they talked in a different language.” Kasia
  • “My favorite part about Skyping with the class was hearing them speak their language and finding out 600 students get their own iPads!” Grace
  • “Listening to their accents.” Bella
  • “I like the sports you do.” Cooper
  • “My favorite part was getting to know how their school works.” Lauren
  • “My favorite part was listening to their accent.” Emily
  • “Awesome!” Jaiden
  • “The part I liked is when they said they had about 600 iPads.” Kaito
  • “My favorite part was talking to different people.” Syon
  • “My favorite part of skyping with the kids was being able to see their faces when they would laugh.” Mrs. Yates
  • “I loved seeing the look on the African boys’ faces when they saw girls at our school!” Mrs. Hynden

This video call was a fabulous experience. I hope we can continue the questions and learning on this blog. It’s amazing how technology can build a bridge between our schools!”


Here is a comment from Des Dunston’s at Highbury Prep

SchoolNet wrote to Des Dunstone to tell her how excited we were to see what happened about the books and how thrilled we were to see how Skype connected the classes, and Des commented “Our Skype pizza party last night was a great success.  We had some parents join us and I think they are all so blown away by what we can do with technology these days.”

Hooray for Skype. Try it! Your class will love it. Thank you to Julie and Des.

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