West Deptford Pen-Pals Go High-Tech

To help connect different classes in Red Bank and Green-Fields, teachers used video-chatting software for pen-pals to ask each other questions.

Kristy McGlinn’s second-graders at and Lauren Uzdavinis’s fourth-graders at have been pen-pals for the entire year, writing back and forth the old-fashioned way.

On Thursday, the students went a little more advanced than traditional pen-and-paper, video chatting in their first Skype session, and were able to finally see each other and ask questions about Green-Fields, where the second-graders will be attending next year.

With West Deptford set up in grade-level schools, incorporating Skype–a program that allows for free video-chatting between users–for the class buddies between the grades is something the school district hopes will ease the transition between buildings for the students.

“It’s scary going to a new building, and (the students) want to know things from the other students that I can’t always answer,” said McGlinn, who is the first teacher to use Skype like this for the pen-pals. “It was a good end-of-the-year thing to talk in person, and now at least they’ll recognize Miss U’s face.”

With a webcam set up by the classroom desktop, the screen was projected on a Smartboard so the whole class could see. As the students from McGlinn’s class took turns sitting on the chair in front of the computer to ask their question, their pen-pals from Uzdavinis’s class rotated along with them. 

“It was cool that we never met them, and this was our first time meeting them in person,” said Ian Petrutz, an 8-year-old in McGlinn’s class. Unfortunately, Petrutz’s pen-pal was absent that day, but Uzdavinis was able to answer his question.

Another second-grader, 7-year-old Brian Gallagher, also liked being able to look at them.

“When we wrote letters we only saw a picture," he said.

The classes Skyped together for about 45 minutes, with kids asking questions about the size of the lunchroom, was time recess was and if the teachers at Green-Fields were nice. Once every student had gotten their turn, both classrooms gathered on the floor in front of the screen to share anything else they wanted about their schools.

“It was fun, we had a lot of comments,” said 8-year-old Maurice Taylor, who had been looking forward to Skyping with the fourth-graders and hopes to do it again.

Mikayla Swain, 7, agreed that it was really fun and said that she had actually Skyped before, with her aunt who lives far away.

Both classes were very excited to be talking to their buddies, and both showed a lot of knowledge, pride and interest in each of the schools. Students shared their gym size (which Red Bank students had measured earlier in the year for a project), their favorite things to do at recess (the mention of a kickball tournament at Green-Fields sparked a lot of excitement) and their favorite teachers.

Once the interaction was over, both classes waved goodbye and the Red Bank students yelled out “good luck in middle school” to the fourth-graders.

“We want to be able to use [Skype] more in the future, for classes to connect and for learning experiences like guest speakers,” said Karry Corbitt, the principal at Red Bank Elementary. “It’s a neat, instant, interactive tool for smaller groups like these classrooms. We had to actually tell the kids to tone down because they were so excited.”

Red Bank Elementary has previously used Skype to connect with a teacher in Taiwan two years ago to learn about the Chinese New Year celebration. The entire building participated, and kids were able to ask questions to someone thousands of miles away.

Next, Red Bank is going to use Skype to connect with incoming first-graders (currently in kindergarten), giving them a virtual tour of the school building by carrying a laptop through the hallways. Corbitt hopes this will help with the transition between schools. 

“It’s so new to many of them,” Corbitt says about students this young using this technology. “But in five years, this will be very commonplace.”


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