skype, videoconference

Web Chat Connects 3rd Graders Around the Country

March 29, 2010 04:00 PM
by Colleen Brondou
Third graders in Maine are on a quest to Web chat with third grade classrooms in every state, spotlighting the potential of Web conferencing in the academic setting.

“Chatting Across the USA”

With slashed budgets and staff cuts in the headlines, it may seem like a daunting time to be an educator. But many teachers are rejuvenating themselves and their profession through collaborative learning communities.

Nowhere is that more evident than at Cherrie MacInnes’ third-grade classroom at the Washington Street School in Brewer, Maine. What began as a way to connect with a student who had moved to Minnesota last year morphed into “Chatting Across the USA,” Bangor Daily News reports. 

The students were so excited about seeing their old classmate in Minnesota that MacInnes “kind of dreamed up whether we could get in touch with a 3rd grade class in every state in the United States,” she told Rob Poindexter of WABI TV5. After a month of spending about five to six hours a night e-mailing schools around the country, MacInnes has classrooms from all 50 states signed up to participate. She uses Google Chat or Skype and a Macintosh laptop with a built-in Webcam to create the online connection.

The Web sessions last about 20 or 30 minutes and are an opportunity for students to share interesting facts and information about their states. So far, the Maine students have visited Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah, Illinois and North Carolina. The students record the date of each videoconference on a large map of the U.S. and keep a journal of the facts they’ve learned.

“When we first started they wanted to know if Minnesota had electricity, do they talk the same as us, do they have homes like us,” MacInnes told WABI TV5, “and meeting them and seeing that they have a lot in common has brought these states closer and I think it’s made them more aware of where they are on the map.”

The students have learned so much and are so enthusiastic about the process that MacInnes wants to expand the program to include classrooms outside the U.S. “We want to take it further,” she said. “We want to take it worldwide.” She’s working with the Brewer technology team to create a database at a new Web site,, that aims to “bring educators together from around the world for the purpose of collaboration.” Visit the site to find out how you can get your classroom connected and involved.

Web Tools You Can Use


Skype is a free, Internet-based video conferencing and telephone system that enables a classroom to reach out to other classrooms, or authors, experts and interesting people around the world.

In January 2009, Silvia Tolisano, a technology integration facilitator, shared “Reasons for Skyping in the Classroom” on her blog, Langwitches Blog. With the aim of raising global awareness, she has connected students at her school with classes in Argentina and Peru. She also shares examples of how other teachers are using Skype.

In January 2010, Jen Deyenberg, a fifth-grade teacher in Alberta, Canada, organized a school sleepover for her 24 students so they could videoconference with classrooms around the world. Working around a Winter Olympics theme, the students used Skype to engage in a marathon of eight videoconferences in one night. By the following morning, they had chatted with people in Canada, Hawaii, Thailand, Australia, Philadelphia, Scotland and Wales.


EPals is a global community of 130,000 classrooms in 200 countries that helps students connect, collaborate and learn using protected e-mail and blogs.

Connexions presents a thorough learning module by Catherine Mason on using ePals to teach geography. “What better way to teach geography than to connect with classrooms across the world in order to participate in joint projects, explore each others’ cultures, and share emails, photos, and videos?” Mason writes. The module offers a step-by-step introduction to ePals, classroom examples and considerations for teachers.

Steve Lohr, writing for The New York Times in 2008, looked at the evolution of ePals from a Web-based pen-pal service to a worldwide social network. “Even the basic social networking of ePals e-mail exchanges, teachers say, helps improve writing skills and stirs curiosity about other cultures,” Lohr wrote.

Mirjana Milovic, a teacher in Serbia, uses ePals to help her students’ polish their English-language skills. Candace Pauchnick, who teaches sociology and English at a San Diego high school, uses ePals for “virtual field trips,” as she calls them. Her students have connected with students in China, the Czech Republic and Italy.

“If they were just writing for me, they wouldn’t be as careful,” Pauchnick told Lohr. “But they’re writing for a student in another country. It’s not drudgery for them. They buy in and they enjoy it.”

Global Coalition Project

Bill Reilly, a social studies teacher at Bethlehem Central Middle School in Delmar, N.Y., uses Skype and ePals to connect his students with students around the globe. The Global Coalition Project connects schools in about 20 countries around the world with the aim of promoting peace and global understanding.

“Because we now have these connections around the world a lot of news events that would normally be ignored by other students become important to them,” Reilly said. “Maybe the way that they try to approach solving those global issues as they grow up and become the next generation of the world’s global leaders will be different, because they won’t see the world in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines