London. It has its iconic buildings, red buses, and afternoon teas. Sounds great. And it is…to an adult.
To a child, though, there is only one thing they’re interested in when it comes to London: Harry Potter. And there is one place that stands out, a spot that’ll determine if she is a witch or he a wizard: Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station
Both are real places – a fact lost on me when I first read the books. And lucky me: I got to share them via Skype with a class of 2nd graders who read and compared US and UK editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone earlier this school year. This group, I thought, would love to “see” the platform and the real King’s Cross. Technology – Skype – could help make it happen.
I sent a query email to their teacher Ms. A, asking if she was interested in a virtual field trip. (Note: this was quite deliberate – I know that Ms. A loves England & London.) A Skype rookie, she was willing to try something new because London! England! HARRY POTTER! Making literature come alive!! It was the tech that could be tricky. Because while my former school is Microsoft school, few teachers use Skype (or any other platform) to connect to the world and expand the classroom walls. It was a goal of mine, once in London, to help change that. 🙂
Ms. A was great at sorting it out (a very English phrase): securing a wide-angle camera and a better mic from the district, asking for help from the tech folk when needed, setting up a Skype account. I was ready with the Skype app on my phone and wifi. And together, we made some magic.
I “toured” King’s Cross with the class – it’s enormous, with trains and a tube (subway) station, dozens of restaurants and people everywhere – then made our way to the platform. Along the way, I answered questions, showed them the official Platform 9 3/4 shop, and asked them questions about HP.
Skype was a perfect tool for our virtual field trip, though I imagine Google Hangouts would also work well. Some helpful tips (learned in “The School of Trial and Error”) for hosting a Skype literature field trip:
- Do a practice call in advance! Make sure the mic/camera/connection/usernames work.
- Make sure the whole class has heard the book & knows about the location to be shared.
- Have students submit questions in advance in the event of tech troubles. Ms. A emailed hers to me. They were partially about HP, partially about London, but all from their heart.
- Use a mic and headset for the single presenter. This is a MUST! My mic/headset earbuds were vital to the success.
- Know your “tour” and literature. Don’t start at the main event…lead up to it.
- Plan for 20 minutes. Much more and people get restless.
And some reflection:
- Have some student interaction/movement. I asked students to share their Hogwarts house and which was their favorite character, but I should have done more with this. Maybe a “who said this line?” quiz?
- Come up with questions to ask the class that require everyone to participate. Again, I could have done better…
- Ask the students if there is anything they would like to see more of. I feel like I went way too fast through the train station and that it was a blur. I should have slowed down!
- Find someone to interview? Maybe the people at the HP store, maybe someone waiting in the Platform 9 3/4 line…
Thanks, Skype, for making our world a bit smaller AND bigger. Technology allowed us to expand the walls of learning outside of a suburban Seattle school and connect to a city thousands of miles away. It also allowed this homesick librarian to see and interact with her students in a way not possible a decade ago. Win-win, all around.