Krissy Venosdale describes herself as, “a forever learning, connected collaborating, Sharpie collecting, poster making, eternal optimist. I still wish on stars and consider creativity one of life’s basic needs… just like breathing.” She is a grade school teacher from Missouri whose students in Missouri and Texas have used Skype technology to learn from students in China, England, many US states, and as far away as Uganda.
She’s a creative and passionate advocate for using technology to help kids use technology to connect with other people to learn. After 11 years in the classroom, this fall she transitions to helping teachers use technology in the classroom, as Innovation Coordinator at the Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas.
Krissy also maintains an active blog as well as participating on Twitter with 30,000+ tweets and 9,000 followers, as well as Pinterest, Flickr, and other online media. Her collection of posters is inspiring. My favorite bit from her blog is this passage from her Meet Krissy page:
You don't have to read many blog posts here to know what I am passionate about. Bottom line: I want school to be one of the most exciting places a child ever visits. Better than Disney World, as cool as flying to the moon, and most of all? When they leave our learning space, I want them to remember our time together and take part of it with them. Everyday is about building connections. Every moment counts. As WB Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Light it. I want every child to have the best life possible.
Finally, Krissy did the Honeywell Space Academy for Educators program recently and, along with other teachers, got to do neat stuff like play with space shuttle technology, scuba dive, and jump off a tall pole. All for science, of course.
Tim: How did you happen to become a teacher?
Krissy: I’ve always had a huge interest in science and, when I went to college, my plan actually was to become a doctor. I was pre-med and taking all these science courses. I just happened to go volunteer in a local classroom for part of a service project and just fell in love with it, changed my major, and now I can’t ever believe there was anything else I wanted to do because I love it so much. It was something about those kids and the classroom and the excitement. I thought, I could be around this all the time and get paid to do it. I always believed “do what you love.” I just loved being around the kids and other teachers and people who were learning.
Tim: Did you start teaching using technology?
Krissy: You know, I’ve always incorporated some technology. When I think back, I’ve been teaching 11 years, and I think of how archaic things were when I started. I had a classroom website but it was basically a page with my name and pictures. It wasn’t interactive. It had some moving GIF files. I remember we could use the internet in class but it wasn’t something the kids could use.
I’m always looking for the next thing coming out because I’ve always loved technology myself. I had a computer when I was 8 years old, one of the old Texas Instruments, that you could type in basic programs. I remember playing with it and being fascinated. My parents always made sure I had access to technology growing up. I think back to how that has made me value technology so much. It’s not about the tool, it’s about getting kids to learn other things through technology as a vehicle.
Tim: Were your parents teachers?
Krissy: No, neither one of my parents were teachers. My mom was a stay at home mom. My dad is a really creative person. He actually worked making aluminum cans at a can company. He was a maker. He had a garage full of junk I would go play in all the time. My parents kind of fostered my creativity. They allowed me to paint my room wild colors and support my love of technology. I also have an older sister, five years older than me. I’m pretty sure I was that annoying younger sister who wanted to hang out with the cool older sister. I’ll own it.
Tim: How did you find Skype in the classroom?
Krissy: I went to a conference, seven years ago, and I was sitting in on a session and a teacher was showing a video of her class Skyping. She demonstrated how easy it was to make calls. I just remember watching that video and thinking, “Holy cow, these kids are talking with kids on the other side of the country.” Immediately my wheels were spinning. We could use this in so many ways in our classroom. I went back and started using it the next week, as soon as I was back from the conference.
It was powerful to see her video because that’s the coolest part of Skype, her students connecting with other people around the world. To actually see those kids getting excited. She had divided them up into different roles. One was a speaker, one was a note taker. I got to see them collaborating as a class on this call and taking ownership and communicating with other kids across the country. I thought, that is really cool.
Tim: How did she find another teacher to Skype with?
Krissy: I’m sure it was before Skype in the classroom was out. At the conference, people were asking her, “How do I find people to Skype with?” People had friends and family and others they could reach out to connect. It was definitely more difficult. Now you can go to education.skype.com and find teachers and it’s all free for teachers. It takes out having to search for people to Skype with. But it also gives you ideas. You might go out there for a Spanish lesson but find a marine biology lesson. You end up jumping into new things all the time.
Tim: How do your kids respond to Skype calls?
Krissy: One call that a student has with an expert could change the course of their lives. I had a kid one time who made a special trip back to my classroom and he said, “Thank you so much for letting us meet that scientist.” He was so filled with passion after he talked with her about science. I thought, this could change what he goes into as a field. This one little connection we had that seemed little but was really big.
One of the coolest Skype calls we ever had was with one of the engineers who worked on the parachute for Curiosity, the Mars rover. We had been talking about Mars. We were all excited about Curiosity as it was getting ready to land on Mars. We ended up connecting with this engineer on Skype, through the Skype in the classroom program. The kids got to ask some questions about her job. Hearing about her job was so interesting. It was the kind of job you would never imagine someone having. She works on parachutes and she does all these studies in wind tunnels. These kids who are third graders are thinking, “Wow she plays with wind tunnels.” They thought it was so amazing. What was so cool to them was when they think of Mars Curiosity landing they think of this scientist with her fascinating job.
She went on to tell us about the thousands of people who had to collaborate to make the Mars rover. I always tell my kids, “You’ve got to collaborate no matter what field you go into.” Suddenly they have this real person, a real scientist, telling them about collaboration. It wasn’t me making a classroom rule. This was real life. This lady helped build Curiosity. They were so engaged in a way I could not engage them with my paper copies of the plans of the rover.
We even built models that flew down our school stairwell. We landed eggs on the surface of Mars down below. Those kids were so motivated after talking with her. And she told the kids she wanted to hear about their results with their project. I’ve never seen my kids so motivated. They knew this real engineer who worked on Curiosity was going to possibly see the results of their work. If you think somebody who has worked on Curiosity will look over your work, you’ll be a little more careful.
Whether or not they were kids who love science, they also were all loving learning. That’s what it is about. They need to see how cool the world really is. If I taught out of a textbook, we would have went past the page on Mars. The kids would know Mars is different and far away. But this was all about engaging the kids. They learned about this job she did and started to ask themselves, “How can I do that? What do I need to do to prepare myself?” It opened up a whole new set of questions.
I’ve noticed a lot of things we do on Skype end up engaging the kids at such a deeper level. You would think I’m talking about an older group of students. The learning is so real and the kids get so engaged they can handle things at a higher level.
For example, my fifth grade students did a mock election and we ended up getting 30,000 students from around the country to sign up for this mock election. We used Skype to communicate with these classes. We had at least a class from every state and we acted as the Electoral College. We ended up with a class in Wyoming. Over Skype we did these presentations about the Electoral College. I’m a science person and so the topic wasn’t very exciting to me. Those kids were fired up because this was their election project. When they presented to this other class, and this other class presented to us, I felt I was in an executive boardroom watching adults. I was blown away. They had their A game on.
The election project wasn’t for a grade. It was an extra project they did that they loved. They learned so much. They analyzed data. The day of the election, they were Skyping live from the polls connecting with other schools. They wanted to have their information right because they were telling these kids in Alabama and California about their results. It was really powerful.
Tim: As a teacher, what do you like most about using Skype in the classroom?
Krissy: When I hear that little chime of Skype calling, it’s like a doorbell that opens your classroom to the world. You have a chance to take your kids around the world without leaving your classroom. I’ve learned so much talking to people from other countries, seeing what the outdoors looks like in another state or another country. You have kids who never get to travel who see other places live and start talking about it. You have to close your textbook and make some of these calls happen so your kids can connect. It’s a fine resource but you can’t put a value on your third grader standing there talking with someone who helped build a parachute for Curiosity, or talking with kids in England about time zones.
Tim: How much time did you spend preparing the kids for Skype calls? And as a teacher?
Krissy: The great part is there is not a lot of preparation time. The meat of the lesson is in the call. With the Skype education site, you match up with another teacher and you agree on a time you’re going to talk. Depending on the type of call, I might prepare the students beforehand with “let’s come up with questions.” Over time, they get very savvy with these calls and the prep time becomes less and less. The kids know they have this short window of time. They get very good at putting together questions to ask and taking turns. The prep time is never very much. Certainly not as much as preparing a stack of worksheets, running off copies, things kids might not get a lot from.
Tim: How does a Mystery Skype work?
Krissy: There’s a section on the Skype education site for Mystery Skype. Kids don’t know where you’re from. You can only ask yes or no questions, back and forth, to guess their location.
I always tell teachers, if you’re nervous about trying Skype, start with Mystery Skype. It gives you a task to complete. And once your class tries one, I guarantee you’ll do a second one, and a third one because they’re kind of addicting. I challenge my kids to guess the other location with as few questions as they can. They would narrow down to, “Are you in the US? Are you west of the Mississippi?” And in the next call, they use their best questions. It’s very cool to watch them get better and better. It’s problem solving. We’ve done every possible subject in addition to figuring out where the other class is located.
Tim: For Mystery Skype calls, do the teachers cheat and know ahead of time where you are from?
Krissy: Sometimes I will know. And sometimes I’ve done it where I don’t know. I’ve accidentally given it away before. I’m one of those people that I can’t know that I have a Christmas present for you because I’m probably going to tell you because I’m so excited about it. We were on a call one time and I just said our location out loud. I accidentally said it and the other school heard it. After that, my kids were laughing at me and telling me they would take care of it because I might give our location away again. It was a great moment.
Tim: So, how did you get to fly in zero gravity?
Krissy: I saw a link to apply for Honeywell Educator’s Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Center. I applied and was selected to be a part of a week long event for teachers, in which we learned a great deal about integrating STEM education and inspiring our kids. A couple of years later, I was selected to return for Honeywell’s Advanced Academy in which we got to tour Kennedy Space Center, get up close to an orbiter, and gained 15 lifelong friends from around the world who I remain close to and who inspire me on a daily basis.
Five of us from that team then applied to the NASA Reduced Gravity program and were selected to fly our student experiment on the ZeroG plane, completing parabolas and experiencing weightlessness at each dive. It was beyond amazing and learning about space science as an adult has led to an entirely new passion for me. Proof that you are never finished learning.
Tim: Where are you doing now?
Krissy: I have been teaching third through fifth grade classes so far. This next school year I’ll be the Innovation Coordinator at the Kincaid School. I’ll be working with all the teachers in all the classrooms. I’ll support them with Skype projects and work with them to integrate technology in their classrooms and their learning.
Tim: Will you be teaching?
Krissy: I’ll be a coach to the teachers and I do still consider it teaching because I’m always learning and teaching regardless of my title. I always consider myself a learner. I’m always willing to learn from the kids because I allow students to take charge in these calls and ask the questions. Everything you do, the kids always end up having better ideas. I just love collaborating with other people and building on their ideas.
Thank you, Krissy, for making time and to Lauren Gould for connecting me with Krissy and pointing me to Skype in the classroom, an easy and wonderful extension of the technology.