Teacher uses Skype to educate students about the penguins of Antarctica

Laurent Giret

Microsoft bought Skype a few years ago, since then the company has been pushing hard to make it bigger than a basic video and messaging app. While Microsoft continues to explore various use cases in business and education, a teacher working in Antarctica has been using Skype in classrooms to connect to pupils all over the world.

Jean Pennycook, a science teacher from California, has been going to Antarctica since 1999 to study the impact of climate change on penguin colonies. While she was among our furry little friends, she has been doing daily Skype calls to schools around the world to educate children about climate change, reaching about 8 000 students just between November and January.

Pennycook further explains: “I love sharing this fabulous place and these amazing birds with people. Very few people will ever get a chance to come to Antarctica, and it is a place that needs to be saved and preserved. If people do not know about it, they will not feel a connection to it. The penguins especially will need our protection as the ice changes due to climate change, and more and more fisheries take their food source.”

Skype enables Pennycook to share a little bit of her daily life and work in Antarctica, while allowing the curious children to have a closer look at their animal friends. As expected, her Skype sessions lead to interesting conversations: “Some think I am in a zoo, others think I am on a movie set. Many do not know where Antarctica is, so are amazed when they find out I am really here. They are interested in all the clothes I wear, what we eat and how we live”, she explained.

The adventurous science teacher also wanted to add fun and creativity to the experience, and created the Design a Flag for the Field Station program: pupils could take part by sending their flag designs to the Antarctic base, so penguins could have a look at them. Cute!

penguin checking skype flag

Pennycook’s initiative really seems to have been pleasing learning experience for all the participants. Ms. Rosenstein, whose class from Ardsley, New York, had the opportunity to get a private tour of the penguin colony, received a hearty thank you note from the parent of one of her pupils.

I can’t thank you enough for your amazing teaching skills and incredible approach, through Skype, to teach and engage the kids about geography. My son was so passionate and excited about his call to Antarctica. He told me about the temperature, the science work that is taking place there, the teams of people, the penguins – he got to see the Penguins!!, the fact that there was no electricity, but Jean Pennycook was on a tablet, etc. That night, we both went to bed smiling. He was smiling because he learned something so different and so exciting, and not only that, he got to SEE it, and know it’s not just words in a book”.

It’s fascinating to see Skype, a service often to derided for various issues, taking part in shaping the classroom of the future. In fact, Microsoft has a whole Education section up on its website which features different virtual classrooms experience around the globe .

By the way, if you like penguins, and want to know more about Pennycook’s work in Antarctica, don’t hesitate to check her work on her website!