The school that went the extra 100,000 miles for Skype-a-Thon

If you asked a teacher to describe Skype-a-Thon, what would they say? And if you asked the same question to students, how would they answer? Though their experiences would be completely different, one word that could easily come from both parties is “magical.” There aren’t that many global educational events, especially ones which have as profound an impact as Skype-a-Thon, a 48-hour roller coaster that brings out emotions, empathy, inspiration, confidence, friendship, knowledge and wonder. It’s also an event that encourages teachers and students to step out of their comfort zones, together, into the big, wide world that lays just outside of their classroom walls.

The problem with us, here at Bae Baglan, is that when we get together our ideas can easily snowball out of control.  After the amazing experiences that the pupils of our school had during last year’s Skype-a-Thon, we wondered what we could do this time. We started suggesting more and more ideas, each one building upon the last. It was a throw-away comment that finally gave us that light-bulb moment: “Hashtag Go Big Or Go Home!” And so our 36 Hour Skype-a-Thon Challenge took shape.

By offering a sleepover in school, we could maintain at least one Skype connection, every hour across the school, for 36 hours – and if we quit, it meant we had to literally go home. More importantly, we wanted to help our pupils realise the great privilege they have in their access to an excellent education and the technology they use daily in their lessons, so we made it a sponsored event. We decided to support the refugee-supporting Project Kakuma, aiming to raise money for them to purchase an additional device to use in providing education pupils through Skype.

While we wanted to go big, we had no idea just how big we ended up going! With multiple connections across the world arranged, we were excited to connect with classrooms to play Mystery Skype and make virtual field trips. We were thrilled to receive calls from Microsoft’s Anthony Salcito (VP, Education) and Terry Myerson (Exec VP of Windows and Devices), who discussed their vision and support with our Digital Leaders. Premier League football team Everton connected before a league match and players from a professional rugby team, Ospreys, joined us for an afternoon connection. Pixar’s Trina Roy gave some amazing advice to our pupils as well, and they got to go on inspirational virtual field trips to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.

A huge thank you must be given to Subway for generously providing the food for the pupils and staff who slept over in the school. It was really appreciated, and it was amazing to see global organisations supporting pupils during Skype-a-Thon.  While the students slept, we and our fellow MIE Expert, Jaime Davies, continued to Skype through the night, connecting with teachers to discuss their Skype-a-Thon progress. After 36 hours and 42 connections, the pupils and staff of Bae Baglan had traveled 195,906 miles – each one of them precious and priceless.  It was clearly evident that, in the course of 36 hours, the students had developed skills and inquisitive thinking without even realizing it in all the fun they were having.

Picture the scene: You are going to stand before the school leadership, “I have a proposal for an educational trip. We want to take 30 pupils and 4 members of staff on a two-day trip.  We are planning to travel around the world 7.8 times in 36 hours, so we will need to arrange transport that will allow us to travel at least 5442 miles per hour. The cost would be approximately £2.5 million, but we aren’t going to charge the students a penny – and the educational and personal development value will be out of this world. Do I have the OK to go ahead and book it?”

Straight away, you would laugh at the thought. But thanks to Skype in the Classroom we did just that! After an amazing and tiring 36 hours, we can proudly say that we went big and happily returned home afterward. Is it too soon to start planning for next year?