A Special Anniversary – January 24, 2007

A year ago today was a special day in the lives of my students and I suspect many others. Why? January 24th just after lunch was the first time we video-Skyped Celest, a classmate with leukemia who could not attend school, into our class. Ironically, Celest (who is well enough now to attend school) won’t be in class today because she is in for a check-up and some testing related to her cancer treatment. I’ve re-posted below my account of that day and you can click HERE to see the award winning video my students produced last year showing how we Skyped her – it includes a short clip showing the first time we connected. I have been telling people that our video has been downloaded over 100,000 times, but last week I found out that isn’t entirely true. Upon checking the stats (which obviously I don’t do very often) I found out it has now been downloaded over half-a-million-times (500,000).


Wednesday, January 24, 2007 Skyping Celest – Day One – The Whole Story

We couldn’t begin first thing in the morning because we had the NAEP test to do – one last obstacle to get over before we could try our grand experiment. The plan was to wait until after lunch and then connect-up (Skype-up?) for the first time. Fortunately, I had Celest ring us up as soon as the class went to lunch – this turned out to be one smart move because when we clicked on our video buttons our image came up right away but the image from her end was black. I tried the few things I could think of, all the time repeating to myself, “but it worked flawlessly twice last night!!!”

I had 25 minutes before eager students would return from lunch, so after checking out with administration I zipped over to her house. The problem? There were at least ten applications open. Windows … their only experience was with Windows … and I hadn’t had a chance to brief them about everything the night before. They closed applications by clicking the windows closed not realizing that that did not close the application on a Mac. I restarted the computer and made the return trip.

At 12:30 video cameras were revved up to catch the event from 2 angles. Students tried hard to settle, but most were on their knees in their chairs hardly able to contain themselves. To begin I projected the image onto our Whiteboard. A ring sounded, I clicked the green phone icon and then the video button and in a matter of seconds Celest, who had shown up on my daily attendance since October, entered our classroom for the first time.

Hellos and waves were exchanged all around – I pivoted the web cam around to each table in the room so all could be introduced. Faces beamed. Now what?

I disconnected the laptop from the Activboard and moved it and the web cam I had taped to the top of a tripod to the front table – the students there gladly made room for their new classmate. I pointed the web cam at the board and had paper distributed all around (including Celest) – Yes I know – why are we using paper when we have laptops and Celest obviously has a computer to work on? Composing on a computer takes some getting used to, we will get there, but we’re not there yet.

I connected my Mac to the ActivBoard and started a pre-write brainstorm about our experience. I adjusted the camera angle once so Celest could see clearly and she followed along with the session easily. After the brainstorm we all wrote a rough draft and then word processed them on our computers. At one point Celest got my attention and wondered if it was OK if she went to the bathroom – how cool is that, she felt like she was at school! I reluctantly allowed her to go (couldn’t she have done that during lunch? : ) Our school counselor, Ann Marlow, who made most of the calls that made this happen – including making the connection that got us the new iMac, walked through and said her hellos and noted the writing everyone was doing – she was both relieved and thrilled this was finally happening.


When Celest let me know she was done typing I talked her through spell checking and some other editing pieces, and then led her through emailing her file to me at school. This became her first post on our blog.

About then it was time for us to go to the library, so we said goodbye to Celest since library would take us to the end of the day. And, after many goodbyes of course, and the photo below, our first Video Skype experience was over.

Thursday, Celest attended for a bit more than an hour – she practiced her multiplication facts online with the rest of us and did some reading before she went off for chemo. She paid us a quick visit on her way home just before dismissal – mask on, no wig – she couldn’t make it today – we understand why. Monday will be a fresh day … except that we have ITBS testing all morning – all week, so it will be afternoons only.

We storyboarded our video about our experience today using the Flipchart software in ActivStudio, we will try to finish shooting it and editing it next week with Celest’s help – if so I will post the video for all to see. The students came up with some great ideas.

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9 thoughts on “A Special Anniversary – January 24, 2007

  1. I’m up early, choosing six ed-tech sessions to attend today here in Florida at FETC… Reading your post reminds me of our first Skype conference with your class, Brian. Our fifth graders were very excited to share with an “experienced” class of Skype video conferencers! One of my workshop possibilities will be led by Alan November, one of the “featured” presenters, on learning communities. That’s what you have there: a community of learners who also share what they’ve learned with all of us! Keep sharing, Brian. I’m praying that your aging Macs and your wireless Internet keeps on working!

  2. I was one of the 500,000 that viewed your video. It was terrific! When I was in the 8th grade we had a student with leukemia who attended our language arts class via a speaker system (like a 2-way baby monitor). It was terrific! Good luck as you continue this wonderful opportunity for Celest.

  3. Hey Brian. Thanks for sharing this story. I think it’s a story that deserves to be kept alive. Your video was one of the first I watched shortly after Teachertube went live. The story of Celest, and of how you made sure she was included in the life of your class in such a dynamic way, was a tremendous inspiration to me then. It continues to inspire me now, and I make a point of sharing the story whenever opportunity arises. You, your class, and Celest are making a difference in the thinking, and in the lives, of countless people that you’ll never meet. This is a great technology story, but it is far more than that as well! –Paul

  4. I viewed this video for the first time several months back. At the time, I was excited at the possibilities and shared the story verbally with a few peers, but didn’t really do much with it besides sign up for a Skype account. Until now….

    On December 15, 2007 my six year old kindergarten child and I began Christmas break. (I am an instructional coach in the school he attends.) School was set to resume on January 2, 2008. Over the break, my son developed psneumonia and pleurisy, didn’t respond to outpatient care, and was hospitalized. By about January 10th we realized that this would be a fairly long recovery (of course nothing like what Celest had to deal with!) and he would miss a lot of school. This video and your Skype experience flooded my thoughts.

    My son would leave the hospital but would have a PICC line (at home IV) and the doctors didn’t want him exposed to the germs of a classroom for about 4 more weeks. The doctors talked about hospital homebound as a way for him to receive instruction. I thought about Skype.

    I soon realized Skype is blocked in my district, so I contacted the Technology Department and explained the situation, but due to security issues they would not lift the block. Long story short, we have missed out on this valuable way of learning.

    This is no longer about my son–I want educators, especially those in the Technology departments, across our nation to watch this and get excited about the possibilities. I want them to figure out how to make it secure so our children don’t miss out. I want them to figure out an alternative if they can’t make it secure. I want all the children I saw laying in that Children’s Hospital to have the opportunity if they so chose. I want their to be a sense of urgency to make it happen. Our children deserve it!

  5. This is such a cool story and a great example of how technology available to anyone with a computer can have such a positive impact on a classroom. I can remember when I was in third grade I was out for three weeks with pneumonia. I remember each week my mom would have to go to school and pick up my work for the week and drop off my finished work from the previous week. When I finally got back after 3 weeks it felt like forever, thats so cool that there is a way for someone like Celeste to be able to participate alongside her classmates even if she can’t be there. Very cool!

  6. This story touched my heart. As a future educator myself, I think this should be told to everyone studying education. It is both inspirational and it teaches the importance of technology integration in the classroom. Many people are afraid of technology; they say it’s a pain to learn about. However, if technology brings benefits like this to students, I say it’s worth the headache of learning technology. Thank you for sharing this story.

  7. This post is great! It is really nice to know that with the aid of technology, reaching out to students who are unable to go to school physically are made possible. Technology with the cooperation of the educator and the students would make a great deal in learning. Keep up the good work and continue giving joy to Celest!