A 4 Year Anniversary To Remember!


Four years ago, January 24, 2007, was the first day we Skyped into our classroom a classmate that couldn’t attend school because she had leukemia and the side effects from the chemo therapy she was receiving made it impossible for her to attend school. Through the efforts of a community of people my 4th graders embarked on an incredible experience using Skype video-conferencing software to include her in our class.

On cue it seems, as I was on morning crosswalk duty in front of our school Thursday, someone … actually 2 people I recognized were amongst about 15 students waiting to cross the street. Celest and her mom crossed and after several big hugs I had a quick conversation with them about how things were going. She is in 8th grade now, has put back all the weight she lost, and has a thick, full head of hair. She is in full remission and doing really well. She even helps counsel kids that have cancer based on her own experience.

The irony is that the street in front of our school is a nightmare of cars and kids and situations that would make you gasp 5 times every morning (it does me), so I was really pre-occupied with crossing kids and their families while Celest and her mom waited to talk to me (URGH!!!), so I wasn’t able to glean as much info as I wish I could have, or take a picture with my phone (dumb, dumb, dumb!) before they had to leave.

Every year this “anniversary” comes around and I debate whether to mention it. But, every month I hear from at least someone this story touches … someone that this is a new story for. We tend to forget that many of these technology tools have been around for long enough that some of us have been there and done that 50 or more times … but this is still someone’s cutting edge. So for now, for at least one more year I will mention and remember this anniversary that touched and touches so many lives.

And also know this was not just a Skype story. We used blogs, wikis, Flickr and much more to leverage the entire experience.

But the story doesn’t stop with Celest. Her classmates were just as incredible in their own way. In less than 2 weeks they produced a movie that explained and archived the event for all to learn from. Some of the students that narrated the video didn’t even speak English, but learned their lines, spoken clearly (or we can’t use it) so they could be included. This video has been downloaded close to million times now (perhaps more).

The following year Skype sent a camera crew to film how we did it. Celest had improved and was now attending school “live” with everyone else (NOTE: I keep a class for 3 years – roll them from 4th to 5th to 6th, so Celest was in my 5th grade class too). So they filmed from our classroom and then Celest’s house, she stayed home one day and we recreated the previous year. A video (Here) was produced that day, and my students got to see how a film crew – including a photograper, lighting, sound specialist and producer do their jobs … they even let the students interview them before they went over to Celest’s house for the afternoon.

So many learning experiences and opportunities for all involved!

Learning is messy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 thoughts on “A 4 Year Anniversary To Remember!

  1. Thanks for sharing that anniversary reflection, Brian! Great to learn more about that year, and even better to know that Celest is doing well. You all put together an unforgettable experience to be proud of.

  2. This was a great idea! I am sure Celeste will not forget how awesome it felt to know her classmates and teacher were thinking of her! Nice!

  3. Love that you are continuing letting us know how Celest is doing.

    I have a question — and I hope this does not sound weird —
    since you have Spanish speaking students (perhaps other languages as well) — and I KNOW you are encouraging them to learn English — is there a reason that they cannot share in spanish/other language with english subtitles?? Being encouraged of course to continue to learn english yet also offering an opportunity for them to share in their own language??

    Just wondering.

    Hi Jen – We had planned to do a Spanish version, but the time just didn’t work out. In addition most of my students speak some Spanish, but almost none speak Spanish well … so they speak no language well, so making a Spanish version is really hard. Would be great to do, but a big time user – I could get others that speak Spanish well to make sure the language was correct, but I have a hard time doing what we do now (I sort of break rules in a way, SHH) – adding more time is unfortunately not very do-able usually. : (

    On the other-hand we have given presentations bi-lingually before. We Skyped a class in Argentina that was trilingual (German, Spanish, English) and gave a presentation about our state (Nevada) and then turned right around and gave it in Spanish … most students learned just how poor their Spanish really is – they figured out who REALLY knew Spanish well and enlisted them to help their groups wording of their presentation … then they were able to do it. So they used each other as a language resource – COOL.

  4. Brian, how wonderful you were able to see and at least chat for a minute with Celest and her mom! You and your students have, and continue to touch the lives of many through this story, and many others. And, you are right, we will always be welcoming those new to the world of connections.

  5. Brian, I think this was a great idea of including Celest into the classroom. I think this will be a memory that Celest will always love, knowing her fellow classmates and teacher thought that much of her. I would have never thought to use Skype in such a way as this.

  6. Hello, My name is Whitney Greer. I am currently attending the University of South Alabama studying in the Elementary Education Program. I am in my Junior year of classes, reorganizing myself for all of the new things the program has to offer. Taking the class EDM 310 has brought me in touch with your blog. I read and enjoyed the touching story of entertaining your student with leukemia, for I have a personal understanding of watching a younger cousin of mine fight brain cancer. I think you are very blessed teacher and I am sure your student felt the warmth of your goodness to help pull her through such a wracking experience. I am very excited to be merged into your blog with my class and I hope we can get to know one another on a personal level.
    Twitter contact: @whitneygreer34
    EDM 310 Class Blog
    My Personal Class Blog

  7. It’s amazing how tools and technology such as Skype can really bring closer together in a way that was never possible before. It’s amazing that it allowed your student to be included in class even though she was in the hospital/resting at home. You must have made a great impact on her life since she recognized you out of the busy crowd four years later.

  8. Brian you are without a doubt a warm person and a fantastic teacher. How did you begin your technology journey? I teach high school in an area with a 30% e-rate and 20+ years of technology experience in private industry, 10 years of teaching experience, and a passion for technology. I would love to have access to equipment for my students to use, any suggestions on where to go to begin the process? Thank you and your students for sharing so much! What a team…..

  9. Hi Diane – I doubt you really want me to go all the way back to my Apple II+ days, and everyone else will be happier if I don’t : ) Most of my experiences have been chronicled here amongst all these posts. But basically I’ve been at the right spot at the right time when, because sadly so few have much experience using technology in education, my very limited experience was enough to make me the go to person. 25 years ago my class got 4 Apple II-E computers because literally in a staff meeting I raised my hand when we were asked if anyone had any experience with them and I said I used one once for a week 3 years before. It’s been like that ever since.

    My classes’ 1:1 laptop experience came about because my school was getting new HP laptops and no one else wanted anything to do with our 6 or 7 year old Apple iBooks (or really even the new HP’s which to this day are used rarely by more than 1 or 2 teachers- they use them a lot though) so I explained to my principal at that time that for the price of new batteries ($3000 for 30 batteries) we could have the only 1:1 laptop class in the entire school district of 60,000 students. She had the money and we went from there. Then because we did a few things (blogs and the like) a rare time when there was some money to try out new things, our class was named the school district’s model tech class (they had to designate a classroom because a grant required that). We got an interactive whiteboard, some cameras and a few other pieces AND permission to try things out – that’s the key right there.

    It’s a much longer story than that, but that’s the gist of it. Hope that helps.