Wonderful way to connect to the real world
Skype, or really any video chat app/website is a wonderful addition to any classroom. Skype uses a webcam (most computers have them built into the laptop now) and the computers built in mic to allow you to talk and see the person you are talking with. What is special about Skype is their education section. https://education.skype.com/ Here you can find other lesson plans teachers have made using Skype and most importantly, find people to connect with. Video chat doesn't work very well if you don't know anyone to chat with! Skype education helps with this. In the teacher section you can post your idea for a lesson and ask for help from other teachers and experts. You can help out too by reading other people's posts and connect with those who are looking for someone like you/your class to connect with. You can even narrow the search by age, subject, collection, and type of 'speaker' you are looking for. Skype also has a guest speaker section where they find some great speakers that you can sign up to connect with.
Skype lets kids ask and get questions from real people not just their textbook and their teacher. Learning about rocks? Why not get a geologist on Skype to talk with your class? It is hard to go on field trips or get experts to come and visit but it takes very little out of a persons day to login on and chat away while still at their desk. Students can present what they have learned with other classes and learn from their far way peers too.
How I Use It
The possibilities are endless and I want to do more! I have used it to connect with people around the country and sometimes internationally when we do our Flat Stanley project and learn about different communities. I have Skyped with a zoo when they were doing a project on penguins. I use my projector to make the speakers image large enough for the whole class to see. Now, it is more difficult for the speaker to see the whole class on a laptop webcam that is made to see just the person sitting in front of the computer. However with the little prep, I can been able to set up up at an angle that allows for all my students to be seen. I also sit my students on the ground with a back row in chairs to make it work. You can play with the webcam view before connecting. The build in mic in my laptop is also not very strong to pick up quiet kids who aren't right next to the computer. Make sure they speak loudly and you might need to repeat their question.
Try a practice chat with a friend before using it the first time with the class to get used to it. It can have some glitches and does not work as well with lower speed connections.