Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mystery Skype

So by the time this week is over, we will have completed a Mystery Skype with 3 different classes from all over the world.  We recently completed our first ever Mystery Skype and we survived.  Not only did we survive, we managed to overcome a 7 hour time difference and started our Monday with a call from Finland at 8:08 in the morning!  How did we do it?  A lot of preparation.

What is a Mystery Skype?  

Well, Mystery Skype is a 30-60 minute critical thinking challenge that your class takes part in while Skyping with another class somewhere else in the country or the world.  Your students' goal is to guess the other school's location (country, state, city, school name) before they guess yours.  We do this by asking yes and no questions.

Here is an even better explanation of Mystery Skype from Skype in the Classroom:

How do I find Mystery Skype partners?  

There are many ways to find partners.  One way is to connect with teachers in your professional learning network outside of your district.  Another great way of connecting is to send out a tweet with the #mysteryskype.  You'll be amazed by how many responses you'll get!  And finally, Skype in the Classroom has been making it increasingly easier for teachers to find partners.  They have a special database full of teachers all around the world that want to Mystery Skype.  You can register by going to this page:

Why should I Mystery Skype with my students? 

There are many reasons to get your kids involved.  
  • They will become global learners.
  • They will become problem solvers.
  • They will practice geography skills in real world situations.
  • They will practice their listening and speaking skills.
  • They will become critical thinkers.
  • They will use technology research skills.
  • They work together and become cooperative learners.
  • They- and you - will make relationships for future projects.
  • It's FUN!
  • AND - you will get time off!  Your students will lead the lesson!

So how do I start?

 Since we are in 3rd grade, we had to begin by reviewing simple concepts like the cardinal directions, continents and oceans, and the locations of the 50 states.  That took us weeks!  Then we started practicing asking and answering yes or no questions about hidden locations around the world and using maps, charts, and Google to help us narrow down various locations. Students also had to learn to keep the questions general so as to not waste their questions.  Usually, I pretended to be a hidden country and they were Pennsylvania.  This way I could make sure that they could answer questions that other teams would ask us about our state while they were asking me questions to determine my location. They had to know if we were west of the Mississippi River, one of the 13 Original Colonies, north of the Mason Dixon Line, landlocked, etc.  One day, we even had our principal volunteer to come in and pretend to be a mystery country and ask and answer questions!  During these mock Mystery Skypes, I was observing the students to see where their strengths were.  Then they filled out application forms to apply for the job they would like to hold for our first REAL Mystery Skype.

We printed maps of the world, the United States, Europe, and world and US time zones and laminated all of
them so we could mark them up and then erase them.  We also decided it would be helpful to have alphabetical lists of all of the countries on each continent and of the flags of the countries on each continent and laminated these, as well.  In addition, we color-coded question ideas for Continent (blue), Country/State (green), and City (pink) and put these on our white board for reference and practiced using all of these resources.

About a week before our first Mystery Skype, I put my profile on Skype in the Classroom.  I sent messages to a few teachers on the list, and I received messages from teachers looking for partners to Mystery Skype.  My first contact came from a teacher in Finland!  Not what I was expecting or prepared for!  It was even a week earlier than I had planned on having my students ready!  But we went ahead and scheduled a day to play the game and I pushed full steam ahead with my kiddos!

We had exactly 1 week from the day we scheduled our first Mystery Skype until the day of the game.  During that time, the kids practiced and I had many Skype contacts with the partner teacher.  I knew where the class was located, but my kids had no clue.

We also reviewed the jobs that would be needed for a successful Mystery Skype and signed up for 2 jobs we thought we'd really like and noted 1 job we would prefer NOT to have.  Then I reviewed all applications and assigned jobs.  Some jobs required preparation before the big day.  For instance, Greeters and Closers needed to prepare paragraphs or skits to share with the partner school, so I helped them research our state and our county so we could share information about our area of the world.

What are our classroom jobs?

  • GREETER: My job is to introduce myself (first name) and our classroom.  Example:  Hi!  I’m ___.  We’re so excited to Skype with you!  Our class has 20 students, 1 teacher, and 1 student teacher.  Our class loves Minions and Winnie-the-Pooh.  We have classroom money.  We call it Honey Money because it has pictures of Winnie-the-Pooh on it.  We spend it on candy and other prizes in our classroom store.  Do you want to ask the first question or should we?
  • CLOSER:  My job is to share something about our state, county, school, etc. after the mystery.  I can sing, dance, or read a paragraph.
  • SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  My job is to ask questions and reply to our guests.  I will make sure I look to my classmates for thumbs-up or thumbs-down signs before I respond.
  • QUESTION KEEPER:  My job is to write down all of the questions the other school asks us and record OUR answers.  This can be done on sticky notes or on Google Docs.
  • CLUE KEEPER:  My job is to write down all of the questions that we ask the other school and record THEIR answers.  This can be done on sticky notes or on Google Docs.
  • MAPPER:  My job is to use the maps and other resources to collect and analyze information and suggest good questions to the COURIER.
  • GOOGLE MAPPER:  My job is to use the Google maps and other resources to collect and analyze information and suggest good questions to the COURIER.
  • COURIER:  My job is to make sure messages from one group get to other groups so that the game runs smoothly.
  • TIME KEEPER:  My job is to note any time differences and to record the time the Skype call begins and ends as well as the time the mystery is solved. I will then create math problems for the class and they will calculate the elapsed time.  I will also correct my classmates' assignments.
  • MATH MASTER:  My job is to MapQuest the location (after it's discovered) and determine the distance from our location in miles and time.  I will then create math problems for the class using the data that has been collected.  I will also correct my classmates' assignments.
  • NEWS REPORTERS:  We are ALL NEWS REPORTERS.  Following the game, we will blog about the mystery location using KidBlog.
  • THINK TANK:  We are ALL part of the THINK TANK.  Our job is to research all leads using Google Search and work with MAPPERS to eliminate locations.
In addition, you may want to assign photographers and videographers.  We also set up our classroom so members of each team know exactly where they should be during a Mystery Skype.

The day of our first game, the partner teacher video called me from Finland about 20 minutes before the start of the game so that we could test the connections and the audio.  All was working well, so we left the connection open until it was time for the game to begin.  How the game progresses from here is up to the teachers.  You may choose to discover the country, state, or the actual city.  Due to time constraints, we only went to the country.  They found us first, but my kiddos persevered and found Finland by asking yes or no questions.

Afterwards we talked with the students from the partner class and even researched their country to listen to their National Anthem and see what their flag looked like.  We also talked about what went well, and what we needed to change or work on.  Then my kids all blogged about the experience using KidBlog.

Since starting this blog on Monday, we have also Mystery Skyped with a 2nd grade classroom from Detroit, Michigan and a 5th grade class from Austin, Texas.  My kids did such a great job inside the US and they are learning SO much about the rest of the world, as well as their own little part of it!  We have another game planned for Monday!  And this time, I don't even know the location!

Think your students are too young to Mystery Skype?  Try connecting with another class and playing Mystery Skype Number.  It's the same format, but uses place value, odd and even, and value-type questions that even young students will enjoy.  Or try Mystery Skype Letter or Animal!  You could even Skype with a friend and see if your students can guess their profession.  Just make connections and the possibilities are endless.

Here are some great resources from TeachersPayTeachers.  I started with some of these, and then adapted them to fit our classroom.
Question Cards from The Berry HillThe Berry HillThe Moeller Express
Mystery Skype Posters and Application from The Moeller Express

I hope this post inspires you to try a Mystery Skype in your classroom!

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