Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who doesn't love a mystery?

I am dying to get a teacher that I work with to try Mystery Skype. The concept is simple but powerful. You link up with another class somewhere in the United States or in the World. You ask questions of the other class and provide clues about your own class until you can each guess where the other class is located. Poof! Fun, authentic, high-level application of geography skills.

I really can't emphasize what a great example this is of using technology in a way that transforms learning: Students will:

  • develop excellent questioning and reasoning skills as they create questions to uncover clues about the mystery location
  • practice communicating via 21st century tools (certainly Skype and can be expanded from there if the classes choose to stay in communication)
  • learn about worlds beyond those of their classroom or school from those who actually live in those places rather than via textbooks or sanitized non-fiction readers
  • have a chance to take on leadership roles as they prepare to answer questions about their own location
Photo by woodleywonderworks
Below are some ideas and instructions for getting going with Mystery Skype. I've pulled these together from lots of great blogs and teacher websites like the following:

Mrs. Yollis
Mrs. Pripp
6th Chat
Mystery State Skyping
Mr. Avery 
School Is Cool  (video)
Teaching Geography and Mystery Skype

I hope to keep adding to this post as I coerce teachers into, I mean, assist teachers with Mystery Skype. Please add your own comments, advice, warnings in the comments below. And if you have a blog or posting about Mystery Skype, please add your link. I'd love to be able to refer teachers to this post as a go-to spot for getting started with Mystery Skype.

STEP ONE Establishing Accounts:

To begin, if you don’t already have one, set up a Skype account for your class. It is free and easy! I found that when I was at school, I was blocked from setting up my account, but I could browse projects other teachers had posted. And I could set up my account easily from home.

BONUS STEP: It is not required, but it is recommended to have an educational Twitter account. If you don’t have one already, create one. Teachers often set up an account like “MrsDunbar” or “MrsD5th” You might find this a useful way to communicate with your Mystery Skype classes or with other professionals (you don’t have to follow the cast of Jersey Shore).

STEP TWO Connecting with other classrooms:

Sign up for Mystery Skype using one of the following links:

Or, make your own connections!

  • If you know teachers in other regions, ask them if they’d be willing to Mystery Skype with you
  • Ask colleagues, parents and students if they have contacts in other states, see if they want to Mystery Skype
  • If you are on Twitter, you can also just tweet that you are looking for classrooms to Mystery Skype with

STEP THREE Preparation for the call:

The technology:
Find out what the procedures are for your school or school division. In my school division, teachers contact the Help Desk so that Skype can be unblocked for that day, time, and location. Our Help Desk will also provide a good web cam and microphone as well as hang around to make sure everything goes well. If you have a great tech department like ours, get them involved in the call too! They can give a clue or ask a question!

Your class:

  • Be sure your students know about your our own region! Have different students research the geography, history, landmarks, weather and other aspects of our location that make your location unique. You want to make sure that your class can answer questions accurately.
  • Brainstorm questions to ask the other class. Usually Mystery Skype projects use close ended questions. Help your class develop a list of Yes/No questions that will help them figure out the location of the other class.
  • Give students roles for the time of the call. The links below have great ideas about how to do this.

The other class:
Try to communicate actively with the other class. Be sure that you are both clear about how the call is going to run, including if you are using Yes/No questions, who is going to go first, what roles your students have. Also be clear if the location will be revealed during the call or after the call. Don’t be afraid to say this is your first time, we educators need to take risks and support each other.

STEP FOUR Share how it went!

I am looking forward to sharing how the first Mystery Skype call goes. I have a couple of victims, I mean, teachers in mind that I am hoping are feeling brave enough to try this out. I will be sure to post here once that happens. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from more teachers how Mystery Skype enhances learning in their classrooms. You can share here too, or tweet about it, or write on your own blog, or share at a faculty meeting, or just share with the teacher across the hall!

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