Getting Started with #MysterySkype

After having experienced the engagement and learning thatcan take place with just a few sessions of Mystery Skype, I’ve decided to write up a piece on what I did with Mr. Nixon and his class to help prepare for our very first session. Hopefully, this will help others see how we got started, and give them a jumping point to get started in their own classroom. There are many ways to get started with Mystery Skype, and there isn’t just one correct
way to do it. Every teacher will find that it’s different in their own classroom, and so shouldn’t compare themselves to what they see online. Research what different classrooms do, and do what works best for YOUR classroom, not someone else’s.

Materials:

-Skype account
-Decent webcam

-Laminated US or world maps (optional)
-Dry erase markers (optional)
-iPad or other device for students (optional)

If teachers are going for the bare minimum, then all one needs is a webcam and Skype account to get started. Anything else is extra. Skype accounts are free, and the Skype program is as well. A teacher will need to download the program to get started, and then follow the steps to install it to the computer. As for a webcam, it’s best to get one with HD quality video so that your students will be easily seen by the other class, and quick movement won’t create too much of a blur. We used the Logitech HD Pro C920 Webcam that I had on me for my TIS work. I love this particular webcam, and I also have the same webcam at home. It’s good quality, and picks up sound with its microphone fantastically.

Even though this is considered optional, I certainly wouldn’t forgo having a laminated map and markers for any Mystery Skype session! For our project, I found a copy of the map of the United States online that at least showed capitals. I also found another map that listed rivers in the country. Flipping these back to back, I then laminated them for repeated use. The same can be done with a world map if one chooses to connect globally. Students were then able to use dry erase markers to cross off guesses. All but one of the classes we worked with guessed down to state so it was a great way for students to visually see which states were definitely NOT the answer.

The last optional material would be an iPad, other tablet, or laptop for students to use. Our school has multiple iPad carts, so we just made sure to Skype during a time that this class had the cart. They used the iPad to search via Google maps, find possible questions to ask, and locate information based on the other class’s answers. It does make things easier.

Now that we have all of our materials, it’s time to move on to…

Preparation:

The first Mystery Skype session can seem rather daunting, especially when a teacher doesn’t know how their class will react, or how the entire experience will go. It’s even more daunting when the first Skype session is with a class that is very familiar with the process and has been doing sessions all year long.

Before scheduling any Skype sessions, teachers need to prepare their class to complete Mystery Skype. The preparation period will take more than just a day, so plan accordingly. There will be kinks and other issues to work out, and the preparation period is a good time to work through all issues.

First, introduce students to the concept of Mystery Skype. Explain what it is, how it works, and who is involved. Next, show students a few videos of Mystery Skype sessions in action. A quick search on YouTube will reveal many options to choose from. Once students have seen a few videos, or parts of ones, hold a class discussion and ask students to make observations about what they saw happening in each of the videos. Write down student answers. Ask students to locate things that seemed to go right or wrong.

Once students know what Mystery Skype is, and have made their own observations about the videos, determine how the classroom should be set up. This can be done with students if they are older, but for younger students, it may be best for the teacher to determine the layout. In the case of the class that I worked with, we had two chairs in front of the camera for whomever would be speaking, and then the rest of the class was grouped behind.

After a layout has been determined, teachers can have students begin preparing the material that they will share with the other class. Many classrooms make signs to use during the chat. Signs are great because if the other class can’t hear, or your class needs to pause, these can be held up to the camera. Here are some possible samples:

-Yes
-No
-Can you please repeat that?
-We’re thinking…

Students should also prepare the materials to share at the end of the game. Teachers can have pairs of students work together on this, or if students are too young, work together to create the cards. A card will need to be prepared with information about the state, information about the area in which students live, and information about the school itself. This doesn’t mean that students should give exact information about the name of their school. Good state information to share might be a picture of the state flag, facts on when it was founded, and state symbols. Good information about the area in which students live to share might talk about what type of area (rural, city, suburb), what the area is known for (farming? Sports?), and interesting events that may take place. Good information about the school to share might be the grade levels attending, how many students, and special activities done in the classroom.

Many classrooms choose to also assign jobs to the students. Some classes have a lot of jobs, while others have just a few. In the case of Mr. Nixon’s class, the following jobs were assigned:

Greeters: Two students would sit in the chairs at the beginning and introduce themselves and their class, usually telling the teacher’s name and grade level only.
-Questioners: These students asked the questions given to them, and held up the cards if need be.
Researchers: This was the job of most of the class. Based on the answers to the questions, they would research to determine a possible location, and come up with new questions to ask.

-Question Runners: These students would gather up the questions that their nearby tablemates posed, and then meet in one area of the room with Mr. Nixon. They would choose one question and run it to the Questioners at the front. Mr. Nixon made sure they all got to take turns doing this.
– Closers: These students read the cards on the state, area, and school. Only 3 students are needed, but teachers can pair up students for each card if they so choose.

After all of the materials have been prepared and jobs assigned, it’s time to practice for the Skype session. There are two ways that Mr. Nixon’s class practiced, and we found it did help. The first way involved pairing up students. Each student would pick a state and try to guess the other student’s state. Students were only able to ask questions that had yes or no answers. Over time, their favorite questions to ask were “Are you landlocked?” and “Are you east (or west, depending) of the Mississippi River?” Their teacher always tried to make them think about cutting the area in half each time they asked a question. Sometimes, instead of partnering up the students, he would pit himself against the class and see how they did.

The other way to practice was to set up a trial run Skype session. In this scenario, Mr. Nixon pretended to be the other class. His students were set up to complete the session just as they would be if it were real. Each class would introduce themselves, and then determine who would ask the first question. Usually this was done via rock, paper, scissors. The students would run through the session, asking their questions, until one side had determined the location of the other. The winner would then let the other side keep guessing until they figured out the location as well. After the locations were figured out, his class would share their information cards on the state, area, and school. Then Mr. Nixon would have his class point out the things that went well, and the things that needed changed for the next time.

Connecting with Another Class

Once practice seems to be going well, and all materials are prepared, it’s time to find another class to Mystery Skype with. There are two ways to do this. Skype’s website has a page where teachers can sign up and then communicate with other teachers on the site to set up a Mystery Skype session. I’m not sure how long it would take with this method because we never used it. The other way is by using Twitter and the hashtag #mysteryskype. This method is a very quick way to connect with other classes. You’ll need to set up a Twitter account of course! A sample tweet might be:

“5th grade class in WV (EST) looking to #mysteryskype with another US class on 5/15-17. Mornings are best!”

The tweet itself can vary, but should include the hashtag, the location, and possible dates. This makes it easier to set up dates/times later on. Make sure that you get the other teacher’s Skype username, and give them your own as well.

Do keep in mind that when scheduling a Skype session, each one will take about 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on how quickly the guessing is completed. Make sure that you schedule enough time for the session, and don’t schedule it around other activities, such as PE or recess. Your kids will immediately lose focus when they realize they are supposed to be somewhere else!

It’s Time: Your First Mystery Skype!

Now that everything has been prepared, it’s time to Skype with the other class. There are a few things to keep in mind before doing the actual session. First, make sure that you have connected with the other teacher on Skype. Second, make sure your equipment is up and running properly. Some teachers even do a test run with the other teacher just to make sure. One thing to keep in mind is that when you are Skyping with another class, make sure you have turned off your location and time display in your profile. Otherwise, this will appear to the other class, and can definitely ruin the fun!

As the session gets started, make sure to take notes on what is going well and what could be changed for the next time. Do not expect it to go 100% smoothly the very first time! It takes a few sessions to get things rolling. Make sure to take some pictures for later.

Once the session has ended, host a discussion with the class on what they’ve learned about the other class. You may want to have them write down their findings, do more research on the state, or even help contribute to a class book. After they’ve discussed their learnings, have them help contribute to how the session could be better the next time. Chances are, some of them noticed the same things that you did.

Wrap-Up

That’s all there is to it! After a few sessions, your class will be seasoned pros. Make sure to keep connecting with other classrooms and setting up Mystery Skypes throughout the year. By the end of the year, you’ll see a difference in your students’ geography skills and what they know. It’s a great way to get some geography lessons in without the same old boring routine. Are you ready to Mystery Skype?

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