Friday, January 18, 2013

Our First Mystery Skype

On Tuesday, my class participated in our first Mystery Skype.  If you don’t already know, Mystery Skype is an activity in which two classes Skype and try to figure out where the other is located.  We guessed each other's state, city, and school.  This is done by having the students come up with clues about their location and asking yes/no questions.  Students must think about the clues they are given and then study maps in order to rule out certain places and make educated guesses.  This activity is student centered and the teacher acts as a facilitator.  
 Benefits of Mystery Skype:
  • Geography comes to life for the students.  It’s interactive; they learn about other states or countries in the world by having a conversation with the people who actually live there.  This is much more interesting and engaging than reading from a textbook!
  • With this activity, students are able to put to use their geography skills and see the value in knowing their cardinal/intermediate directions, how to read a map, etc.  I remember asking the students, “Do you see why it’s important to know where you are in the world?”
  • Students practice critical thinking skills.  They must brainstorm and create good questions for the other class.  They must use clues and deductive reasoning to figure out possible places where the other students are located.
  • Students practice communication skills.  The children must communicate effectively with those in their classroom and those on the computer in order to progress through the activity.
  • Encourages collaboration
  • Integrates technology and helps make global connections

Drawbacks of Mystery Skype:
  • It is easy for students not to participate and let someone else do all the work. 
  • It is difficult to hold each child accountable.

Mystery Skype is a wonderful activity.  However, I had some challenges during my first Mystery Skype and I’m going to share my honest reflections here.  I’ll also share my plan for improvement, as I’ll definitely be trying Mystery Skype again.
Everything I had read online about Mystery Skype beforehand gave me information on jobs/roles for the students so I mainly focused on that.  I made sure every child had a job and knew what his/her role was.  I’ll tell you the jobs I used, but know that I will probably change these for the next Skype session.  Here goes:
Greeter—Greeted the other class and shared a few clues about our location without giving it away
Orators—Asked/answered the questions and were the voice of the classroom (I didn’t want everyone shouting out answers, so I assigned two people to speak)
Inquirers—Came up with the questions to ask the other class.  They worked closely with the orators.
Typists—Two students were stationed at the computer to transcribe questions and answers.  They were taking the “minutes.”  
Google Mappers—Used maps on the iPads to try to piece together clues
Think Tank—Group of students who discussed the clues and tried to think through possible locations.  They were given maps to write/draw on.
Clue Keepers—Worked closely with the Google Mappers and Think Tank to keep up with clues.  They also sent information to the inquirers and orators.
Messenger—This student went from group to group, relaying information.
Photographer—Took pictures throughout the activity
Closer—Responsible for ending the call politely
Mathematician—Recorded the start/stop time of the call; when the activity was finished, this student used MapQuest to find the distance between our locations and the length of time it would take to drive from our school to their school.

I learned a great deal from this activity.  I, unfortunately, had made a lot of assumptions before our Skype call which caused me to be disappointed with my class’s participation in the activity.  First of all, I assumed they knew all the states and their locations.  They supposedly learned this last year.  However, they ended up having difficulty identifying locations on the map they were given.  I learned that I need to show maps every day and continue to talk about places in the world.  I can’t just say, “Oh, well they should have learned that last year” and not continue to reinforce the concepts.

I assumed my students knew how to search for information online.  I learned a few days ago, however, that their Internet search skills are limited.  I was also shocked to find out that they are not allowed to go on the Internet when they visit the computer lab for special area.  Instead, they focus on keyboarding.  I don’t have a set of computers in my classroom so I’ve never really had the chance to see many of my students try to navigate the Internet.  We will definitely be working on that!
I assumed that if each child had a job, they would take the task seriously and try to do their job well.  Negative.  I learned that when given a little bit of freedom, some of my students will take the opportunity to be silly.  At one point, I had a student holding a large map over his head and making random noises.  He wasn’t trying to help his classmates and wasn’t really listening to the other class.  He wanted attention and was trying to distract others.  I learned that I need to consider each child’s strengths and weaknesses and choose my students’ jobs carefully instead of randomly assigning them.  

My first Mystery Skype was definitely a learning experience and didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped!  I had high expectations because my class is bright, polite, and usually very well-behaved.  They were nervous and excited though and neither of us knew what to expect.  The activity turned chaotic and confusing at times, which was frustrating.  

If I do this again:
  • I will practice before connecting with another class!  I will think of a country (or state) somewhere in the world and offer clues about the location to my students.  I will have them create questions to ask, examine maps, etc. and we will do a simulated “Mystery Skype” activity with just us.   
  • I will have my students come up with some behavioral rules/guidelines beforehand and make my behavioral expectations crystal clear. 
  • I will make sure my students know facts about their state/city inside-out!  They had a tough time coming up with clues for the other class to guess.
  • I will give more children the opportunity to come up to the computer, introduce themselves, and speak into the microphone.  During our first Skype, I had assigned only two students to speak.  Even though all my students could be seen in the background, I realize now that every child needed the opportunity to talk to the other class and next time, I’ll let them.     
I definitely have a better idea of how Mystery Skype should go.  I look forward to trying it out again!


  1. I have not tried a Mystery Skype yet although my class has Skyped other classes. It was interesting to read your comments. My students don't know enough about their own country or even city really let alone guess something about the other side of the world.

  2. Mrs. Bowman, I applaud you for taking the time to reflect on your Mystery Skype experience. This reflection allowed you to find ways to improve the process and in the end creating a better experience for your students. I believe those are some of the characteristics of a good teacher, to be reflective, be self-critiquing and be willing to make adjustments as needed. Good for you for not giving up! Thank you for choosing to teach.

  3. Thank you for your honesty with this activity! I definitely want to try this this year, but will now not panic if everything doesn't go smoothly!