Before Your First Mystery Skype

Mystery Skype is the global guessing game that gets kids learning about geography, culture, and differences of how children live all over the world.

It is a great way to get your students collaborating, communicating, and critically thinking…in fact, I’d argue the experience depends on these 21st Century skills.  

There are many resources out on the web to get you started:

While the Microsoft Education site was a starting point to get set up on Skype, I have not experienced success connecting with other classes or with the virtual field trips they offer yet.   Currently, I’ve had much better luck on Twitter and have set up two live sessions using the hashtag: #mysteryskype.

Our very first Mystery Skype was with Mr. Tellgren’s 4th/5th class in Iowa who narrowed down our state in about 4 questions!  We were still trying to figure out what region of the United States they were in when this happened, so when they didn’t want to figure out what city we were in, we felt a little deflated.  Even so, this was a great learning experience!  The class asked whether our state’s name had two words:  We weren’t prepared for this fantastic question and panic set in.  The reflection discussion afterwards was one that could never be replicated with a worksheet or a text book.  We talked about the panic feeling in the context of playing the game and related it to future job interviews and/or global deals, etc.  Very authentic!

Before your Mystery Skype, be sure to communicate with the other class’s teacher:

  1. Ask them if they will be trying to figure out your city or if they will stop at your state.  This can vary depending upon the age group you are playing with.
  2. Determine an approximate amount of time that you each have for the Skype and then have a game plan if one class locates the other within the first 5 minutes.

Our second Mystery Skype was with a Second-Grade Class in California.   Ms. Francy and I agreed ahead of time that her class would just try to figure out our state and that if my class figured out their state, we’d keep asking questions to figure out their city.  My kiddos did pretty well figuring out they were in California  but had a little trouble asking good questions to help narrow down their actual location within the state.  Meanwhile their class figured out we were in North Carolina and it was so amazing to literally be on opposite coasts and  experience the excitement in both rooms!   We had time to get to know a little more about each of our locations afterwards which is another fantastic benefit that’s part of this opportunity.

Want to get your class Mystery Skype ready before the live event?  I have two recommendations:

  1. Pick a location that you’re familiar with, divide your class into two teams, and have them compete against each other to be the first to figure out where you are.
  2. Find a teacher that you have a great rapport with and plan a Mystery Skype with them.   My friend  Jacki and I decided to do this right before my class’s first live Skype and it has been a fantastic experience.  She and I  Skyped the night before our classes were scheduled to meet so we had an opportunity to test out the technology piece without the pressures of running out of time, etc.  The next day her class did have some technical difficulties getting a visual for us; but we were able to start the questioning via cell phone while that piece was being figured out.  We decided that both classes would pick two locations to represent so that we could keep the game going if one of us guessed the city within the first 5 to 10 minutes.  We each had about 25 minutes to play and agreed to pick up the questioning at the same time slot the following week.   We had our second Skype together yesterday:   My class has discovered their country and Jackie’s class is narrowing in on our state.

One of Jacki’s students asked if our location was north of 35 degrees latitude.  Even though we had 11 devices in the room, my kiddos were stumped!  They haven’t learned to take key information that they’re not yet familiar with and do a search in a time sensitive, competitive setting.   I’m adding the last two conditions because I haven’t actually ‘tested’ whether they can do this as a group in a ‘regular’ classroom activity.   Dismissal was immediately after our Mystery Skype, so we haven’t had an opportunity to reflect on this question and how we reacted.  I did finally show them how to search for a map with longitude and latitude, but it makes me wonder how other teachers have handled those “this wasn’t in any of the guides” questions.  Do you try to solve or do you give the class another turn?

Feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.  Whether you’re a Mystery Skype newbie like me or an ‘old pro’, I’d love to hear about your “wish I had known” tips and your favorite moments!

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