Geography Skills Soar With Mystery Skype
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Imagine your students learning about volcanoes from students who live within sight of Mount St. Helens or discussing baseball with a classroom full of Boston Red Sox fans. The connections your class can make are endless if you take part in Mystery Skype. As described on the Skype website, Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms trying to guess the location of the other class using a 20 questions format. Our social studies time has never been so exciting!
I first learned of Mystery Skype through a teacher friend, whose class in another state was the first we ever connected with. After that experience, my students were hooked! They immediately wanted to know when we were doing it next.
Why Try Mystery Skype?
My kids’ geography skills have soared!
When we first began, I quickly realized that my students’ knowledge of our own state, let alone other states in our country, was not where it needed to be. I cringed as they confidently looked into the camera and answered that our state, Michigan, bordered an ocean, was in the central time zone, and did not border Indiana. Oh, my. We had some meaningful map lessons and discussions after those Skype sessions. At our last Mystery Skype session, I noticed my students adeptly running their dry erase markers up the Mississippi River, dividing the country into time zones and asking about mountain ranges like the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas — which they didn't even know existed when we began. And best of all for me? They confidently answer questions about our own state correctly (most of the time)!
Learning facts from kids your own age is much more engaging than any book.
The favorite part of the Skype session is after we have guessed each other’s state, we ask each other questions about what their state is known for, their weather, the sorts of things a tourist would want to see, their favorite sports teams, etc. These kid-to-kid conversations seem to be remembered much better than what they have ever read in their social studies book.
It’s the best 45 minutes of the month.
We are trying to do one Skype a month, but because my students are gaining so much from the experience, I would definitely like to aim for two each month next school year. The engagement and excitement generated by this game is incredible.
How to Get Started
The very first thing I did was visit the very informative and easy-to-follow Mystery Skype site to read how the game works.
I also watched this great video on the site from fifth grade teacher, Scott Bedley, to give me an idea of what to expect.
Next, I registered for Mystery Skype and created a profile. If you already have a Skype name, you can use it, or you can create a new name just for this project.
The profile is easy to create and it lets other educators know what type of experience you are looking for.
After clicking on the link, Find a #MysterySkype now, I began looking for a few classes to connect with. I sorted by age group and location because I wanted students close in age to my third graders and I wanted classes in the United States to fit with our social studies curriculum.
Next, I read through some of the many descriptions and pressed the green “Join” button to express interest in doing a Mystery Skype with their class. Within a few hours, several teachers contacted me, and we arranged mutual times we could Skype. It’s that easy!
Skype in Action
The first few times my class did a Mystery Skype it took a bit of time and practice to prepare. Check out our video below to see us in action (mobile users can access our Mystery Skype video here):
Some things you may want to do:
I like to make sure every student has a job. At first I assigned all the jobs. Now, however, I put up the list of jobs and students select the task they would like to do. I just suggest they choose a different job than they had the last time. Our list of jobs includes:
Click on the image above to print your own copy.
Generate a List of Questions
Before we Skyped for the first time, we looked online at other classroom’s Skype suggestions and came across many great resources. The incredible suggestions and ideas from Wisconsin teacher and blogger, Pernille Ripp saved the day, helping my class understand the types of questions they needed to ask. My class now works together to generate a list of questions that would help them narrow in on their state quickly. For example, they usually begin with, Are you east of the Mississippi River?, knowing the answer will automatically rule out half the country. I have typed up our starter questions which are found on the same sheet of paper the trackers and mappers use to chart how each question has been answered.
Click on the image above to print your own copy.
Discuss Skype Rules and Etiquette
The list my class developed after having a few sessions under our belts:
Speak loudly and clearly
If you are not speaking, work in quiet whispers
Listen to what both sides are saying so you can track the clues
Do not shout out answers — indicate your answer to the speaker using your Yes/No cards
Be polite when asking and answering
This is no time for silliness, take it seriously
Remember you are part of a team
Ask for help when needed and give help when asked
Don’t over-cheer if you guess first and be happy for them if they guess first
Do your job and stay busy
We played several deductive reasoning games during carpet time like Guess the Number Between 1 and 500 and Guess My State, to help students understand how some questions narrow down the possibilities much better than others. This helped them understand why their first questions should never be "Is your state Virginia?” (Yes, we did that once!)
Do a quick test with the teacher of your mystery class to make sure all the equipment is working properly. I skipped this set last time and found out a bit too late that my Apple TV speakers weren’t working. The kids waited patiently while we quickly worked out that glitch the old-fashioned way — a call using the speakerphone!
Remember this is a learning experience for your class (and you). Your session will most likely not be perfect. While I secretly wanted to die when they answered that yes, Michigan bordered the Mississippi River, our mappers quickly jumped in and helped correct the error — student collaboration at its best.
Send the mystery class an email afterwards thanking them and telling them any other information about your state you may not have had the chance to share.
Mystery Skype has turned out to be an incredibly fun and meaningful experience for our class, I hope you will give it a try. If you have used Skype for Education in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it in the comment section below.