How To Do Mystery Skype

This post originally appeared on my blog at – check it out for other great collaborative project ideas.

Mystery Skype is one of those ideas I wish I had thought because it just so fun but instead I was lucky enough to hear about it from Caren MacConnell.  The concept is simple:  classrooms Skype call each other and try to guess where the other classroom is located either in the United States or in the world.   There are many great resources out there but for my own sanity I am creating one list for future reference:

Before the call:

  1. Sign up – there are many places to sign up and some are even grade level based.  I signed up a couple of places but also tweeted it out; the response was immediate as a lot of people are doing this.  If you would like to sign up:
    1. 4th Chat Mystery Skype
    2. 6th Chat Mystery Skype
    3. Mystery Country/Mystery State
  2. Decide on a date and time – don’t forget to consider in timezones.
  3. Prepare the kids
    1. We wanted to know facts about our own state so that we would be ready for any question.  We therefore researched the following questions: climate, region, neighboring states, time zone, capital, famous landmarks, geographical location.  All of this gave the students a better grip of what they might be asked.
    2. We also brainstormed questions to possibly ask.  We like the concept of the questions having to have yes or no answers as it makes the game a little harder and has the students work on their questioning skills.  Questions we came up with included whether they were in the United States, whether they were east of the Mississippi, Whether they were West of the Rocky Mountains, If they were in a specific region, whether they border other countries, whether they are landlocked etc.
    3. Give jobs.  I think it is most fun when the kids all have jobs, so this was a list of our jobs:
      1. Greeters – Say hello to the class and some cool facts about the class – without giving away the location.
      2. Inquirers – these kids ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom.  They can  also be the ones that answer the questions.
      3. Answerers – if you have a lot of kids it is nice to have designated question answerers – they should know their state facts pretty well.
      4. Think tanks – I had students sit ina group and figure out the clues based on the information they knew.  Our $2 whiteboards came in handy for this.
      5. Question keepers – these students typed all of the questions and answers for us to review later.
      6. Google mappers – two students were on Google maps studying the terrain and piecing together clues.
      7. Atlas mapper – two students used atlases and our pull down map to also piece together clues.
      8. Clue keepers – worked closely with answerers and inquirers to help guide them in their questioning.
      9. Runner – A student that runs from group to group relaying information.
      10. Photographer – takes pictures during the call
      11. Videographer – I had two students film the call
      12. Clue Markers – These students worked with puzzles of the United States and maps to remove any states that didn’t fit into the clues given.
      13. Problem solver – this student helped students with any issues they may encounter during the call.
      14. Closers – End the call in a nice manner after guesses have been given.

During the Call:
During the call you just have to step back and trust the kids.  My students were incredible, both with their enthusiasm and their knowledge, I think I was more nervous than they were.  I did have to fact check some of their answers so I did stay close by but otherwise it ran pretty smoothly.  We decided which class would go first with their first question and then there were two options:

  • Yes answer: They get to ask another question.
  • No answer – Other team’s turn to ask a question.

Students were allowed to guess whenever they thought they had a great answer (and it was their turn).  In the end, both classes were able to guess each other’s location.

For our preparation for this, I showed the kids this video on Linda Yollis’ blog – it really gave the students a concrete example of what to expect and they got very excited. Also Mr. Avery has a great discussion of jobs he had students do during the call.
Jerry Blumengarten also has a nice collection of links on one of his many pages that was helpful to me.

We are already excited to try it again!



Why You Should Join the Global Read Aloud

Have you heard of the The Global Read Aloud?  The premise is simple; we pick a book to read aloud to our students during a set 4-week period and during that time we try to make as many global connections as possible.  Each teacher decides how much time they would like to dedicate and how involved they would like to be.  Some people choose to connect with just one class, while others go for as many as possible.  The scope and depth of the project is up to you.  In the past we have used Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, our wiki, email, regular mail, Kidblog, and any other tools we can think of to make these connections.  Teachers get a community of other educators to do a global project with, hopefully inspiring them to continue these connections through the year.

So why should you join, well, let me count the ways:

  1. It is free.  There is nothing to buy besides the book, there is nothing you have to pay to be a part of it, and for free you get access to educators all over the world.
  2. It brings the world in.  Every year, educators who participate in it cannot believe how many connections they make, whether just in the US or around the world.  Having a common project provides you with a platform to start collaborating with others that you can then use the rest of the school year.
  3. You decide.  This project is great because of its simplicity, I don’t tell you how to connect or what tools to use, just which book you should be discussing.  Different teachers have different time to dedicate so this fits in with any curriculum anywhere.
  4. Students get it.  The reason I keep doing this is because my students cannot wait to hear what others think of the book we are reading.  They cannot wait to connect, they cannot wait to share, they cannot wait to reach out and learn with others.
  5. It is only 4 weeks.  We keep it short because we know how busy we all get.  4 weeks is just the right amount of time to discuss, elaborate and dissect a great book without getting overwhelmed by all of the to do’s.
  6. There is a book for your level.  Last year we expanded into two separate books, one for younger grades and one for upper grades.  This year we will continue to do that so you get to pick which book you feel the most comfortable with for your students.  There is even aFrench version of the project for those who would rather do it in French.
  7. It provides a way to introduce tech tools.  I use the project to introduce students to Skype, KidBlog, Animoto and other tools.  This way I am not trying to reinvent the wheel but get to use the tools in a meaningful way with my students for their intended purposes.
  8. You get a voice.  I invite others to make it their own and share their ideas.  This is not just “my” project, it is for everyone to make their own.  I love all of the sharing and great ideas that come from being part of this project, it really sets me up for great collaboration and idea creation for the the rest of the year.
  9. You don’t have to be a techie to do it.  Sometimes technology is really overwhelming and the great thing with this project is that you don’t have to use a lot of it if you don’t want to.  You can email one other class, or even use regular mail to share observations and discussions.  However, if you are feeling adventurous, this is a great project to get your tech feet wet because there is a whole group of participants that would love to help you!
  10. It’s fun!  The biggest reason for why you should join, it is a great project!  Many teachers have embraced this project and made it their own, using it receive grants and propel their own teaching. The students love it, the books are always thought provoking and who doesn’t love a great read aloud.  So why not take something you probably already do and make it even better.
I could keep going, but I hope some of these reasons have at least sparked your curiosity.  So to get more information head over to the Global Read Aloud blog.  To sign up go right here, or to even be a part of the planning committee, go here.