Mystery Skype

ImageHave you heard of a Mystery Skype?   I just found out about them this year and man oh man are they a pretty sweet deal.

It’s a critical thinking game in which you pit your class against another class from somewhere else.  I’ve only done other states but I hear some people do other countries as well.  Each class takes turns asking the other one yes/no questions trying to determine in which state the other is located.  That’s pretty much it but it’s way cooler than that brief description sounds.

If you ever wanted to do something like this, first you need to download Skype.  For some reason in my district I couldn’t do that at school.  But I took my laptop home, downloaded Skype and then was good to go.  Now in my Skype profile I neglected to put my location. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

Then you try to find another class to Mystery Skype with.  If you happen to know people in other states you can start making inquiries. You can also do a web search for “Mystery Skype” and sign up in various places.  The best way I’ve found is to use Twitter and the #MysterySkype tag and also start following @MysterySkype.  You’ll start seeing people there looking as well.  Then it’s just a matter of timing (and don’t forget about different time zones).

You also need a webcam and microphone on your computer.  I happen to have a laptop that already has these.  If you don’t have those, I also have one of these and it works very nicely for not too much money.

You will also want to have copies of United States maps, probably a couple of more detailed atlases and a whiteboard or chart paper or something like that.

You will also want to PRACTICE so the students know what is a good question and how to ask good follow-up questions.

On the day I usually contact the other teacher on Skype just to test the equipment and make sure we’re still on.  Then when the time comes you or a student can introduce your class.  Just keep it vague where you are, obviously.  Oh, and one more thing.  I usually start the video call with the other class and THEN hook up my projector for the rest of the class to see.  This is because when you start the call, before the video starts, you just see the other teacher’s profile page and they invariably have the location part of their profile filled out.  Once the video link starts that goes away and then I hook up the projector.

I also make sure no one is wearing anything super obvious like local sports team wear.  I also tell the students no to answer the questions right away and especially not out loud.  It’s better to have a student go up to the camera or laptop and say something like, “Hi, my name is Beth, I wanted to know if the Mississipi River borders your state.”  And after they ask a question I like for the next student to answer for the class after we’re sure there’s consensus, then ask the next question.  Like, “Hi, my name is Mohammed.  No, No Megan, our state was not one of the original thirteen colonies. I was wondering if your state borders one of the Great Lakes?”

That just keeps it a little more thoughtful and under control.  The impulse for the class is to start shouting “Yes! No! I don’t know!” and it can get a bit crazy.

A typical Mystery Skype takes about twenty minutes to half an hour but I’m no expert.  I’ve only been involved with a handful so far.

It’s cool because it uses so many important skills at once and it’s fun.  The kids are using map skills, critical thinking, questioning, public speaking and technology all at once and they LOVE IT.  Some teachers even try to do it all year and get in all 50 states!  I would guess that the last one would pretty much be a gimme, but there you go.

I’m going to talk it up next year and get other teachers doing it.  It’s just so fun and easy.  And it doesn’t matter about sticking too close to your grade level.  I’ve had 4th graders do it with middle schoolers.  It also doesn’t really matter who wins.  Sometimes you’ll get a class that’s new to it and your guys will trounce them and you can use it as an opportunity to be a good example of how they can do it next time.  Sometimes you’ll get a class like we had last week that all had tablets and were looking everything up instantly while our guys didn’t have detailed enough maps when the other class wanted to go past the state level and try to guess the city.

If you give it a try, let me know.  I’m curious to see how it works for others.