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Tip of the Week: Mystery Skype

I still remember my first Skype call. My brother was doing some work in Cairo and suggested via email that we try a new tool that he had been using. Of course, we had some trouble with the bandwidth and so kept losing the video.

But how cool was that? Audio and video from halfway around the world?

Skype has gotten better, bandwidth has gotten bigger, and the opportunities to use Skype as a teaching and learning tool have gotten wider.

And I know many of you already use Skype in your classrooms but for those still not sure about the whole thing or aren’t sure what that might look like, here’s a suggestion. Start small and try something like Mystery Skype.

At its simplest level, Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions. It works with all grade levels and is perfect for content like geography and history.

Start by heading to the Skype in the Classroom site and create a teacher profile. You don’t actually have to do this to use Skype as a teaching tool but as part of the deal, Skype gives you 12 months of free group video chats – allowing for multiple classrooms to chat at the same time. So . . . kind of a no-brainer.

You also get access to other educators and all of their posted lessons. Pretty sweet.

Then just head over to the Mystery Skype site and get started. And again, remember, you can always just arrange your own Skype conversations with whomever you want. Going through the Skype in the Classroom site makes it easier for you to connect with other teachers.

Steps in the process?

  • Sign up
    Lots of places to do this – the quickest and easiest will be the Skype in the Classroom site. But there are other places out there.
  • Arrange for a date and time
    And keep in mind the different time zones. (I tried one once with a group in Australia. That International Date Line really screwed me up. Don’t be that guy.)
  • Get your kids ready
    Depending on the grade, your students may need a lot of prep. If it’s a simple give and take with another class with the goal of figuring out location, your kids will need to research their own city and state – climate, people, sports teams, landmarks, tourist spots, etc so they are prepared to answer questions
  • Brainstorm questions to ask
    This ties right back to their own research. These are questions we want to ask so we need to be prepared to answer similar questions. But a good place to start is to tell your kids to start big and work backwards. Start with stuff like “Are you in the western hemisphere?” not “Are you Chicago?” You might try this list of questions to get started.
  • Some suggest assigned jobs for your kids during the call.
    Like Greeters, Answerers, Mappers, etc. I like this idea.
  • Test your tech
    Make sure that the computer, speakers, camera, projector are all working. The Test Call option in the software is great for this. This is also a great excuse to do a test run with your kids. Practice asking and answering questions.You will also want to confirm with the other teacher about date, time, and process. And be sure to talk about the no-Googling issue. Will kids get to use online resources to solve the problem?
  • Make the call
    Then step back and let your kids figure it out. This is their call, not yours. But be ready to help fact check their answers. And alternating questions between groups is usually the simplest strategy during the call. But feel free to let one group work through the process until they guess correctly and then switch.
  • Name that artifact
    Arrange with a local or not-so-local museum to showcase an artifact or display. Students have to guess what it is.
  • Book talks
    Read the same book as another class. Meet on Skype to discuss.
  • Author talks
    Most authors love to talk about their book. Also think about online bloggers or authors of newspaper and magazine articles.
  • Outside experts
    You can go so many different ways with this. Studying geographic land forms? Connect with state or national office at the Department of the Interior. Gettysburg? Call a ranger at the NPS battlefield site.

A few resources?

Have fun!

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