One of my students' favorite experiences this past year was taking part in a series of Mystery Skypes with other classrooms throughout the country (and the world!). Briefly, Mystery Skyping involves connecting with other teachers, commonly through Twitter using the #mysteryskype hashtag, setting up a convenient time, and then contacting those teachers' classrooms via Skype. The basic object of Mystery Skyping is for your students to figure out where the other classroom is contacting you from by taking turns asking yes-or-no questions, "20 Questions" style.
My class had its first Mystery Skype experience in October. Since I wanted to avoid mass chaos and also keep all of the students involved and participating, I did some research as to how other teachers had organized their classes in this activity. Ultimately, I decided to use Paul Solarz's excellent template as a starting point. He divides students into several groups where some are involved in directly interacting with the other class, others maintain a running list of questions to ask, others use computers and mobile devices to research possible locations based on the responses they get, and still others manage the communication between the students researching locations and those asking the questions. Also, other students are given the tasks of photographing, videoing, and blogging about the experience. Finally, to get the students ready, I led a few "dry runs" where I selected a city and state at random and had the students, in their roles, work together to figure out where it was.
Over the course of the school year, we were able to Skype with other fifth grade classrooms in Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Near the end of the year, we even made contact with a school in Reyrieux, France! With each Skype session, the students got more accustomed to working together and really were able to conduct themselves professionally and courteously. They were very reflective of their jobs and their performance and even suggested adding and changing some of their responsibilities. By the end of the year, they were pros...during my prep after one Skype session, I tweeted about how well they had done and mentioned the teacher of the class that they had Skyped with. That teacher retweeted my tweet, which was then picked up by another teacher whose own scheduled Skype session had fallen through at the last minute. That teacher then contacted me from my tweet and asked if we could Skype that day! As my students returned to the class, I asked them if they were up for it...and boy, did they rise to the challenge! In 5 minutes, they were able to get settled, reassign their jobs and make contact with this classroom!
Next year, I would like to take Mystery Skyping to the next level, so to speak. First, I'd like to do it more, and try to work it more into my existing curriculum. I've joined Skype in the Classroom, and I can't wait to see what comes of that. Additionally, I would like to create a more permanent partnership with any interested class that we Skype with. Perhaps a Skyping book club? Or creating "blog buddy" partnerships where students can read and comment on each others' blog posts? Feel free to post suggestions!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!