I had a bunch of ideas to blog about, but the end of the year caught up with me...so instead, I'll write them as a series of year-end reflections. This first one will review my second year of Mystery Skyping!
What Went Well:
- First of all, we definitely increased our volume of Mystery Skypes this year. In our first year of Skyping, we did maybe five or six. This year, we did 13, counting a Mystery Hangout (same concept, just using Google Hangouts instead) and a Skype we did with a 2nd grade class in Illinois for Read Across America Day. We set a goal of 10,000 miles, which we almost doubled in the course of the year.
-One real highlight for us was the Skypeathon, on December 3. We completed three separate Skypes on that day, one of which was all the way to Andhra Pradesh, India. We were treated to Indian students sharing examples of their dance and music, and just the idea that we were making contact with a school halfway across the world was a real eye-opening experience for my kids.
- My students became very adept at working in different roles, and shifting on the fly. There were several times during our Skype sessions when different students had to leave the classroom, and other students just filled their roles seamlessly.
- One thing that was really amazing to see was how the students themselves took control of many aspects of our Mystery Skypes. They made changes to the way we operated that worked best for them. At the beginning of the year, my Question Trackers had two separate Google Forms that they would enter questions into; one the questions we asked, and the other for the questions the other class asked. They would feed into two separate pages of one Google Sheet that the Researchers could use to track the questions. The students realized that there were only a few of them who could type fast enough to keep up with the questions, and Researchers constantly forgot to check the spreadsheet for what questions had been asked already. They decided among themselves that instead, the Question Trackers would simply write their questions on a dry-erase easel divided in half; one side for our questions, the other side for theirs. This fix made it a lot easier to follow the questions. The students also adapted how questions were relayed to the Questioners and also created the position of Research Captain, whose job it is to make sure that the researchers are staying focused and on task. Another student took it upon himself to track the distances we covered in each Skype session and tracked our progress to our mileage goal.
Things to Work On:
- One thing I would like to improve next year is making sure all students are engaged. In every session, there would be several students who would sort of "check out" of the whole process. They were usually members of the Research team who would start to drift off. This in itself is somewhat inevitable, but in some situations, they would begin to distract other members of their team. I know that in any situation, there will be varying levels of engagement, but I'd like to try some ways to keep the maximum number of students involved. One idea I had would be to have two separate teams of Skypers, and with each Mystery Skype, the team that was "off" would watch the "on" team in action in a sort of fishbowl. I would imagine that this would provide a lot of opportunities for reflection and Quality Boosters. Also, less people on a team means more for each person to do.
- For each Skype session, there was a photographer and videographer whose job it was to record our team in action, but often these pictures just sat on Google Drive...I needed to do a better job of sharing these images. This year, I had a map displayed outside our classroom that tracked where we Skyped. Each location was tagged with its name and distance from our school, but it was hard to maintain. Perhaps combining these elements...sharing the photos and videos from each session (maybe combined with some reflection from the students)...and creating a QR code that could be scanned instead of just writing the name and distance of the town that would share these elements. Also, having a student blog about the session is something I'd like to get back to as well.
- Preparedness and flexibility was sometimes an issue. While my students devised a really neat strategy for narrowing down the state and town we were Skyping with, sometimes they would get stuck in a rut and only rely on that one strategy when other kinds of questions would serve them better. I would like to see research teams think one or two questions ahead, so that they would be ready with another question more quickly.
- Finally, I would like to create more lasting relationships with the classrooms we Skyped with. I know that it's hard in the midst of planning everything else, but this really could be an invaluable experience for students to collaborate across great distances.
Overall, Mystery Skype has been a great experience in my classroom for two years now. I'm looking forward to enhancing the experience for my students in Year 3! What have your experiences been? Any suggestions for tweaks and/or enhancements would be welcome!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!