The What, Why and How of Mystery Skype

What is Mystery Skype?
Mystery Skype is a 45-60 minute game between two classes in which the students use deductive reasoning and critical thinking to figure out where the other class is located. Think- 21 questions. The goal is to figure out where the other class is located by asking yes/no questions.

Why take part in a Mystery Skype?

  • builds a sense of a global awareness for your students (A world outside of mine actually exists? Life is different in other parts of the world?)
  • deductive reasoning skills
  • student-centered learning (they guide the questioning)
  • collaboration
  • authentic learning takes place in real time
  • puts geography skills to real use
  • problem-solving
What did the Mystery Skype look like?
Truth- Leading up to the Mystery Skype, I was nervous. How would my students do? Would they know what to ask and how to ask the questions? Would they represent our school well? I had read all about Mystery Skype and researched as much as I possibly could in order for my students to feel successful, but just as any good lesson, I had to simply dive in head first and try it out. I am always looking for ways to make my classroom student-led and student-centered and this activity accomplishes that objective. 
To start, I coached my kids through what their thinking should parallel. I went back to my college days and remembered my amazing Behavioral Management teacher who taught us the ABC method. A- Antecedent (What do you expect out of them? What should the skype look like?) B- Behavior (How do I expect them to behave during the skype? What should they be doing at their desks and with their groups?) C- Consequence. (What is the consequence if they choose to or choose not to behave appropriately and ask appropriate question?) As a whole class, we talked about how we should start with broad, thick questions and then get to the detailed, thin questions. We then divided our students into groups and they would collaborate with their teammates to interpret the information from the other class. They would then raise their hand and we would pick one student to come to the front of the room to ask the other class the question. As the other class responded, my students would use maps that you can write on with dry erase markers to cross out or circle pertinent information. (For example, “Are you located east of the Mississippi River?” If the class answered yes, they would use their markers to cross out all states located west of the river.) They also used their iPad minis to google information. They were in complete control of what we would ask, when we would ask it and why. However, before they asked their question, they had to tell us their question and explain to us why this question would help us figure out where they were located. We let the class then determine if this was a worthy question or not. If it was not, as a class we decided how to make it better. 
We decided we would first split the world in two pieces by asking, “Are you located in the western hemisphere?” We discussed how each question should eliminate 50% whether they answer yes/no and if it doesn’t, there is probably a better question out there. Once we determined if they were in the eastern or western hemisphere, we then asked, “Are you located in the northern hemisphere?” It was now time to determine the continent in which the other class was located. Next, we used regions, states, and then counties to hone in on the city. 
What did I notice as we were taking part in the Mystery Skype?
It become quite obvious that my students struggled with coming up with thick questions. They were lost at some points in the process. “Mrs. Read, we know they are in Maine, but we don’t know what to ask next. Should I ask if they are in the city Augusta?” They didn’t realize that by asking, “Are you in Augusta?” the chances were slim and that question would not really help us to eliminate or hone in on certain locations. We had to pause and google maps of Maine. During this process, I acted as a guide to direct their thinking. I would ask questions to my students such as, “Ok guys, we know they are located in Maine. How can we eliminate part of the state? What questions and geography skills will help us to do this?” At this point, the other class asked us if we were located north of a certain county and boom, we stole their idea. (Teaching equals borrowing other’s great ideas, didn’t you know?) My kids realized that if they could google counties in Maine and find a map, they could use that map to cut the state into pieces. Had we never taken part in the Mystery Skype, I am not sure if this level of questioning, problem solving, deductive reasoning, communication, collaboration, the list goes on… would have truly ever taken place. It was amazing to watch their brains work and a great insight into learning in general. As teachers, we spend a lot of time asking the questions and having the students respond. At times, we must remember to sit back, guide the conversation, but let them create the questions. They should be the ones asking, why, how, what, when and so forth. Because of this experience, I have made it a point in our daily conversations to force them to come up with the questions rather than the answers. 

How do you set up a Mystery Skype?
Use Twitter! Be sure to include hashtags as it allows for more viewers.

You can also sign your class up using the Mystery Skype website, click here to access the website. This is actually the route I chose and I had multiple people reach out to me wanting to set up a Mystery Skype with my class. 

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