One of my personal professional learning goals for this school year is to be more intentional about global collaboration as an educator. I chose this in part because one of the schools I work in has a global theme. We have a number of visiting international faculty and our students all learn Mandarin. Some of our students are immersed in the language while others receive Mandarin instruction as a foreign language resource. I know I can be doing a better job of integrating global connections in the learning that takes place in my classroom. One way I am hoping to boost global connections and geographic awareness is with a giant map of Asia that we will be purchasing thanks to the Bright Ideas Grant. A second method has been borrowing culture kits from the Carolina Navigators program. But the really big idea I want to share is Mystery Skype.
Mystery Skype has been around for a long time. There are loads of blogs, teacher forums, and websites where you can get information to get started. I like to describe it as a twist on pen-pals and 20 questions. First you need to find another class willing to participate and work out the details of any time zone differences. The idea is to ask questions that yield a "yes" or "no" response and will allow you to hone in on the location of the other class. So, where do you go to make that connection? My "go to" places are Facebook teacher groups, Twitter, Proteacher.net and Microsoft in Education's Mystery Skype connection page. I'm sure there are many places others would recommend and I hope that some listeners might chime in and leave me a Speakpipe or write a comment to share their "go to" places for finding a classroom partner.
Once you have a partner class and a scheduled date/time for the Mystery Skype, it is a good idea to have a practice session with your class. I pretended to be the other class. I chose a place I was very familiar with so that I could answer the yes/no questions. We practiced asking good questions and keeping track of the clues using maps, atlases, and customized Google docs and Google forms. For the practice session I did not assign students a specific job. Everyone had the maps and could ask questions. They did a great job and had "found me" in about 30 minutes.
Following the practice session, but prior to the actual Mystery Skype event, I did create some Google docs and forms to be used during the event. I also created Google Slides with job descriptions and assignments for each student. You can view all of these using the links found in my show notes.
The day before the event, I made sure to connect with the other teacher via Skype. She had some concerns about bandwidth and connectivity which turned out to be very legitimate concerns. I imagine these could be even bigger issues in more remote regions. We were able to connect but we could barely say hello before the video would freeze. Some people would get frustrated and give up, but that's just not my style. We made it work. Skype has an Instant Message style chat feature so we agreed to just type our questions and responses back and forth instead. You know what? This worked great! Mystery Skype is a very controlled chaos type of learning and I think that we might have struggled to hear each other and maintain good communication in our 1st Mystery Skype if we had be "live". The student jobs kept everyone engaged and gave them each a purpose. We could see when the other class was working on typing a response or a question and the entire room came to a halt each time. After about 45 minutes, both classes had narrowed in on each other and knew the state but we ultimately had to end our session without knowing the exact location of the other class. In some cases, that might be the end but for us, we agreed to pick up where we left off next week.
Mystery Skype takes some planning but the value is incredible! On a whim, I sent an email to all of the teachers in my building to let them know that we were hosting the event and they were welcome to come see it in action if they could slip away from their class. Not only did 3 teachers stop by, but one teacher brought her whole entire class! At first I wasn't sure how we would accommodate that many people in my space and if we had been on video I might not have found a solution. Given that we were using written text to communicate though, I gathered her class around me and briefed them on what we were doing. Then I told them to wander the room and eavesdrop on the work that was happening. They became so engaged! They started figuring out the clues and offering suggestions for the next questions. What truly humbled me was when I found out they chose to come in my room to watch this event when they should have been outside at recess! Can you believe it? I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it!
Well, I could say more but I think you get the idea. If you haven't tried Mystery Skype, I highly recommend it and what's more, I would love to connect my class with yours. Let's make it happen. Leave me a message using Speakpipe or in the comments section and we'll get busy ironing out the details.
That's a wrap for episode 5. I hope it left you not only with some new ideas but also a better understanding of How I do it and How you could do it too! Check out the podcast notes for helpful links and the schedule of upcoming podcasts along with topics. You can also connect with me via comments and questions. Using speakpipe, you can even leave me a voice message. Who knows I might include your message in an upcoming Podcast. Oh and one last thing - you might want to consider subscribing to the feed so you will be notified when a new podcast comes out. Thanks for tuning in.