When current adults attended primary school, it was unthinkable to communicate with a peer from New Zealand during a geography class — Skype, Facebook, and Google Hangouts were yet to be developed. But now thanks to Mystery Skype, an entire class can participate in a call with another class virtually anywhere in the world.
The video conversations are a critical thinking challenge aimed at broadening students’ knowledge of geography, world history and cultures. The goal of Mystery Skype is to guess the other’s school location by asking different questions. Invented by teachers, it is suitable for all age groups.
As Katrina Keene of eSchoolNews writes, Mystery Skyping is an innovative, fun way to knock down the walls of the traditional K-12 classroom and bring new experiences to both students and teachers.
Finding partners for Mystery Skyping can be challenging. One way to do that is to get in touch with teachers out of a district and check whether they would be interested, but an easier option is to send out a Tweet. Skype has worked hard to make the process easier by connecting interested teachers on a dedicated page.
Once a teacher finds a partner, he or she starts the preparation for the first Mystery Skype call. In his blog, the experienced teacher Mr. Solarz recommends that teachers create a Google Doc or a dedicated web page to put all the links students may need prior to the call. Afterwards, teachers may assign a different role to each student so they can feel engaged in the initiative. For instance, a teacher may appoint sharers, greeters, photographers, data enterers, researchers, etc. Several days prior to the actual call, it is best to do a practice together.
In an interview with Nelson Garcia of 9news, fifth-grade teacher Paula Neil admits she even has a team of people working on the questions her students are going to ask. In addition to that, she relies on another group of students to work on the answers to the Skype partner’s questions.
Kathy Gartside, a fifth grade teacher, has completed 30 Mystery Skype calls over the last six months. In an interview with Andrew Schmidt of the official Mystery Skype blog, she says:
“I think my students will remember our Skype marathon and Mystery Skype calls more than anything else that we did in our classroom.”
What Gartside likes in particular about Mystery Skype is the opportunity for active student involvement. While working together as a team to solve the unknown location of the other class, she says that students learn much about other countries, languages and cultures. At the same, added Garthside, no special equipment is needed – a tablet or a computer with an Internet connection and working camera/microphone will be enough.
The relationship between the two classes does not necessarily end with the close of a Mystery Skype call. Many classes become Skype Buddies and stay in touch for a longer period of time to share experiences — and they may even be building life-long friendships.