My students and I love to connect with classes and experts all around the World but one thing that can cause difficulties with Skyping during class times in the Southern Hemisphere is the difference in time zones. So three years ago I purposed the idea of having a Skype Night where we stayed at school overnight and Skype with as many different classes and experts as we can during the night.
Nine Skype Nights later and they are now an entrenched part of our school Term. Not only do my current class attend the nights but I still have students who have graduated 2 years ago returning to participate, most now live between 2 and 3 hours away but their parents happily drive them back to our school so they can attend.
I always have a host of parents helping out on the night with catering, supervision throughout the night as well as participating in the Skypes.
So what happens during these Skype Nights?
Well, the main activity we do during the evening is Mystery Skypes. A Mystery Skype is a 45-60 minute critical thinking challenge that your class takes part in while Skyping with another class somewhere else in the world. Your students’ goal is to guess the other school’s location (country, state, city, school name) before they guess yours. You do this by asking yes and no questions.
How do I find Mystery Skype Partners?
The first place I start is on the Microsoft Educator Community website.
Skype in the Classroom has made the process of connecting to other teachers easy. They’ve created a Mystery Skype page where you can find other teachers around the world who are interested in Mystery Skyping by registering on this page:
You can even filter the results to specific age groups, subjects you are interested in, region, language, and availability. Make sure when you setup your profile that you take the time to put in the times you are available to Mystery Skype so other teachers will request Mystery Skypes from you.
The next place I go to is Twitter.
How do I start?
Before your first Mystery Skype, teach your students how to ask general questions (as opposed to specific questions). I help my students refine their questions to be general to start and get more specific as they narrow in on a correct answer by using a checklist. When students ask “specific” questions too soon, it’s often a waste of a question so we work our way down the checklist to ensure we are asking useful questions.
Good questions to ask are ones like;
Are you in the Northen Hemisphere?
Are you near the coast?
Does your state start with a letter between a and m?
General questions at the beginning of the Mystery Skype help narrow down the options fairly quickly compared to when students start trying to randomly guess cities which is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
On the day of the Mystery Skype gather your resources. You will obviously need a camera, microphone, and speaker. We started out just using the camera and microphone on my laptop but have since progressed to a separate camera that can be moved around as well as an USB microphone for greater sound quality. The students asking and answering the questions also where headphones so they can hear the other class easily.
Other items we use are;
- mini whiteboards to write our questions on
- whiteboard markers
- Country maps and atlas’s
- Whiteboard easel which we call a weasel
- Ipads with Google Earth
Before your Mystery Skype begins, assign students to the roles they will have during the Mystery Skype. Explain that this is a team effort and that each student must fulfill their roles to the best of their abilities for the class to be successful.
The roles we have for our Mystery Skypes are;
Greeter: This student greets the partner school/makes initial introduction. Offers the other school a chance to introduce themselves & ask the 1st question. (1 student)
Questioner/Answerer: These students are responsible for asking and answering the questions given to them. They must ensure they speak clearly and are listening at all times. (2 students)
Think Tank: This is the most important job and one that everyone needs to do. Looking up the answers to questions we are asked when we don’t know the answer and coming up with questions to ask the other class. We can use Google Maps, atlas’s, large maps, search engines, and any other tools that will help you find where they are located.
Filters: It is the job of the filters to check all the questions being developed by the think tank for their reasonableness and to ensure they haven’t been sent up multiple times. All questions come to them for approval before they are sent to the questioner. (3-4 students)
Weasel: The weasel people record all the questions we ask on the whiteboard easel and the answers that were given. The whiteboard easel should be positioned so everyone can see the questions and answers. (2 students)
Runners: Runners are responsible for running the questions from the think tank to the filters, filters to questioners, questioners to weasels and then back again to the think tank. We use mini whiteboards to write the questions on which the runners deliver. (3-4 students)
Task Masters: This student or students walk around and VERY NICELY help people stay on task. They remind others not to do anything silly in front of the camera and to talk quietly. It can be very difficult for the questioner and answerer to hear and be heard if there is too much background noise. (1-2 students)
Bloggers: Each Skype we have a student who takes photographs of the action and writes a report on the Skype which is posted to our class blog page. We also post updates of our Skypes on our class Twitter page as we progress through the Mystery Skype. (1-2 students)
Closers: These students wrap up the Mystery Skype by thanking the other class and asking some questions that show an interest in their school. They prepare these questions quickly when we know what country they come from. They also have a short presentation prepared to share facts about our country such as animals, favourite past times etc (2-3 students)
Set-up of the room is important for both ease of movement for the runners and to ensure noise is kept to a minimum. We place our think tank at the back of the room, and the filters and the weasel in the middle of the room between the think tank and question and answerers.
We also always love to finish with a selfie to capture the memory of meeting some new friends and sharing some time in their part of the World.
Hints and Tips
- Have students turn shirts inside-out if they have the school name on them or fold down collars (or sports teams, etc.).
- Make sure the Sharers and Greeters never say the name of the school or city or state in their comments.
- When Skype is opened, the name of the caller is prominently displayed. It would be best to not project this up until the call actually begins.
- It is also a good idea to change your location on your Skype profile to something silly so it does not give away your location.
- A day or two before the scheduled Mystery Skype, be sure to add the other teacher as a contact in Skype. If possible, have a quick practice call with them.
- Make sure that your scheduled time is taking into account time zone differences. I always share that I am GMT +10. I have found websites such as http://www.timebie.com/ and https://www.worldtimebuddy.com/ useful in working out the times.
- Be prepared for technology to fail sometimes. We are always ready to do something else if there is a delay or issues with connections. During our last Skype Night, we had some internet issues and could not connect to one of the classes we had arranged to meet. The other teacher instead jumped on our class Twitter account (@mrsmiths56class) and mapped out all the places we had visited during our Skype Night and worked out how far we had travelled. Good thinking!
If you need more information or inspiration, jump on the Skype for Education website where you can find videos and other blogs on how to compete in a Mystery Skype.