A couple of months ago I finally bit the bullet and tried out a Mystery Skype with my class. Before our first actual call, I listened to my students as they practiced. Half of the class was going against the other half and their nerves were running wild. I stood in front of them and told them they just needed to try out a real one before they felt more comfortable with it. Meanwhile, underneath my confident facade I was feeling just as nervous and unsure about the logistics. After all, when you enter the world of Mystery Skype, everyone else has already started. This is a blessing and a curse. You are behind before you ever start yet you need to Skype experienced classes to learn and grow. Trying Mystery Skype had been on my to-do list for far too long, though, and I wasn’t going to let another year pass without trying it. With some encouragement and resources from the Father of Mystery Skype (yes, I just deemed him that), Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz), I got started. *Thanks, Paul!*
For those of you who are new to Mystery Skype, the basic premise is that you Skype a class somewhere in the world. Your class does not know where the other class is and must ask yes and no questions to find out where the class is located. The other class is trying to do the same. Once both classes guess correctly, the students come together to talk and find out more information about the other location and class.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of Mystery Skype that I’ve seen…
- Your students will learn a lot about where they live so they can share facts with the other classes.
- The students have a meaningful reason to improve their map skills.
- You can step back and let the class run the show. They will stumble and fall, regroup and, most importantly, learn and grow as a result of you getting out of the way.
- The students are highly engaged. This is not uncommon in my classroom. A student this year told me that what we do is, “unpredictable (in a good way).” I plan to be unpredictable and the students usually eat it up. But, when I say highly engaged I mean that I had a student try to talk her mom into changing their vacation so she wouldn’t miss a Mystery Skype. Come on, now!
- When students socialize with completely new people they authentically practice their soft skills. This is challenging for them, in a good way.
- Your class can practice being humble winners and gracious losers.
- Critical thinking skills are constantly at work. The students never know what will be asked or how the previous question will be answered.
- Students must think on the spot. You have no clue what will come up and there is definite value when students respond to the challenges they face, in the moment, under a bit of pressure.
- The students will feel connected to the world around them. Their world is no longer a dot on the map and the most beautiful thing about this is you don’t have to leave your classroom or spend a dime to make this happen.
The only thing about Mystery Skype that I regret is that I didn’t start sooner. This year we “traveled” to New York (that one was tricky since we are also in New York), Alabama, Iowa, Missouri and… Venezuela!
So, are you ready to try it out? Are you already a Mystery Skype expert? Save my Twitter handle (@MollyBabcock) and let’s set up a time to Mystery Skype next year. I will have a bunch of new fifth graders who will be eager to connect!