Mystery Skype

Where in the World-

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!

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Education Heroes

If you could pick your top five education heroes, who would you choose?  For me, the list is easy.  I push myself harder and harder in the hopes that one day I will find myself in their company.  In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to thank each of these educators.  You truly are my heroes. In no particular order, here they are.

Ron Clark

Ron Clark is a storyteller.  I could seriously listen to this man all day, every day and it would never get old.  But the true story he tells is within the walls of RCA.  I admire Mr. Clark because he was thrown into the teaching world and just figured it out.  He didn’t follow in the footsteps of others. He blazed his own trail and teaches his students to do the same.  Mr. Clark has created a school of excellence filled with rich tradition.  He has turned the world of education upside down and has redefined teaching for countless educators, including me.  I have made remarkable adjustments to my teaching just from observing him.  I want nothing more than to sit in the back of his classroom for a year (a month, a week) to observe him.  It would change my life forever but for now, I’ll just have to keep dreaming (in true Rêveur style).

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Kim Bearden

If you know The Ron Clark Academy, you know Kim Bearden.  Even though she is the co-founder, her name doesn’t decorate the outside of RCA.  And quite frankly, that doesn’t surprise me.  Mrs. Bearden is a phenomenal educator with accolades galore but you’ll never hear that from her.  Recently, I sent her a message and she replied that she was so sorry she didn’t get to something because she had a school event.  I later found out from her colleague that this event was her induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame (minor detail, right?).  She is one of the most brilliant and humble people I “know.” Her humility moves her way up on my list.  I truly feel honored to listen to her speak and I love soaking up everything she shares.

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Dr. Steve Perry

Our education system is broken.  Injustices are constantly justified.  This is where Dr. Steve Perry comes in.  He is a change agent with an unwavering commitment to children, education and social justice.  He has stepped up in Hartford, Bridgeport and now Harlem to break the status quo and show that students are extremely capable when they’re given teachers who are qualified and committed to their scholars.  He is a man after my heart, partly because I spent most of my childhood in Connecticut, where his work began but also because he speaks the truth even when some don’t want to hear it.  But he’s not just all talk.  He backs his words up with action.  Maybe one day I’ll join him in his schools.

Dave Burgess

Dave Burgess teaches educators how to be creative.  He shows you how to be passionate.  He gives you concrete ways to bring it for your students.  After reading his book, participating in his Twitter chats, and seeing him “speak” (can we even call it that?), I have been forever changed.  He has taught me how to observe what is around me and create educational experiences for my students using my observations.  He is kind and confident.  He knows his stuff!  I wish I could go back to high school and participate in his social studies classes.  Social studies didn’t speak to me in high school and now, as an adult, I really wish it did.   I know that if a teacher like Mr. Burgess was standing in front of the room (scratch that- flying around the room) I would be much better off today.

Dave and I

Linda Cliatt-Wayman

If Strawberry Mansion High School rings a bell, you probably know about Linda Cliatt-Wayman.  I first heard about Strawberry Mansion when it was deemed one of the most dangerous high schools in the United States.  Enter a woman with a fierce heart of gold, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who volunteered to be Strawberry Mansion’s principal after no one wanted the job.  She models grace, tenacity and commitment.  Cliatt-Wayman has removed Strawberry Mansion from the federal Persistently Dangerous Schools list.  Every day she signs off over the announcements saying, “If no one told you they loved you today, remember I do and I always will.”   How beautiful is that?

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