Mystery Skype calls are a great way to connect with the world
[Ed. note: Katrina Keene will give a related session  on Mystery Skype at ISTE 2015 on Monday June 29.]
For centuries, schools have sat in silos. Teachers and students were capable of communicating only with those inside their own buildings. It was at one time not only unattainable, but unthinkable to collaborate and communicate with outside classrooms. The technology for these types of interactions had not yet been introduced to education—and even if they were, cost and practicality were barriers to implementation.
I have been an active user of “video conferencing” since the early 90’s, when this type of technology was usually seen in large businesses or colleges that were fortunate to have the funds to provide the equipment to make use of such a progressive form of communication.
In 1999, before all the Skyping, Facetiming, and Google Hangouts, I began using CU-See-Me, a video conferencing tool, which many people have never even heard of. This was a time when a little ball of a webcam sat on top of your box-shaped monitor and you had to make sure not to move too quickly or your picture froze mid video conference.
Fast forward 17 years and schools across the world have access to video conferencing through free tools such as Skype. Skype took video conferencing to a whole new level by providing educators with a platform and tools for classroom integration through “Skype Classroom ,” which boasts a free extensive database of resources for use in the classroom, as well as access to thousands of educators looking to link up with other classrooms.
One of the great things about Skype Classroom is the ability to search by lesson, subject, age group or teacher in an effort to connect with classrooms around the world. One particularly fun way to connect and share ideas with other classrooms is through Mystery Skype sessions, which engages every student in the classroom as they search for clues and try and try and solve a mystery. As Skype Classroom puts it :
“Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions. It’s suitable for all age groups and can be used to teach subjects like geography, history, languages, mathematics, and science.”
Next page: 3 ways to try mystery calls
In order to get started Mystery Skyping, there are 3 steps:
- Find a class
- Arrange a time
- Share your story on Twitter by mentioning @skypeclassroom along with the hashtag #mysteryskype
Often, finding a class to Mystery Skype with is the biggest challenge. I recommend schools practicing first with another class within their own school followed by a classroom outside of their school with a teacher who they may know personally. If a teacher does not know another classroom who is interested in Mystery Skyping, the best way to find another class is through Skype Classroom or tweeting to @skypeclassroom  asking for a partner class.
Mystery Skype is fun and engaging for both teachers and students and is usually executed in one of three ways, or a combination of the three:
Recommended for beginners and younger age groups
Students in each class prepare a set of 20 questions and 5-10 clues for the other class before their call. The classes try to guess each other’s location by answering the questions and using additional clues for a little extra help. This can work well for your first Mystery Skype lesson and is a good way to improve your students’ knowledge of where they live.
Yes or no answers
Recommended for more experienced classes
Classes are only allowed to ask each other questions with a yes or no answer. The number of questions may be limited to 20 if you want an additional challenge. These lessons can be more spontaneous and require students to think on their feet as the questions aren’t prepared in advance.
Mystery Skype jobs
Recommended for experienced classes
Some teachers have found that when students have specific responsibilities during a Mystery Skype lesson they work better as a team and the whole class becomes more engaged. These roles can include greeters, question keepers, Bing mappers, runners, bloggers, photographers, live tweeters, reporters, and anything else that works for your class (more information about these roles is available at this Google doc ).
I have personally used and assisted with dozens of Mystery Skypes from Prek-12th grade classrooms. It is interesting to hear the questions that students come up with using their background geographical knowledge. As the students get older, questions become more sophisticated to the point that research is needed during the session in order to accurately answer the yes or no questions.
Teachers often ask me what happens after the initial Mystery Skype session is over. The great part about this form of communication is that the two classrooms can now be Skype Buddies. Skype Buddies can meet weekly, monthly, or a few times a year and connect on curricular ties between the two classes. K-1 classrooms often maintain their buddy classrooms, meeting once a week during calendar time to discuss differences in weather.
Mystery Skyping is an innovative way to knock down the walls of every classroom bringing in various student experiences outside of the home school. It’s a platform for communication and collaboration that didn’t exist just a few short years ago.
I am personally taking Mystery Skype on the road to ISTE 2015 in Pennsylvania, and will be Mystery Skyping with a classroom somewhere in the world! If you plan to attend ISTE 2015 join me in this fun, motivating, and engaging session. You never know—your next Mystery Skype partner might just end up in the same room as you.
Katrina Keene is director of innovation at Canterbury School Fort Myers in Florida. For more information and videos on Mystery Skype and Skype Classroom visit education.skype.com  or her website at teachintechgal.com .