I am passionate about helping teachers connect their classrooms bring the world to their students. One way I’ve done this is through promoting Mystery Hangouts and Mystery Skype. The tool isn’t the point (although I do lean toward Mystery Hangouts and that will be the focus of this post)— the purpose is to help students with deductive reasoning, critical thinking, and questioning skills as well as to bring students from around the country and around the globe into your classroom. All you need is a web-connected device with a camera and a willingness to try something new!
How Does a Mystery Hangout Work?
Mystery Hangouts can be run in a number of ways, but the most basic form is like a big game of 20 Questions. Teachers find a partner class in a different state, and they meet up over Google Hangouts. Classes take turns asking and answering yes-or-no questions designed to help the class narrow down where the class is located, and the first class to find the other wins! Sometimes students need to find the state of the partner class, and other times the students will locate the city of the partner class. That all depends on how much time you have— it’s much more challenging and time-consuming to locate the city! However, if you are partnering with a class in your same state, you’d want to find the city.
Once you have a partner class, you and the teacher will probably email back and forth to determine how the connection will happen. One way to create the Hangout is through a calendar event in Google Calendar. It’s a great way to start it off because when you create a calendar event, a Hangouts link is automatically generated. Add the partner teacher to the event, save the event so an email will be generated, and the partner class can join the Hangout through that link by clicking on it in the email!
Another way to create the Hangout link is by creating an event in Google+ and inviting the partner teacher to the event. When the time comes to join the Hangout, you’ll find the link in your events in Google+.
A third way is to use Hangouts to call your partner class, but the first two ways are more convenient. It’s easy to miss a Hangouts call!
During most Mystery Hangouts, students have specific roles. One of the resources I have used for determining roles is a this blog post by Pernille Ripp. She and her students came up with the roles together. Other great resources for learning more about a Mystery Hangout or Mystery Skype are:
- Mystery Hangout Google+ Community
- Skype in the Classroom
- Mystery Location Call by Cybraryman
- Mystery State Wiki
- Inquire and Inspire Blog
- Paul Solarz Blog Post
- Video of a Mystery Skype in action
If you’re not sure about what types of questions to ask, check out this blog post. It has some great starter questions that you can have in mind when you have your students come up with the questions they’d like to ask. One thing I like to do, especially with the younger students, is have a desk map in a protective sleeve for them to write on. As questions are asked and answered, students can eliminate states by crossing them off with whiteboard marker. When they are finished with the game, they can reuse the map for the next time.
Once each class has found one another, some classes like to share interesting facts about their state or city. Others will ask questions back and forth about what life is like in the other state. In some cases, the Mystery Hangout will be the beginning of a longer collaboration between two classes.
How Do I Find a Partner Class?
The Mystery Hangout Community on Google+, is a great source for finding partner classrooms. Just post a message to the community letting them know your grade level and availability, and more often than not you will get a response. You can also reach out to tech coaches or other connected educators– they probably know someone who knows someone. You can also find partner classrooms using Twitter or other social media. Be sure to use the #mysteryhangouts or #mysteryskype hashtags.
Common Core Connection
The nature of mystery location allows students to practice several of the 4 Cs as they communicate, collaborate, and think critically. They may also have to use their creativity if they come across an issue that requires “out-of-the-box” thinking. Every student is engaged in this type of activity— they are on task, they stick to their roles, and they are determined to be the first to find the other class. Students work together to maintain the forward movement of the game, and depending on the grade level, they collaborate on adjusting their questions if necessary. The more calls the students participate in, the better they get at thinking critically in order to ask the right questions to narrow the location down quickly. When students create presentations about their city or state and write reflections at the end of the call, they are also working on their grade level writing standards. Turn the reflective writing into blog posts and students are then working toward even more of the Common Core State Standards for writing.
What Do You Think?
Have you tried Mystery Hangouts or Mystery Skype? Please share your experiences and any resources you may have!