Where in the World Are They? Students Find Out with Mystery Skype
it is time for my students to guess where the class they are meeting for the first time via Skype is located. “Is it North Carolina?”
There is silence in the classroom as my fifth graders
crane their necks toward the screen.
“No!” shouts the voice from the computer speakers,
and my students scramble back together. A buzz of
“What could it be then?” envelops them.
This is what it sounds like when 23 students engage in
what is known as Mystery Skype. The idea is incredibly
simple, but the unfolding of the idea can be downright
magical. When else can you see students using all of their
background knowledge, tech savvy, and common sense
just to figure out where someone is in the world?
I first learned of Mystery Skype when I saw it being discussed on Twitter. I was lucky enough to be included in
a group run by Caren MacConnell, a New Jersey teacher
and technology coach. I fell in love with just how much
content this idea covers, and yet it requires very little work.
And because it unfolds like a scavenger hunt, it’s easy to
lure my students in.
The concept is simple:
• Connect with another classroom. Just Google Mystery
Skype and you’ll find plenty of eager participants.
• Pick a date and a time.
• Get your webcam and microphone ready. Don’t forget to
do a test call to make sure your technology is working. If
Skype is blocked at your school, try using Google Hangout instead.
• Explain the game to your students by saying something
like: “We are on a mission. We have to find out where
this mystery class is calling us from. It can be from
anywhere in the world, but we can only ask yes or no
questions. They, in turn, are trying to figure out where
• Finally, delegate specific roles to students before the call.
Assigning roles or jobs during the call is vital because
it spreads out the responsibility and gives all students a
sense of involvement and purpose. As you do more of
these calls, the jobs will rotate and students will learn
how to do it, which will make everything run more
smoothly. Here’s our list of jobs, but don’t be afraid
to get creative and come up with your own:
Greeters. They say hello to the other class and offer some
cool facts about their own class without giving away the
Inquirers. They ask the questions and are the voice of the
Answerers. They answer the questions. These students need
to know their state facts and geography pretty well.
Think tanks. They sit in a group and figure out the clues
based on the information. Our $2 whiteboards came in
handy for this.
Question keepers. They typed all of the questions and answers for us to review later.
Google mappers. They use Google Maps to study the geography and piece together clues.
Atlas mappers. They use atlases and our pull-down map
to decipher clues.
Clue keepers. They work closely with answerers and inquirers to help guide them in their questioning.
Runner. This student runs from group to group relaying
Photographer. This student takes pictures during the call.
Videographers. They film the event.
Clue markers. They work with puzzles of the United States
to remove any states that were eliminated by the clues.
Problem solver. They help students with any issues that they
may encounter during the call.
Closers. They end the call in a nice manner.
It’s important to prepare the students at least a few days
in advance so they can gather materials, such as maps and
atlases, or ask questions about their responsibilities.
During the call, teachers have to do something that
may not come naturally: Stand back and let the students
do their jobs, communicate, and work as a team. Teamwork is going to get them to the right questions. Experience helps with this as well.
Encourage students to collaborate before guessing, and
set ground rules for how quickly they can guess the state