elementary technology

Getting Started with #MysterySkype

After having experienced the engagement and learning thatcan take place with just a few sessions of Mystery Skype, I’ve decided to write up a piece on what I did with Mr. Nixon and his class to help prepare for our very first session. Hopefully, this will help others see how we got started, and give them a jumping point to get started in their own classroom. There are many ways to get started with Mystery Skype, and there isn’t just one correct
way to do it. Every teacher will find that it’s different in their own classroom, and so shouldn’t compare themselves to what they see online. Research what different classrooms do, and do what works best for YOUR classroom, not someone else’s.


-Skype account
-Decent webcam

-Laminated US or world maps (optional)
-Dry erase markers (optional)
-iPad or other device for students (optional)

If teachers are going for the bare minimum, then all one needs is a webcam and Skype account to get started. Anything else is extra. Skype accounts are free, and the Skype program is as well. A teacher will need to download the program to get started, and then follow the steps to install it to the computer. As for a webcam, it’s best to get one with HD quality video so that your students will be easily seen by the other class, and quick movement won’t create too much of a blur. We used the Logitech HD Pro C920 Webcam that I had on me for my TIS work. I love this particular webcam, and I also have the same webcam at home. It’s good quality, and picks up sound with its microphone fantastically.

Even though this is considered optional, I certainly wouldn’t forgo having a laminated map and markers for any Mystery Skype session! For our project, I found a copy of the map of the United States online that at least showed capitals. I also found another map that listed rivers in the country. Flipping these back to back, I then laminated them for repeated use. The same can be done with a world map if one chooses to connect globally. Students were then able to use dry erase markers to cross off guesses. All but one of the classes we worked with guessed down to state so it was a great way for students to visually see which states were definitely NOT the answer.

The last optional material would be an iPad, other tablet, or laptop for students to use. Our school has multiple iPad carts, so we just made sure to Skype during a time that this class had the cart. They used the iPad to search via Google maps, find possible questions to ask, and locate information based on the other class’s answers. It does make things easier.

Now that we have all of our materials, it’s time to move on to…


The first Mystery Skype session can seem rather daunting, especially when a teacher doesn’t know how their class will react, or how the entire experience will go. It’s even more daunting when the first Skype session is with a class that is very familiar with the process and has been doing sessions all year long.

Before scheduling any Skype sessions, teachers need to prepare their class to complete Mystery Skype. The preparation period will take more than just a day, so plan accordingly. There will be kinks and other issues to work out, and the preparation period is a good time to work through all issues.

First, introduce students to the concept of Mystery Skype. Explain what it is, how it works, and who is involved. Next, show students a few videos of Mystery Skype sessions in action. A quick search on YouTube will reveal many options to choose from. Once students have seen a few videos, or parts of ones, hold a class discussion and ask students to make observations about what they saw happening in each of the videos. Write down student answers. Ask students to locate things that seemed to go right or wrong.

Once students know what Mystery Skype is, and have made their own observations about the videos, determine how the classroom should be set up. This can be done with students if they are older, but for younger students, it may be best for the teacher to determine the layout. In the case of the class that I worked with, we had two chairs in front of the camera for whomever would be speaking, and then the rest of the class was grouped behind.

After a layout has been determined, teachers can have students begin preparing the material that they will share with the other class. Many classrooms make signs to use during the chat. Signs are great because if the other class can’t hear, or your class needs to pause, these can be held up to the camera. Here are some possible samples:

-Can you please repeat that?
-We’re thinking…

Students should also prepare the materials to share at the end of the game. Teachers can have pairs of students work together on this, or if students are too young, work together to create the cards. A card will need to be prepared with information about the state, information about the area in which students live, and information about the school itself. This doesn’t mean that students should give exact information about the name of their school. Good state information to share might be a picture of the state flag, facts on when it was founded, and state symbols. Good information about the area in which students live to share might talk about what type of area (rural, city, suburb), what the area is known for (farming? Sports?), and interesting events that may take place. Good information about the school to share might be the grade levels attending, how many students, and special activities done in the classroom.

Many classrooms choose to also assign jobs to the students. Some classes have a lot of jobs, while others have just a few. In the case of Mr. Nixon’s class, the following jobs were assigned:

Greeters: Two students would sit in the chairs at the beginning and introduce themselves and their class, usually telling the teacher’s name and grade level only.
-Questioners: These students asked the questions given to them, and held up the cards if need be.
Researchers: This was the job of most of the class. Based on the answers to the questions, they would research to determine a possible location, and come up with new questions to ask.

-Question Runners: These students would gather up the questions that their nearby tablemates posed, and then meet in one area of the room with Mr. Nixon. They would choose one question and run it to the Questioners at the front. Mr. Nixon made sure they all got to take turns doing this.
– Closers: These students read the cards on the state, area, and school. Only 3 students are needed, but teachers can pair up students for each card if they so choose.

After all of the materials have been prepared and jobs assigned, it’s time to practice for the Skype session. There are two ways that Mr. Nixon’s class practiced, and we found it did help. The first way involved pairing up students. Each student would pick a state and try to guess the other student’s state. Students were only able to ask questions that had yes or no answers. Over time, their favorite questions to ask were “Are you landlocked?” and “Are you east (or west, depending) of the Mississippi River?” Their teacher always tried to make them think about cutting the area in half each time they asked a question. Sometimes, instead of partnering up the students, he would pit himself against the class and see how they did.

The other way to practice was to set up a trial run Skype session. In this scenario, Mr. Nixon pretended to be the other class. His students were set up to complete the session just as they would be if it were real. Each class would introduce themselves, and then determine who would ask the first question. Usually this was done via rock, paper, scissors. The students would run through the session, asking their questions, until one side had determined the location of the other. The winner would then let the other side keep guessing until they figured out the location as well. After the locations were figured out, his class would share their information cards on the state, area, and school. Then Mr. Nixon would have his class point out the things that went well, and the things that needed changed for the next time.

Connecting with Another Class

Once practice seems to be going well, and all materials are prepared, it’s time to find another class to Mystery Skype with. There are two ways to do this. Skype’s website has a page where teachers can sign up and then communicate with other teachers on the site to set up a Mystery Skype session. I’m not sure how long it would take with this method because we never used it. The other way is by using Twitter and the hashtag #mysteryskype. This method is a very quick way to connect with other classes. You’ll need to set up a Twitter account of course! A sample tweet might be:

“5th grade class in WV (EST) looking to #mysteryskype with another US class on 5/15-17. Mornings are best!”

The tweet itself can vary, but should include the hashtag, the location, and possible dates. This makes it easier to set up dates/times later on. Make sure that you get the other teacher’s Skype username, and give them your own as well.

Do keep in mind that when scheduling a Skype session, each one will take about 30-45 minutes to complete, depending on how quickly the guessing is completed. Make sure that you schedule enough time for the session, and don’t schedule it around other activities, such as PE or recess. Your kids will immediately lose focus when they realize they are supposed to be somewhere else!

It’s Time: Your First Mystery Skype!

Now that everything has been prepared, it’s time to Skype with the other class. There are a few things to keep in mind before doing the actual session. First, make sure that you have connected with the other teacher on Skype. Second, make sure your equipment is up and running properly. Some teachers even do a test run with the other teacher just to make sure. One thing to keep in mind is that when you are Skyping with another class, make sure you have turned off your location and time display in your profile. Otherwise, this will appear to the other class, and can definitely ruin the fun!

As the session gets started, make sure to take notes on what is going well and what could be changed for the next time. Do not expect it to go 100% smoothly the very first time! It takes a few sessions to get things rolling. Make sure to take some pictures for later.

Once the session has ended, host a discussion with the class on what they’ve learned about the other class. You may want to have them write down their findings, do more research on the state, or even help contribute to a class book. After they’ve discussed their learnings, have them help contribute to how the session could be better the next time. Chances are, some of them noticed the same things that you did.


That’s all there is to it! After a few sessions, your class will be seasoned pros. Make sure to keep connecting with other classrooms and setting up Mystery Skypes throughout the year. By the end of the year, you’ll see a difference in your students’ geography skills and what they know. It’s a great way to get some geography lessons in without the same old boring routine. Are you ready to Mystery Skype?

International Kids Day & #TweetADream, Part 2

Two evenings ago I posted about #TweetADream and the third grade students at SES. Today I worked with the 5th grade class on their own version of this project. Just like before, students were given the same instructions. However, they were told that their work would also be featured in a graduation video that I would put together after the project was finished. This time I took two pictures- one of the sign that could be posted online, and another that included the student’s face for the video.

The students settled down and thought hard. For this class, they focused on their own futures. Many listed the future career choice that they wished to have, or how they would make a difference in the world. As always, some students were very surprising in what they chose to write for their dreams. Every child worked carefully on their piece, wanting it to look great.

Because I wanted to create a graduation video with the photos, I also got the principal and their 5th grade teacher to create signs. For each of their dreams, they had to write what they wished for the students in the future. The students have no idea what either sign says, so it will be a surprise for them to read tonight!

In order to create the video, I set up a PowerPoint presentation and had each image on a slide. I also had a text box that restated the child’s sign in case it wasn’t easily readable, and then the child’s name below it. I set the timing for the slides, and then added in some royalty-free music. Kevin MacLeod’s site is always my go to for this purpose. I then savedit all as a video file. The result was fantastic.

Check out our images below!


This one was my absolute favorite!


What a noble dream!


And here are the images from the principal and then the 5th grade teacher:


International Kids Day & #TweetADream

It was by sheer luck on June 1 that I learned about the #TweetADream hashtag on Twitter. I saw one of my followers post about it and her dream for students. By the way, thanks @GrundlerArt for sharing it! Anyway, I thought it would be a very cool project to do with some students. We were down to two full days and 1 ½ day of school, and I thought that maybe some teachers would like another half hour activity to fill some space. I was able to book a third grade class on the 1st, and a 5th grade class for the 2nd. I’m actually hoping to incorporate 5th grade’s into their graduation tomorrow.

Before I go any further, here’s the idea behind it. A group on Twitter, @ourfutureworld, hosts the hashtag #TweetADream as part of International Kids Day. Kids around the world are to write their dream on a piece of paper and share via Twitter using the hashtag #TweetADream. What results is rather fantastic. Below, I’m going to share the results from the 3rd grade class that I worked with on 6/1. I’ll write another post to share the results of the 5th grade class for 6/2.


This one was one of my favorite results! 🙂


What a wonderful dream for our world!


Another one of my favorites 🙂


I love the way the student illustrated this one… then again I’m a Minecraft nerd myself!


I’m so proud of this student’s work… he spent a long time coming up with this and it turned out fantastic!

Did you participate in #TweetADream? Let me know!

The 3rd #MysterySkype Experience & Wrap-Up

I’m a little late getting this written up and posted due to being away over the holiday weekend. We had our 3rd Mystery Skype experience last Friday, and it was a learning experience for sure. If I had the chance to redo it, I would definitely have changed how things went. Though it didn’t go very well, I know now what not to try next time so that the same issues don’t occur again. This is a reflection on a not-so-good experience.

Our first mistake was scheduling it in a bad time spot. Normally we had been able to finish up Skype calls within a half hour. We would have this time, except the class asked us if we wanted to guess down to city, and we agreed. That’s where things started to unravel. Our call ran over the 30 minute mark and began running into the students’ PE time. Since they were 5th graders, they knew that they were missing out and were antsy to go to PE. We were in the middle of the call, and the other class had just guessed our city, though we had not guessed theirs. A majority of the students were becoming disengaged and wanted to go to PE. I soon had to cut the guessing game short and explain what was going on. It took a lot of effort to get the students to say their part about their school, county, and state. I’m almost certain very few paid attention to most of what the other school said, which was a shame. Now I know to never schedule before any resource class or recess in the future. The last thing I want is for students to be disengaged and appear
unprofessional to the other class.

Our second mistake was agreeing to play down to the city within that short time. The students had had some practice doing so in class, but never by guessing down based on counties. They usually used landmark roads and the like to guess down to the city. This threw them all for a loop. They weren’t sure what to do or how to respond, and the whole issue with PE looming didn’t help matters one bit. In order to help prevent in the future, I would make sure classes had multiple ways of narrowing down, and having others use those same methods. When confronted with a new method during the actual call, it was just too frustrating to the students.

Even though our 3rd chat had issues, it was still fun to learn about the class from Iowa, and see how their school was different. They have a very tiny school, just over 60-some kids in a PK-8 school if I remember correctly. The class gave me some new ideas and ways to correct the above issues, and for that I’m glad. After all, not every activity will go as smoothly as I want, and when it doesn’t, then it’s time to reflect and see how to do better the next time.

Our final opportunity for a Mystery Skype experience hasn’t returned my tweets, so I am going to cancel it. The students have a lot going on tomorrow anyway. I do wish I had delved into Mystery Skype earlier this year for this particular class because just watching their growth with geography skills in the short period of time we did use it was phenomenal. Students didn’t realize it, but they had to get better with their US geography in order to be successful in the game. Though brief, it also gave them the opportunity to see how different areas of the United States were.

To be honest, I’m not sure where I will end up next year. I still don’t have a technology position, and I have also at this point applied for teaching positions. If I end up back in the classroom, I will use Mystery Skype from the very beginning of the year, and document the growth of the students from the very beginning. I would also make sure to have a follow-up written activity to have students reflect on what they have discovered, as well as a way to document their collaborative growth. Perhaps some kind of Skype Journal. Right now, these are just some big ideas, and not ones I’m going to delve too much into until I know what I will be doing next school year.

I’ve had a teacher ask me to provide some more information about setting up for doing Mystery Skype, and also Mystery Number for little guys. I plan to hopefully write some posts that show how I helped this particular class set up, and provide some in depth information. The best thing about preparing for Mystery Skype is that there’s no one right way to do it. As long as the method of preparation works, it’s a “right way”.

The 2nd #MysterySkype Experience

This morning the 5th grade class I’ve been working with had their second Mystery Skype experience. The kids were very excited to see just who they would end up skyping with, and apparently had been practicing this week to improve their skills.

Today’s class was Mrs. Linck’s from Missouri. We even had an extra treat from them! They decided they wanted to send us a special dessert from their area, but the teacher didn’t tell me what it was ahead of time. During our Skype session this morning we told her it hadn’t come yet, but that we were hoping to maybe see it today. She told us the class had decided we needed to be sent a gooey butter cake, which originates in St. Louis. None of us have ever had it, so we are very eager to try it.

The students kept their work setup the same, as the jobs had been working well. We did have to reassign some jobs due to student absences today, but that was easily done. The students had also decided to rework some of their closing remarks about their school and state. They split the information off and divided it between two speakers this time around. To keep them in practice, their teacher had been having the students pair up, each pick a state, and then try to guess the other’s location.

Our session began just after 9:05 our time, and the students set to work trying to guess the other class’s location. They did pretty well, although we decided that the biggest time consumer was the time it took to come up with and ask questions. The students are going to need to work on that part a bit more to become more efficient. The other class guessed their location first, and it took us two more questions before we guessed their location. I think the students became confused when given an answer to the question “Are you above Missouri?”. When the other class said no, the students marked off all the states above it AND Missouri, so that messed them up. It’s something that will need worked on.

We did encounter a new type of question today, and the students struggled with it. They were asked questions that involved latitude today, which they are not strong with. It was a struggle to answer those questions, and the students realize that they need to practice this skill so that they can become better at answering that type of question.

Added later in the afternoon:

We did receive our special treat today in the mail!


Check out our gooey butter cake! This was a treat that none of us had had before, so we were all very eager to try it. We can describe it as eating a yellow cake that’s about as thick as a brownie, and very, very gooey. It was delicious, but also very rich. That square of cake was cut into 18 slices and those small slices were enough to cure one’s craving. Only one
student wasn’t fond of it because it was too rich. The rest of the students loved it!


After completing 2 Mystery Skype sessions, the students are definitely hooked. Our next class is from Iowa, and they guess down to the city so that will be a new challenge for students during an actual Mystery Skype session. We may or may not get that far during our Skype session, as we only have 30 minutes to Skype, but we’ll try to get as close as possible!

Interested in connecting with Mrs. Linck for next year? Check her out on Twitter: @missinglinck3

The 1st #MysterySkype Experience

When I last posted about #mysteryskype, the 5th grade class was just getting started on preparing for their very first session with a class in North Carolina. Our first trial run through was a rough one, though necessary, and allowed us to figure out the kinks in our process. I finished drawing up plans for the regular classroom teacher, and left location challenges for his class to solve to practice for the actual Skype session. I wouldn’t be back at the school until the Friday of our Skype date, so I was a bit worried that things might not actually work out as planned or go smoothly.

I checked in with the regular teacher on Friday morning, and he reported that things had improved greatly. I set up about putting together our setup while the students practiced one final time before the Skype session. Of course I would have issues with my computer running slowly, but the kids happily attributed that to the fact that it was Friday the 13th. I did get everything into place though and set up. The other class was ready before us, and we were able to get started about 15 minutes early. I had some issues getting the sound to work with the one system, so I had to switch over, but once that was taken care of, we were ready to begin.

Our class began with our introductions, and then we played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see who got to ask the first question. Unlike in our practice session, the students were armed with a first question in mind. We won the game, and got to ask the first question. From there, the session proceeded, with each class asking questions back and forth. Our setup allowed for two students in front to answer the questions asked/ask their classmates’
questions. Four students were message runners for areas of the room, and the rest of the students were using Google Maps and a laminated map of the United States to research and narrow down locations. Their teacher had helped them develop the “cut in half” strategy, and they had to work to cut the area left to work with in half with each question.

The North Carolina class figured out our location first by guessing our state. We had prepared our class to search as deep as a specific town, just in case. It only took about two more questions before our class figured out the state for the other class.

Then came the fun part- school, community, and state information! Without giving away the specific name of the school, each class talked about the makeup of their school, the type of day or special projects, the community around them, and then some state information. Our class had not had much time to research their information, but we really enjoyed what the other class did. They had a speaker for the school, the community, and the state, and broke their presentation down that way. It is something this class noted and may consider for future sessions. I made sure to record this part for documentation, and so that we could replay the video to the students in the future.

We then said our goodbyes and began our reflection on the activity. I was thoroughly impressed with the students’ work and behavior on camera, as was their teacher. The students commented on this as well, and how well they worked together. The only improvement we really had for the students was that they needed to be faster in getting their questions to the question runner and then deciding which question to ask.

The students had been promised that they could do at least one more Skype session before the school year ended if they did well on their first one. I’ve set about contacting the two classrooms that wanted to set up sessions with us if our first session went well. We are scheduled to do our 2nd Mystery Skype May 20 in the morning. This time, we’ll be working with a school from Missouri!

If you want to check out these teachers from our first session on Twitter, or get in touch with them for a Mystery Skype session of your own, contact @agcrilley or @MrsPageTurner. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you!

Playing Around with Bee-Bot

Playing Around With Bee-Bot

One of my posts last year focused on a neat little robot called Bee-Bot. I had originally seen him during the local library’s STEM night and knew I wanted him for unplugged coding activities. Bee-Bot is exactly what he sounds like: a robot that looks like a bee. Bee-Bot has buttons on his back to create his programming- forward, backward, turn right, turn left, clear, pause, and go. He’s best suited for younger students in K-4, though older students could participate by designing challenges. Bee-Bot was developed by Terrapin Software.


Many options are available for purchasing Bee-Bot. Some are necessary, others, not so much. The basic order includes only Bee-Bot for $90. He includes a USB charger. Of course, there are options to purchase multiple Bee-Bot kits, and even an option to get a large charging base for multiple Bee-Bots. However, unless a lot of funding is available, this isn’t something to consider for quite some time.

A purchase that I consider to be necessary for Bee-Bot is the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. This is a great tool to utilize in addition to whatever curriculum is being
used to teach computer science basics. Young students get the hands-on experience necessary to complement their work on the computer. The curriculum includes a CD with PDF files. The PDF files are challenges for Bee-Bot users to complete. They range in difficulty levels, and each level has a variety of options to solve. This curriculum is $100, but worth the cost to the teacher, as it includes over 140 different challenges that can be printed and utilized.

Another purchase that I found necessary, though others may not, was the Bee-Bot Card Mat. It too can be pricey, and does cost another $70. One of the big reasons I recommend it is because it lays out the grid with the correct length that Bee-Bot must move forward. It’s also sturdy, and has a plastic film that any designed mats can be placed under to use.

The other options for purchase on the website I wouldn’t consider necessary, but they are useful to have. There are many different mat options already created for classroom use. There is also another curriculum created that is geared toward K-2 subject areas. Command cards were also designed for the teacher who decides that they need to utilize them. If one gets tired of Bee-Bot’s yellow and black bee design, there are Bee-signer Jackets available to purchase that can be decorated with markers or stickers.

I was lucky enough last fall to receive a small grant from a community foundation to purchase Bee-Bot, the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum, and a card mat. I was unable to actually use Bee-Bot until this spring, however. I wanted to have my SES Coder Kids try something different, and for them to make connections between plugged and unplugged coding. I completed all of the activities with my K-4 students, as my 5th graders were wanting to continue working on their Code.org course. Some of them were close to finishing.

Our first meeting with Bee-Bot involving talking about what it was and what it could do. Students in each group were introduced to the robot, and we spent some time discussing the buttons on its back as well. I demonstrated how Bee-Bot worked, and then each Coder had a chance to program him as they wished to see what he would do. Once every Coder had had a chance, then it was time to complete some challenges on the fly. Basically, I would select a starting point for Bee-Bot, and then have two students select points- one to be an end point, and the other to be a point that Bee-Bot had to go through on the way. Coders in each group had to get him through both points, but the path they made Bee-Bot take didn’t matter. When some of the older groups got the hang of that, another through point was added to the challenge.

Our next meeting with Bee-Bot introduced the challenges from the Problem Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. I printed off the range of Difficulty 1 challenges, and made extra copies. I then sat down with each group and we worked through the challenges. We always
completed one challenge together as a group before splitting off and working in smaller groups. Each group would work together to solve the challenge, and then report back to the mat to try out their solution. Every group was required to write their program on the challenge paper. Many times, the groups learned that their code wasn’t correct in some way, and had to return to the drawing board.

I still have one more meeting with each coding group this year before the school year ends. With the exception of my kindergarteners, the rest will most likely move on to Difficulty 2 challenges in their groups.

I’ve learned quite a few things about Bee-Bot and the students I have worked with on the challenges. There’s definitely a large developmental difference between kindergarten and the other groups. While this is an obvious thought, it’s interesting to see in action. With my kindergarteners, we did the challenges together as a group. It was very hard
for the students to distinguish left and right still, and there were some issues working out how to write down the program correctly. With some guidance, these students were able to complete the challenges set before them.

First and second grade students may still have trouble with left and right from time to time. However, they are capable of working together in small groups without the teacher providing 100% support. With these students, we would complete one of the challenges together after going over the programming code and how to write the code on the challenge paper. The students would then go off into small groups and write down how they thought the program should function. They would return to the mat when they felt their code was correct and we would test it out. If the challenge failed, then we would
discuss what went wrong, and the students would go off to their groups to see how to fix it. They would return to try again. Once a challenge was successfully completed, they would receive a new challenge to complete.

Third and fourth grade students typically did not have an issue with the beginning challenges. After reviewing similar directions with these groups, we simply went over one of the challenges pages I had kept from my kindergarten group’s meeting. We reviewed how it was solved, and how any challenge should be solved. Once finished, these students then received their challenge papers, split into groups, and off they went. Just like the first and second grade groups, they solved their challenge and then returned to the mat to try it out. If the program didn’t work correctly, then they returned to their group and redesigned the program so that it did.

Here are some ideas for using Bee-Bot:

Design a challenge: Students use the challenge layout to create their own challenges for other students. They must be able to correctly solve their own puzzle before letting other students use it. Students can trade challenges and complete.

Design a mat challenge: This is similar to the above, but slightly different. Students must design their own mat for use with Bee-Bot. It might be a mat that tells a story, or provides an obstacle course for Bee-Bot. Students must design the rules or challenges to be used with the mat.

Reverse challenge: Instead of writing the code for a design, as presented by the original challenges, students must write a program to create a particular design. Once they are certain that their program and finished design work, they give only the program code to another group. The group must input the code, and draw the resulting design.

Overall, Bee-Bot is a refreshing change of pace for students who have been working with coding on the computer. It gives them a chance to experience coding in a new way, and build problem-solving skills that will come in handy later on as they move through the grade.