#WVSTC 2016, Pt. 2

We’ll pick up right where we left off last week and begin this week with the sessions that I presented at WVSTC.

This year I presented two sessions on my own, and I co-presented a third session with some other colleagues. This year I presented Twitter 101, Coding Clubs, and co-presented #wvedchatLIVE! As always, I wasn’t finished with either presentation beforehand, but this year it was because of the classwork, the prep for the move, and the driving back and forth to my new district to take care of things. Thankfully my one session was very hands-on. Unfortunately, guess who decided to get creative with the handout she created for it? Yup, me. Thankfully, neither of my sessions were on Tuesday afternoon, and they were spread out as well. I did my Twitter session on Wednesday afternoon, my Coding session on Thursday morning, and the co-presentation immediately after my Coding one. I also didn’t have to prepare anything for the #wvedchatLIVE one because the main presenter had already taken care of everything. I just had to participate and help out.

My first session, Twitter 101, was meant to be a step by step session and help educators get started using the platform. I discussed key Twitter terms, and then we delved into getting started. Step by step we created usernames, looked up users to follow (and followed them),
looked at various hashtags, discussed the purpose of edchats, and then looked at an easy way to organize Twitter using Tweetdeck. Really there’s so much to do with Twitter that it should be multiple sessions over a period of time with help, but when it comes to a conference, you can’t really do that. I did have a pretty decent turnout, and I gave out quite a few of my cards. Quite a few people were very pleased with my session, and I felt pretty good about it. I still think there is more that can be done to assist teachers, but again, not something that can be done in a conference session.

My second session on Coding Clubs was first thing Thursday morning and I wasn’t sure that I would have many people show up to an 8 AM session, but I had a packed room. Granted, it was one of the smaller rooms, but I had people squeezed in. We held discussions on how to start the clubs, and I told them about how the handout had many free links to help get them started. The second part of the session I had pulled out all of my coding board games and devices and let the attendees look at them and play with them. They would ask questions about which ones worked best for each level, and I told them, also reminding them that the information would be in the handout as well. At the end of the session, I was able to give out more business cards so that anyone could contact me should they need me.

After my Coding Clubs session, I had to hightail it over to the #wvedchatLIVE! session across the hall. Thankfully it hadn’t started yet. The goal of this session was to do an edchat with the audience right there and let them see the benefits in person. This way, we could also provide any help and assistance as necessary. Randall, who was leading the workshop, had already pre-scheduled the questions to be asked so he was able to hold discussions and answer questions in between about the edchat as well. We had a smaller audience than anticipated, but the ones who were there were actively participating. I would love to see if, in time, more folks join our biweekly chats on Twitter. I haven’t been active lately, so I don’t know if the amount of participants increased last time or not.

I was much more pleased with the outcome of all of my sessions this year over last year’s. At least this year, I had more people in attendance, and more folks asking questions along the way, too. I felt more confident in my presentation manner, but that’s most likely because it was my second year presenting. I also had my roommate, aka the amazing Dr. Rikki Lowe, livetweeting both of my sessions. I still think that next year I will do just
one session. Then again I’m pretty sure I thought that last year as well, and that didn’t go as planned…I just get too eager to share my stuff!

In addition to the sessions I attended, I also attended the Twitter edchat meetup for #wvedchat, the STEM Playground, and the TIS Reception. Both of these are my ways of making connections with other colleagues around the state, and I wouldn’t miss out on the good food either!

Immediately after the last session of the day on Tuesday, WVSTC hosted its very first STEM Playground. I had brought my coding games and such to use in my presentation, so at the last minute I asked those in charge if they wanted me to set up a spot with my stuff. They were happy to add me and get me a table. I spent 2 hours sharing my games and letting parents and teachers explore their options for preschool on up. It was fun, but very tiring.

Tuesday evening was also our Twitter edchat meetup, so we went to the Mountain State Brewery in Morgantown, WV for some yummy pizza and trivia night. Last year we’d done well with trivia. This year I didn’t even participate, as our group was so big and spread out over a long table. I did enjoy discussing technology toys, Pokemon Go, and things I’d
learned about at the conference so far. The Twitter edchats are meant to be a fun way to relax and kick back with faces that one might only know from online. I also loved that we had more people attending this year as well!

The TIS Reception on Wednesday evening is a time for all current TIS Cohort members and alumni to come together for a couple of hours. Everyone enjoys good food, which was provided by the Waterfront Hotel again this year, and then we have some kind of shareout activity. A Genius Hour was scheduled, but not many people stepped up to take a slot, so it simply became a time to shareout a new technology tool instead. I had already volunteered to present on Mystery Skype. It was very easy to prep for, as I’d already written up a getting started blog post. I used my time to demonstrate what it was through video, and then when all was said and done, I was able to hand out notecards with my QR code link to the blog post. I had a lot of people take one, and they would tell me they’d never heard of Mystery Skype before. I hope that some of them at least give it a shot! The only sad part about the TIS Reception is that we found out one of the cohort leaders, Valerie, was set to
retire before the year was out. It was a bit of a damper, but we all wish her the best of luck. She is one amazing lady!

Overall I greatly enjoyed my time at the conference this year. Everyone kept asking me if I would be returning next year since I’m now employed in Virginia. I told them I would definitely be back because I would hate to miss out on seeing all of my colleagues and catching up. Plus, I simply love the atmosphere, and love giving back some of the knowledge that I have gained. Wouldn’t trade that for the world!

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?

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!

Preparing for 1st Mystery Skype

Recently I happened to be on Twitter when I saw a tweet pop up on #wvedchat. A teacher was requesting a Mystery Skype session with a K-5 class from West Virginia. I’ve never done Mystery Skype, and it’s something that I’ve only recently been hearing more about. Since I don’t have my own classroom, I sought out the first teacher I knew that might be up for letting me assist him with this project. He was more than happy to have his class participate after I explained the concept to him, and thought it would be fun for his 5th graders to do.

After explaining the concept with him, I contacted the teacher again to let her know I had a classroom for her, and we’ve settled on a potential day- May 13 in the morning. That gives me two afternoons next week to prep the class for this activity. I fear that it may not be enough, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, and this is part of the reason why I picked an older class to try it with.

So far I’ve done a little bit of research and found the Mystery Skype page on Skype’s website. I’ve gotten ahold of the OneNote Class Notebook, and now have to figure out a logical way to present things to the class to prepare them for their job ahead. I’m not worried about the connecting part itself. I’ve done Skype video calls through the school network myself, and will most likely have my computer set up for the activity. I have a great webcam with a built-in mic that I’ll use as well.

I figure if I can get together a teaching plan to prepare the class during the days I am at this school next week, and things for the teacher to do when I am not here, then it will go more smoothly. I know he will need specific directions to go along with the Class Notebook that I’ll share with him. Most of the students do have their Office 365 accounts, but there are also those who were not given permission to receive one yet this year. I’m going to attempt to tweak it so that we don’t need those.

I believe my biggest fear currently is that this will go terribly wrong in the end. I fear that even with enough planning, the students won’t be ready, or something will go awry. I know the only way to tackle said fear is to plan and hope for the best. We definitely won’t run super smoothly the first time, but we’ll do our best and reflect to figure out what could be done differently in the end.

I am eager to see how this will all turn out in the end. It’s an exciting endeavor and one I hope the kids will find engaging. If anyone has any tips or tricks for our first time, please tweet them my way: @tisinaction.