Mystery Skype!

One of the most enjoyable experiences for my class this year has been to incorporate mystery Skype in to our learning.  We are able to Skype with other classrooms during morning meeting or snack time.

I made this 5 minute video to show my colleagues what a “Mystery Skype” session can look like:

So far this year, we have Skyped with classrooms in Ireland and Brazil, and also classrooms in Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Indiana, California, South Carolina, and Kentucky among others.  I would say where the next few are located, but my students read this class web page and would find out the mystery skype answers…

As I’ve mystery Skyped, here are some tips that I have collected from the other fabulous people that have Skyped with us:

1)  Our class creates and updates a brainstormed list of helpful yes or no questions.  We use our maps and social studies books to think of these questions as well as questions that we have been asked that we like.  Some examples:

Are you located in the Western Region?  Do you border the Atlantic Ocean?  Does your state touch any of the original 13 colonies?  Do the Rocky Mountains run through your state?  Is your state north of 40 degrees north latitude?  Is your state in the mountain time zone?  Is your state in the Great Plains?  Does your state border Canada?  Do you have a lot of large industrial cities in your state?  Is the area of your state larger than Iowa?

2) During the Mystery Skype, my students have laminated maps out and make notes on them using whiteboard markers.  For example in the video when we find out that our partners are not in the western region, my students crossed out the states in the western region with their markers.

3) It is helpful to practice how to come to the webcam, say your first name and loudly ask your question–and for the other students to know to be quieter when questions are being asked.

4) I have found it helpful to have my whole class repeat the question and the answer, for example “Yes, we border Canada.”  It is easier for the other class to hear the answer.  We practiced how to talk all together when we first began Mystery Skypes.

5) Most classes decide who goes first by having two students do rock, paper, scissors.  It’s not always perfectly timed but always fun.  One group flipped a coin, which I thought worked well too.

6) My students know that they can raise their hand to ask a question, but I prefer that we do not guess the mystery state until we have asked questions that make our answer certain.  For example, if we know a state borders the Pacific Ocean, Oregon and Mexico, we can then guess California.

7) When I make my profile, I try to make my title user friendly.   Here is mine:

Mr. Nechanicky grade 4, age 9-10, Minnesota, USA (CST/UTC -6)

So you can see I have my name, my grade, the ages (for international connections who do not use American grades) and the time zone in US and international abbreviations.

8) In the profile, I also mention our ideal times.  I always refer to our time zone in both American/Chicago (CST), and also Universal Coordinated Time (UTC -6).

About me

I am a fourth grade teacher in Albert Lea, Minnesota, USA. We are in the CST/UTC -6 time zone. Previous to becoming an elementary teacher I’ve studied physics and materials science and engineering and was an electrical design engineer in the automotive industry. I enjoy connecting my student’s learning to outside of our small rural community.

We have done several Mystery Skypes now and my students LOVE it. We have Skyped to Ireland, Brazil and about 8 US states. Our ideal days/times to skype are:
M-F: 8:30AM CST/UTC -6
M-F: 10:30AM CST/UTC -6
M/T/Th/F: 2:10PM CST/UTC -6

If a date works for you send me a message.


9) UTC is equivalent to GMT time.  More about that here:

10) One confusing part of Mystery Skype is that you have to develop a system to make sure you have the following done before your Skype:

a)  Connect with another classroom

b)  Set a date and time that you understand in your own time zone

c)  Connect to each other with Skype contact requests

d)  Record the person’s Skype contact name and their email or Twitter handle and somehow link those together.  You might have an email or tweet from “Joe@schoolemail” but their Skype name might be “amazing fisherman.” So being organized helps remember who is calling you.

e)  I have my students record our upcoming Skype calls in their planners as well as set Microsoft Outlook reminders because school gets busy.

11) One way I was able to help colleagues understand what Mystery Skype entailed was to have their students “fishbowl” our class.  While we Mystery Skyped, I have had two other fourth grade classes come into our room and watch us.  That helps jump start the modeling for those rooms and get students interested.

12) One class had us backchannel during our Mystery Skype using: So while we were live Skyping, students came up to my ipad and asked questions back and forth on this website.   Since the teacher tech conferences do this, it is very cool to show students how back channeling can work.

13) If the students figure out where the other classrooms are quickly,  I have enjoyed the classes that have read us information about their school name, their grade, their town, local landmarks, famous landmarks in their state, etc.

We sometimes have students ask questions to each other as time allows.

14) One idea I have (but haven’t gotten to yet) is to send the other class a group picture of our class before the skype so that the other class can see all of our students.  I usually pan the camera so all can wave, but with lighting and student desks in a room of 28 students, not all are on camera for the whole skype.

15)  I had another teacher let me know to open the Skype program and in the upper left corner click on “Skype” and then “Profile.”  They had me remove Minnesota from my profile because their students could see that when they were calling me on Skype.

16)  I changed my skype display name to “mark.nechanicky” because it matches my work email.  This doesn’t change my Skype username, but makes contact requests easier for people. More information:

17) Some classes hold up student whiteboards with messages “We are researching” or “please wait a moment.”

Basically, Mystery Skype has greatly improved my students interests in the regions of the United States, in using and understanding maps, and also in using a series of questions to figure out a location.  Plus they really enjoy mystery Skype.

We are always looking for classrooms to Mystery Skype with us–contact me if you are interested.


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