Category Archives: Learning out of the Room

Looking at the NE region in new view

This week for morning meeting we mystery Skyped a class in downtown New York.  Their recess is on the roof of their building and they have a terrific view of the NY skyline:

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Extending your classroom beyond your walls

Below are notes that I shared after a staff development training that a colleague, Melinda Talamantes, and I gave last week.

Quick summary/examples

Scenario 1:  You take ~15 minutes during morning meeting and using Skype video call another teacher in another state at a prearranged time.  Your class has their TCI maps, whiteboard markers, example questions, atlases and other resources out.  Students have generated example questions using their TCI maps, TCI textbook chapters 4-13, and Benchmark guided reading books about the regions of the US.  In a “20 questions” format classrooms take turns asking each other questions until you determine which state the other classroom is in.  Depending on how long the mystery takes, you may share information about your city, your school or your classroom.

Scenario 2:  You take ~25 minutes of your science time and use Skype to connect at a prearranged time to a National Park and have your students learn about the rock cycle, the water cycle, rocks, or minerals by asking the National Park Ranger questions at Yellowstone National Park.  Your students have generated questions from their Pearson Science book chapter 5 and are using vocabulary from Anna Nordlocken’s science vocabulary list.  (Add link).

Scenario 3:  You take ~20 minutes of your writing time and use Skype to connect with an author at prearranged time whose book you have read during read aloud.  Students ask the author about the writing process based on their experiences reading similar books and their Benchmark writing projects.

These are not things you do daily, but as you can make connections.

Quick setup:

Make a Skype account, make a profile at, connect with other educators there or on Twitter.  Download the free Skype program, check out a webcam from the media center, set up and schedule a time.

Extended examples of connected classrooms

How can you use Skype and Google Hangouts in the Classroom?  Here are some examples:

  1. Mystery Skype example with video example:
  2. Author Skype with video example:
  3. Visiting an with a technical person with video example:
  4. Taking a virtual field trip to a national park/science location with video example:


There are so many other ideas out there!

  1. Virtual field trips:
  2. Connecting with professionals:
  3. Mystery number:

What do I need to do to get set up?

Gather Materials


  • Webcam installed on computer.  Many of the document cameras teachers are using have video and audio and so also can work as web cams. Also some of the media centers have web cams available for checkout.
  • A USB extension cord if you do not like where you webcam connects
  • Curriculum resources, e.g. TCI maps, textbooks, whiteboard markers
  • List of example questions students have generated
  • Smartboard projector is optional
  • Chromebooks are not necessary


Set up your computer

  • Install webcam onto computer
  • Download and install (free) Skype software onto computer
  • Create a free Skype educator account
  • Create a free Skype educator profile.  You can edit this one for mystery Skypes (When signing up you can mention “Minnesota” in the text, but don’t put “Minnesota” in the Skype signup form–otherwise “Minnesota” shows up at the top of your Skype call screen):

Minnesota 4th grade (ages 9 and 10 years old) class looking for “classroom without walls” opportunities.

Sign up to mystery Skype with us!

I am a fourth grade teacher in Albert Lea, Minnesota, USA. We are in the CST/UTC -6 time zone. We are looking for mystery skype partners, guest speakers, virtual field trips, etc.

Our ideal times are:  8:25AM-8:45AM, 10:05AM-10:15AM, and after 2:15PM.

(All times Central/Chicago/CST/UTC-6)

  • My email is:
  • My skype name is: mark.nechanicky
  • My twitter name is: marknechanicky

Start small and try out ONE thing.  Here are some ideas:

When do you do this?  (The average mystery skype lasts 15 minutes).

  1. Snack break
  2. Morning meeting
  3. Social Studies
  4. Science

How do you plan ahead:

  1. Do a mock mystery skype for morning meeting where you pretend to be the other class.  Work on expectations and routines
  2. Set expectations with students
    1. How do you start, e.g Skype rock/paper/scissors, defer to other class, etc.
    2. Have students walk over to webcam and practice being loud enough to be heard.  
    3. How do you ask a question “Hello, my name is _________, “Does your state border Canada?”
    4. Answering questions (often as a group), “No, our state does NOT touch an ocean.”  so that the other class can hear the answer the first time.
    5. Limiting noises from the audience (talking over each other) (movement noises)
    6. While the mystery skype is going on, have two to three students lined up at the webcam to ask questions.  Ask students to let you know what their question is–not to correct–but rather to make sure they really have one.
    7. Practice how questions can be redundant.  If first question is, “are you in the western region?” and the answer is “No” then a follow up question of “Do you border the Pacific Ocean” is redundant.
    8. Avoid questions like “Are you in Iowa?” “Does your state start with ‘M’?” “Does your state have “5 letters?” etc.  Use social studies knowledge to generate questions.
  • List of questions (ongoing)


    1. Guided reading books about each region help students find questions
    2. TCI student books help students develop questions
    3. TCI maps and atlases help students develop questions
    4. Listening to the questions that students from other states is helpful. (“Is your state west of 85 degrees north longitude”?)
    5. Here is a list of questions we have generated:

  1. After mystery skype (even next morning meeting or social studies time) reflect:  Did we get any new questions, what questions helped narrow down the location, did we have any redundant questions?

Student role during skyping:

Keep track of the answers and information the other class provide. Locate or eliminate areas according to the information provided.  Try to identify the other class’s location before they identify ours.

Teacher role during skyping:

Having two teachers running the same activity from each side can cause pauses, be assertive and facilitate the pace with the other teacher, e.g. “It’s your turn to ask a question.”  or “We have 5 minutes left.”

Tips for connecting with other educators for mystery Skypes:

  1. Before the Skype make sure you:
    1. Confirm the date
    2. List the time zone when confirming your time (CST/UTC -6)
    3. Exchange Skype contacts with the other teacher

I just write the information on the whiteboard–class gets busy!  On the whiteboard is the day of the week, date, time, Skype name of the teacher and their first name.  (You may build up several Skype contacts and will want to easily find the teacher you are mystery Skyping with).

Other Mystery Skype ideas and resources:

Why bother?  Why is this important?

There are two models that help teachers integrating technology into their classrooms and helping students learn 21st century skills.  

The first is the “4C’s” 

More information about the 4C’s:

The second is the “SAMR” model )

SAMR Overview:

Building tech coaches are working on ways to incorporate 21st century skills into student learning.  This is one example of a way to create a connected classroom.

Distance Learning/Video conferencing Skyping National Parks

I contacted the National Park Service.  Their website, in particular their teacher portal ( is being updated.  Currently there are lesson plans but no links to distance learning/video conferencing/skyping opportunities.  I was sent an archive of the National Park Service sites that currently do distance learning/video conferencing/skyping opportunities.  Here is the list of the 61 sites that have opportunities out of the ~400 total in the NPS :

Grand Canyon National Park(9)

Channel Islands National Park(7)

Badlands National Park(5)

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve(4)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park(4)

Homestead National Monument of America(4)

African American Civil War Memorial National Memorial (3)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (3)

Denali National Park & Preserve (3)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (3)

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park (2)

Big Cypress National Preserve (2)

Boston African American National Historic Site (2)

Ellis Island Part of Statue of Liberty National Monument (2)

Everglades National Park (2)

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (2)

Fort Smith National Historic Site (2)

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (2)

Grand Teton National Park (2)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (2)

Kenai Fjords National Park (2)

African Burial Ground National Monument (1)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (1)

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (1)

Biscayne National Park (1)

Booker T Washington National Monument (1)

Boston National Historical Park (1)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (1)

Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site (1)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (1)

Clara Barton National Historic Site (1)

Craters Of The Moon National Monument & Preserve (1)

César E. Chávez National Monument (1)

Devils Postpile National Monument (1)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (1)

Fort Davis National Historic Site (1)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (1)

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (1)

Gettysburg National Military Park (1)

Glacier National Park (1)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (1)

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (1)

Memorial National Memorial (1)

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (1)

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (1)

Lincoln Home National Historic Site (1)

Lincoln Memorial (1)

Martin Luther King (1)

Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site (1)

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (1)

Navajo National Monument (1)

Olympic National Park (1)

Petrified Forest National Park (1)

Pinnacles National Park (1)

Pipe Spring National Monument (1)

Pipestone National Monument (1)

Rocky Mountain National Park (1)

Russell Cave National Monument (1)

Shenandoah National Park (1)

Sitka National Historical Park (1)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (1)

Theodore Roosevelt Island (1)

Tuzigoot National Monument (1)

Walnut Canyon National Monument (1)

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (1)

Wupatki National Monument (1)

Yellowstone National Park (1)

Zion National Park (1)

Until the NPS completes the upgrade on it’s teacher portal, the links can be found here: