Mystery Skype is a 30-45 minute critical thinking activity that challenges students to deduce the location of another classroom in the USA or even the world. Third graders in Stephanie Stone’s class have been studying U.S. geography and the art of asking good “yes or no” questions, in order to be prepared to guess the mystery location, in twenty questions or less. The students’ goal is to guess the location before they guess ours.

Says Stone, “At CA, creating a global community of learners and thinkers is an important goal. This activity engages everyone, for an extended period of time, while developing critical thinking, geography, communication and collaboration skills. This activity is an authentic purpose for research and learning, and their enthusiasm propels them to sustain interest and further their learning. Most importantly, this is a fun and highly engaging educational activity that each student (and teacher) is excited to participate in.”

Preparation begins weeks before the main event, when students practice asking general questions, with a goal to eliminate as many states as possible with each question. Questions range from, “Are you west of the Mississippi River?” to “Do you border another country?” The opposing teams take turns, asking and answering one question at a time. Third graders also become experts in Colorado geography, in order to accurately answer the opposing students’ questions.

“At CA, creating a global community of learners and thinkers is an important goal. This activity engages everyone, for an extended period of time, while developing critical thinking, geography, communication and collaboration skills.”

Students have specific jobs, with the bulk of the work being done on the floor with laminated USA atlases and dry erase markers. There is also a group of students on iPads and laptops, checking Google Earth and other geography research sites. Students record the questions our class asks, as well as the answers they have given, so there are no repeat questions. There is a photographer, videographer, a student to greet and introduce the class, and various other jobs. The beauty of the activity is that everyone participates and all are engaged, while practicing skills of listening and speaking.

The day of the big event begins by ensuring the computer is attached to the projector, and that the camera is working. The Skype call is initiated, and once the call is connected, the two classes can see each other on the ActivBoard, or Smartboard screen. Students take turns speaking into the microphone to introduce themselves, ask questions, and answer the questions asked of our class. The students are in charge of the questioning and Stone participates only to clarify a question, or maintain good listening volume. Once students guess the locations, any extra time is taken to share more details about each state, school, mascot, or whatever the kids are interested in learning about the other class!

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