Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mystery Location Hangouts

We're Going To Start A Little Off Topic

The reason I blog is two fold. Yes, it is to share what I have done with others to show how technology can be effectively used with younger students. However, I blog mostly for myself. When I blog, I reflect on the activity and research the topic in more depth which helps me think about what my next steps are. As such this, as with many other blog posts, is a mix of what I have done and what I have learned and what I might do next.

What Is A Mystery Location Hangout (or Mystery Skype)?

Typically, Mystery Location Hangout (aka Mystery Hangout or Mystery Skype) is a game played by two classrooms in different* cities that connect to each other using Google Hangouts or Skype. The objective of the hangout is to correctly guess the city each classroom is located in by asking each other questions using a webcam.

*It does not have to be two different cities. My Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) class did their second Mystery Hangout with a class that is a part of the "Greater Edmonton Area" (Sherwood Park). This was great as we were studying Alberta geography at the time. 

How Do You "Play"?

Students use their geography skills to guess the location of the other class. However, there is some preparation required with younger students and I would also recommend preparation with older students for their first few Mystery Hangouts. Prior to the Hangout, I have my students prepare the clues we are going to share. I then try to order the clues to keep the game going as long as possible, if time allows, I included students in this planning (for example should we tell them we are next to Saskatchewan as a first clue?).

Prior to the Hangout, I assign a pair of students to welcome the other class. Everyone else is paired up and each pair is given a numbered clue to read. Before their first Mystery Hangout I also have my students practice with the webcam on (and display it on the Smartboard). Then each pair goes up to the webcam and practices reading their clue (or greeting/ending). I typically do not do this extra practice for subsequent Mystery Location Hangouts.

During the actual Hangout, my class and the other class alternate reading the clues to each other. My students use a combination of simple atlases and Google Maps (on Chromebooks) to try to locate where the other class is. 

I typically give a tutorial to the students that help on the Chromebooks to help them use Google Maps prior to the Hangout.

Once both classes have located where the other class is from, a pair of students closes the Hangout with a good-bye and appreciation.

I am intrigued by the idea of having students be assigned (or selecting) various roles, as described by Pernille Ripp. I am not sure what that would look like in the younger grades yet. 

Cybrary Man has a list of some unique questions older students might want to ask if you are doing a Mystery Location Hangout with a class in your own country. For example:
  • How would you describe the weather now?
  • Do you experience any extreme weather? If so, what kind?
  • Do you live in an urban, suburban or rural area?
  • What time is it where you are right now?
After our first Mystery Hangout this year, I added a follow up lesson. We reviewed our clues and the clues the other class gave. Then we revised our clues based on our experience to help us on our next Hangout.

Why Do A Mystery Hangout? Let's Look At The Social Studies Curriculum

As I am a grade two teacher, I am going to pull from the grade two Alberta curriculum. However, if we start with the front matter, this applies to kindergarten to grade twelve. The front matter reminds us to "infuse technology". Other aspects of the curriculum doing a Mystery Location Hangout will help address are:

  • demonstrate a global consciousness with respect to humanity and world issues 
  • apply historical and geographic skills to bring meaning to issues and events     
  • use and manage information and communication technologies critically
  • communicate ideas and information in an informed, organized and persuasive manner

Looking more specifically at the grade two curriculum, Mystery Hangouts offer students the opportunity to use their geographic thinking by using simple maps to locate communities studied in the world. It also makes using an atlas have a purpose! When you have students using Google Maps to figure out where the other class is, they are sharing information collected from electronic sources to add to a group task.

How To Find Classes To Connect With?

Without a doubt, finding classes to connect with is the hardest part of doing a Mystery Location Call. If you are flexible about who you connect with (and where they are from) and when you can connect, you will have no problems! Twitter is a good way to locate teachers to connect with. You could use the hashtags:

In my opinion, the best way to find classes to do Mystery Location Hangouts with is by joining some G+ Communities.   

There are many spreadsheets out there that you can add your name to as a teacher/classroom available to do Mystery Location Calls. I find these resources hit and miss and more time intensive than say Twitter or Google+. However they do occasionally work. Just this week I got an email asking to do a Hangout.

Often the classes I do Mystery Location Hangouts with are with teachers that I have made a connection with through another project such as Dot Day or the Global Read Aloud. The more you are involved in global projects and the more you develop a digital PLN, you will find it easier to find classrooms to connect with. In these cases, often a Mystery Location Hangout is the introductory activity to a larger collaboration project.

Four Important Tips

Tip One: Place your webcam carefully. Try not to have that Canadian flag or other identifying items visible to the other class. 

Tip Two: Try to do a test call prior to (ideally the morning of) the actual Hangout. That way you can try to work out any technical problems ahead of time. 

Tip Three: Have a back up plan if technology problems do occur. What will students do while you (or the other class) problem solve? 

Tip Four: Related to tip three, give yourself MORE than enough time to do the Hangout in case of technical problems. If you think it is going to take 30 minutes, give yourself at least 45 minutes instead of trying to squeeze it into a 30 minute block. 
Stay tuned for a sister post to this one: Mystery Number Hangouts.