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Mystery Hangout - What's all the fuss about?

Subjects: Social Studies, Math, Science
Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard:  Anchor Standard 1 - Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Objective: Students use their knowledge of US regions, cardinal directions, capitals, time zones, major landforms and waterways, relative geographic size and knowledge of state and regional facts.

Here is a Google Map marking the locations of the "Mystery Schools" we've partnered with at Meadows and Robinson this year.
Mystery Hangout is a social game played with two groups of students who want to make global connections with other classrooms via Google Hangout. Each class asks yes/no questions and gathers clues to determine the location of the other class. The first class to guess the other's location wins! This is a great opportunity for students to create, collaborate, communicate, and to think critically. Mystery calls take approximately 45 minutes but require pre-planning, described below.

Supplies needed:
  • Google Hangout or Skype software (requires free download & account set up)
  • Internet connection on teacher computer
  • Webcam
  • Speakers & microphone (often integrated with webcam)
  • Optional supplies:  whiteboards/markers, atlas, maps to write on, Google Maps, key terms/definitions, large puzzle of the US, student devices such as Chromebooks, iPads, etc..., GAFE accounts used to share a Google Doc between the Think Tank and the Speakers

Prior to Mystery Call
1. Identify a partner classroom:  The teacher locates a partner school in another state through personal connections, social media or lists of group lists like the ones below:
2.  Conduct a “test call” with the partner classroom teacher using the computer/equipment you plan to use during the call to work through any technical issues in advance of the live call with students.

3.  Assign roles to students:  Prior to the Mystery Call students are divided into groups based on roles. Students can chose or teacher can assign roles.

Greeter (1) – Greets, welcomes, introduces speakers. They then merge into the Think Tank.
Speakers (2) - Communicates on behalf of the class, They are the kids that ask and answer the yes or no questions. Helpful if they have a decent grasp of geography.
Filters (3) - In charge of relaying any information to the Speakers. The shared Google Doc will be in play as well but sometimes a sense of urgency takes over and communicating directly with the speakers is most efficient. They help keep the chaos down.
Closer (1) – Gives a little information about the region, city, school, etc…at the end of the Hangout. This person needs to prepare a night or two before the event.
Question Trackers (2) – Writes down all questions and answers during the Hangout
Think Tank (Everyone else) – The rest of the class in charge of both outgoing and incoming research/questions to ask. This group is split into two groups. (1) The Locals Only Group who answers all incoming questions. This group is composed of 1/3 of the Think Tank. (2) Team Seekers 1 & 2 who are in charge of finding the other school. This group is composed of 2/3 of the Think Tank.
4.  Develop questions:  Here are some great ones to get you started shared by Pernille Ripp:
For the USA
  • Are you in North America?
  • Are you in the United States?
  • Are you east of the Mississippi?
Depending on the answer to that, you can go in different directions:
If east of Mississippi:
  • Are you one of the original 13 colonies?
  • Do you border a Great Lake?
  • Do you border an ocean?
  • Do the Appalachians run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Are you Northeast/Midwest/Southeast region?
  • Do you border the Gulf of Mexico?
If west of the Mississippi:
  • Are you in the West/Southwest region?
  • Do you border the Pacific?
  • Do the Rocky Mountains run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Is your state landlocked?
  • Are you one of the contiguous states?
5.  Discuss call etiquette with students.  Set expectations for their behavior during the call. Remind them that the partner class can see and hear them throughout the call and how important it is to provide a positive example!  You can (and should) use the “mute microphone’ button when your students do not need to be heard.  This helps keep the overall noise level down and prevents inadvertent clues from being shared.

During the Call
1.  Introduction:  Have designated student(s) introduce your classroom without giving away any clues.  Here is an example of what NOT to do.  “My name is Holly.  I am a student in Mr. Barakat’s 4th grade classroom.  Our school has 300 kids in grades 3 - 5.”

2.  Questioning:  Take turns asking and answering questions.  Some classes continue to ask questions until the response is “no”.  We prefered to alternate and have each class ask and answer questions back and forth.  It helps to signal the partner class if your students are actively working on processing information.

3.  Making a Guess:  Students will eliminate regions and states with each question.  As they narrow the location down, they will need to brainstorm which questions will help solve the mystery. When they are ready, they can make a guess.  If student’s guess the mystery state incorrectly, the partner class can offer a hint.  Sometimes this is necessary because there are times when students ask a question that can be interpreted different ways, for example, “Do people vacation in your state in the winter”.  Students used this to determine if the state had a mild winter climate, but there are winter sports destination states that would answer this question in the affirmative.

After the Call
1.  Debrief:  Discuss with students what worked and what didn’t work during the call.  This is a good time to fine-tune questions, review/re-define roles, etc.  Consider having students write a reflection before you discuss as a class.

2.  Share your experience:  Share your experience via social media (make sure it’s ok with the partner class if there are images of their kids in your photos!), encourage colleges to try Mystery Calls with their kids!  If you plan to do multiple Mystery Calls over time, consider posting a map and coloring in states that you’ve called over time.




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