Developing 21st Century Skills Through Mystery Skype Calls

As part of my Individual Professional Growth Plan, this year I decided to pair my own goal with an ASFM School-Wide Goal to: “Establish and expand students’ 21st Century Skills through the use of technology by continuing to develop the skills of communicating, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and civic awareness.” Right now 21st Century Skills and technology are being said simultaneously in the same sentence nearly 100% of the time. And while 21st Century Skills really only include a small portion dedicated to technology, technology does lend itself as a valuable tool for purposefully practicing and developing these attributes. Therefore I sought out to accomplish this goal in a manner that would easily blend the two components together, using Mystery Skype as the major tool for the job.

Mystery Skype Calls occur when two classes connect from different locations in the world. The students from each classroom do not know where the other is located, however the goal of the call is to find out exactly which school they attend. Different teachers have different rules and guidelines. We stuck with 2 rules: only “yes” and “no” questions and each class takes a turn at asking questions. The rest is really up to the students. Some jobs we created in my classroom were: Question Askers, Question Answerers, Researchers, Runners who take information to/from Researchers and Question Askers, Recorders that type and post questions and answers through TodaysMeet, and Documenters who took photographs and videos of the experience.

This year my group of 4th graders had their first chance to engage in a Mystery Skype call with Marcie Lewis and her 4th grade students at Ridley College in St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada. I met Marcie in the MSU, MAET overseas cohort. She actually introduced me to the idea of the event, and provided me with some helpful guidance. Our second call was with Sarah Hayward and her 5th grade students at South River Elementary School in Grottoes, Virginia, USA. I used to teach 3rd grade with Sarah at Elkton Elementary, and knew she would be game for connecting our classrooms. Prior to each live call, my students and I did some “practicing” and developing of our 21st Century Skills to further prepare ourselves for the real thing. Primarily working on, Learning and Innovation Skills– critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills were developed through the “yes” and “no” questions students asked the other classroom about their location. In doing so, students practiced deductive reasoning skills by asking about hemispheres and continents, then narrowing it down to countries, regions of countries, states or provinces, cities or towns and then individual schools. Problem solving came into play when asking questions regarding; Private or public school? International school? Population of students? All of the answers to these questions would lead students in a more direct path to locating the other class. Critical thinking skills were also important in deciding which tool to use: iPad, iTouch, laptop, atlas, globe, or social studies book? Which tool would be the most efficient and effective in locating the class quickly? Even which search engine to use was decided upon by students. They made the decision about the appropriate time to switch between Google Maps vs Google throughout the 45-60 minute call. Students who were in charge of speaking to the participating class also developed their critical thinking skills, as they reviewed the knowledge they had already gained and would field questions based on this information.

Communication and collaboration are skills that were relied on and strengthened during the Mystery Skype calls as well. Communication was important as students researching needed to remind each other of questions that had already been asked, as well as the answers that had been provided. Students shared their knowledge of geography and researching skills with one another as they worked toward finding the other group of students. “Runners” moved between research stations and students in charge of speaking directly to the participating class, to communicate the questions that had been formulated by the collaborative teams. Speakers discussed with one another whether the question was suitable based on the criteria they had already attained. In addition, pairs of students collaborated and communicated on documenting and keeping record of what had been asked and answered, in order to assist with future inquiries. On a final note, my classroom is full of ESL students, as a majority of them are native Spanish speakers. This experience also provided an authentic format for practicing their communication skills with native English speakers.

Creativity and innovation played a role when students were conducting their research and formulating questions to be asked. If students were having a difficult time with search results, they often altered their search. Wording the search differently or posing a question into the web browser were creative ways students tried to receive the information they were looking for. Searches for blogs about schools in specific areas, looking at “Top Ten” lists of popular cities in a state or province, or using Google Images were all innovative ways students had been able to use the web to draw their search nearer. When providing yes or no questions, students had also become innovative. Rather than asking, “Do you speak English at your school?” students asked, “Is English the first language in the country where you go to school?”- trying to determine if it is an international school or a country where English is the native language.

21st Century Life and Career Skills were also developed as it is easy to see how flexibility and adaptability are required throughout the Skype call. Based on responses, students needed to adapt searches and inquiries, especially at the beginning of the call. As there is very little teacher involvement in the experience, students took initiative and self-directed their plan of action. Student voice is definitely heard throughout the call, as students are the center of the learning that is taking place. Social and cross-cultural skills were strengthened not only with the individual class, but with the class they were participating with- by taking turns, listening purposefully, and speaking clearly. Leadership and responsibility came through naturally from the beginning of the call to the end, as students reminded each other not to repeat a question and to stay on task. And finally, productivity and accountability were reflected on after the call was complete, asking, “What went well?” and “How might we improve for the next time?”

What I have found most valuable about this experience is how it aligns with our School Wide Goal of enhancing these skills through the use of technology- and it is not a stretch to do so. From making the actual Skype call, to researching, to aggregating questions and answers, to documenting the whole experience- none of this would have been made possible without the use of technology.

If you are interested in participating in a Mystery Skype call with us, feel free to contact me directly or register at #MysterySkype.

See a transcript of our class’s most recent Skype call.

Tools used by our class: