Monday, February 17, 2014

Mystery Location Calls in an After School Program

Mystery Location Calls are a way for teachers to flatten their classroom walls and connect their students globally. Teachers can make global connections with other classrooms via Google Hangouts or Skype. This is a game based connection where each class asks yes/no questions and gathers clues to determine the location of the other class. Mystery Location Calls are a great opportunity for students to create, collaborate, communicate, and to think critically.

Students in the after school program
participating in their first Mystery Location Call

Recently, I interviewed Denise Doyle-Schnacker, a Kids First Coordinator and Region 1 After School Advisor in my school district, about her first experience with Mystery Location Calls. She held her first call with the after school program kids in January and was kind enough to reflect and share her thoughts with me. It was an overwhelming success and for those thinking about trying this in an informal setting, Denise has shared some insights to help you make it a success.

Why did you choose to host a Mystery Location Call?

We chose to do a Mystery call because After School is the perfect place to do that active, open-ended learning. We have plenty of time to delve into the pre and post learning. We don’t have to adhere to the structure of the core day. It’s just REALLY cool!

When did you participate in a mystery location call?

We did a trial call within our site first. I had three students go to a secret location with a staff member’s cell phone on campus and the rest of the group stayed to ‘test’ out the process in our classroom. (December 13th-during After school program) The second call was January 17th.

How many students and what grade levels participated?

1st time - 15 3rd graders (the practice, on-site call)

2nd time - 18 4th & 5th graders

What type of set up had to take place before the call?

The test run took some practice with the technology before introducing students. The 2nd call took 3 e-mails with the teacher to nail down a time and the format of the activity. (Denise notes that nailing down a time is the hardest have to be flexible)

How did the activity go?

The practice run taught us to have VERY clear expectations for the activity. We also needed to be very clear about who was going to speak, what process would be followed, etc. due to the excitement level.

The second call was with a private school class of K-12th grade (approx. 13 students) and the kids were more interested in what a typical day in their class looked like instead of where they were located. We just rolled with it and after the students from both groups figured out where we were, we let the older students plan another call to talk about differences in their parts of the world.

What technology did you use?

1st call - Laptop with external webcam & a cell phone set up with google hangouts.

2nd call - Laptop, projector, webcam, external mic(for clarity and better volume control) and speakers. Again, with Google hangouts and Google Earth (we had an issue with lag for the Google earth on the same computer we tried to video chat with so we ended up using a desktop for that part of the research which meant they didn’t see what we were seeing and vice versa.

What resources did you use to prepare for participation in a Mystery Location Call?

Paula Naugle's Mystery Location Call Website 
Skype Call - Learning Call 
Post Crossing

The first two resources were really the only ones I needed to use. They were very thorough. I did watch a lot of videos of other mystery calls which helped ease my own stress. I am also listing the postcrossing because it is a perfect fit for front loading and extension.

How did participating in a Mystery Location Call contribute to your student’s learning?

We have participated in Postcrossing for two years and this was a natural extension for in-depth geography and culture discussions. The students are also able to make connections in other parts of the curriculum based on the questions they had to answer. (for example, the discussions in our “water exploration” activity was deeper because they remembered that in Kentucky (2nd call) the snow is soft and fluffy since there isn’t much moisture there; compared to here where the mountains normally have tons of snow pack...)

What was the best part of being involved in a Mystery Location Call?

These are Denise's favorite quotes from her students, they had a lot to say about this!

“You get to find out where people are.” “It’s like a game where we get to use our brains.” “It’s fun to talk to people you don’t know.”

Is there anything you would do differently next time?

“I think next time, we should call someone really far away.” “We should have used a better webcam.” “We need to stick to the rules so everyone can hear better.”

What is one piece of advice you have for teachers wanting to try this in their classrooms?

Do your research. Prep your students. Let them lead! (It made all the difference.) Get comfortable with the technology by doing a ‘trial run’.

Anything else?

I can not express how much more involved the students are in their education now. They are making bigger connections. They are engaged and willing to do the ‘hard work’ if it means getting to do another mystery call. On a side note, As parents were picking up early, they were very excited to see that computers are for more than video games.