Students turn sleuths for Mystery Skype lessons

4/17/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

A group of Giaudrone Middle School seventh-grade students entered their classroom recently knowing they were about to travel somewhere around the globe. But instead of bringing suitcases and passports, they came armed with laptops and a video camera. 

As fourth period started, another classroom full of middle school students popped up over the video chat tool Skype on the interactive television at the front of the Giaudrone classroom. Students in the two classes took turns asking questions until they figured out each other’s location. 

​Giaudrone Middle School students in Christopher Case' class played 
"Mystery Skype" with Meeker Middle School.
Where in world did Giaudrone students visit? This time they chatted with students across town at Meeker Middle School in Northeast Tacoma. Previously, they talked with a professor in Cyprus. 

“It’s fun to use Skype at school because you can video chat with people around the world,” said Giaudrone student Latrell Phillips, who used the website Google Maps on a school laptop to help figure out the other class location based on their clues. 

By playing Mystery Skype, students learn questioning strategies to solve problems and build inferences based on new information and background knowledge. They also learn about geography, culture and the similarities and differences of how children live all over the world. 

Lessons like this occur across Tacoma Public Schools as more teachers use the educational programs Skype offers, including virtual field trips, guest speakers and Mystery Skype, the game the students at Giaudrone and Meeker played. Other classes in Tacoma have talked over Skype with scientists in Iceland, students in Egypt and virtually visited locations such as museums around the globe. 

In addition to fun, Skype classes build crucial skills for career and college-readiness. By one popular estimate cited by the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children entering school today will end up working in completely new jobs that don’t yet exist—meaning they need critical thinking and technical skills.

Innovative lessons like this are made possible thanks to Tacoma voters who supported a 2014 technology levy that dedicated funds to put interactive technology in classrooms and train teachers how to use it. 

The Coug gives it away 
The Giaudrone and Meeker Mystery Skype lesson occurred between sixth and seventh grade writing and reading classes taught by Christopher Case at Giaudrone and Corey Amo at Meeker, with the help of school librarian Sally McHugh. 

Students in each class took on roles such as question asker, question answerer, note taker or researcher. Each class had 20 questions to guess the other’s location. Before each question, the classes provided clues to each other. 

​Giaudrone students consult a globe during Mystery Skype.
​​​​​​​​​​Giaudrone students created a Power Point slideshow with pictures they each took of their school, such as the American and Washington State flags flying in front. 

A few clues resonated strongly. A picture from Meeker Middle School of a teacher wearing a sweatshirt with the Washington State University Cougar mascot on it elicited an excited burst of recognition from the Giaudrone class. 

“Oooohhh, they’re in Washington!” students at Giaudrone exclaimed. 

While the Meeker group figured out the other class was in Tacoma, Giaudrone students first identified the school of their classmates in Northeast Tacoma.

During a question-and-answer period after solving the location mystery, students asked each other about life at the other middle school. 

“Are any of you basketball players?” one student wanted to know, noting that he played on the Giaudrone team. 

Giaudrone student La’Shon Millard expressed surprise that the Meeker students figured out her class was based in Tacoma just from a picture of an apple.

“I thought they were going to think New York because it’s the Big Apple,” she said.