Innovation in the Classroom: Mystery Skype

Last Updated by Josie McKay on

Nervous. Comfortable. Confident. Complacent.

Being nervous, anxious, or even apprehensive are all normal things to feel those first few years of teaching.  You’ve just finished student teaching but this might be a new grade-level or a new curriculum to teach.  Then teachers get comfortable.  There is a routine, a curriculum map to follow, and old lesson plans at your fingertips.  Being comfortable is followed by confidence.  You’ve become a veteran teacher.  New teachers are asking you for advice, tips, and tricks.  You know the school year like that back of your hand.  

However, confidence is quickly turned into complacency. You know exactly what you are going to say, what books you will read, what activities you will have the students complete, and what teaching points are absolutely necessary to hit.  There isn’t much thought that needs to go in to your planning anymore.   We no longer push ourselves to be innovative, new, or creative because we are good at what we do… until we aren’t.

The problem with complacency is that we continue to teach the same way as we always did but the students we have are and will continue to be different, much different than when I started teaching twelve years ago.  Their interests have changed as well as their learning styles.

Technology is at the forefront of our students’ interests and we, as teachers, need to embrace it rather than try to teach around it. We need to use it to our advantage, show them how it can open their eyes to endless possibilities, and begin connecting them globally with other students.

How can we do this while still teaching the basics and necessary standards?  The answer is simple: Mystery Skype.

The basis of Mystery Skype is to virtually connect with other classrooms, either nationally or internationally, and try to guess the location of the other classroom by asking “Yes” or “No” questions.  Whoever correctly guesses the other class’s location first wins. Our class always opts to then share a bit about our state, city, and school with the other class afterwards. At first, I didn’t quite know how I was going to fit this activity into my already jam-packed schedule or even make it work with the content I was teaching, but I was going to give a try.  By the end of the school year, my students had “visited” with students in 21 other states (my goal next year is to do even more!) and 3 different countries - Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand.   

Working together, my students learned great geographical information about those places from face-to-face conversations with students who live there. Working together, they also developed excellent deducing skills and logical reasoning. Working together, they grew more confident in their public speaking and presentation skills. Working together, they utilized wall maps, desk maps, and maps located on their devices to hone in on their map reading skills.

But my students working so cohesively together isn’t what I love most about Mystery Skype. What I love the most about Mystery Skype is that it teaches students that regardless of what grade they are in, which school they go to, or what state or country they live in – we are more alike than we are different. That may be the greatest lesson of all.


 Josie McKay is a 4th grade High Ability teacher and M.A.T.H. Bowl Coach at Towne Meadow Elementary.  She earned her Bachelor’s in Kindergarten and Elementary Education with a Minor in Human Development and Family Studies as well as her Master’s in Education Leadership.  In 2017, Josie was named a PBS Digital Innovator representing the state of Indiana.

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