Mystery Skype–INSIDE of Robinson?

On of my favorite finds in recent years is Mystery Skype.  I’ve tried it with several classes in several states, and even did a Mystery Skype with my friend Ms. Turken while she was teaching overseas in Ecuador!

As I have written about previously this year, there are many things I have brought from 5th grade with me that I’ve been excited to try with my firsties, and Mystery Skype is one I finally pulled out of the bag this week (mainly because of an invitation from a friend on Twitter to schedule one soon!).

The idea of Mystery Skype is really simple (try to figure out where the other class is located by asking yes/no questions), but it can take some time and practice to get good at it.  I knew I needed to practice with my kiddos before our first “real” MS, so I called on my friend Ms. Turken for help again.  She was totally game.

I asked her to help us by letting us Skype with her class, and at first I was just going to work out the kinks of having kids come up to the camera, making sure we talked loud enough, etc.  Then I thought it could be cool to try to actually do a Mystery Skype…INSIDE of our school!  So I asked Ms. Turken to take her kids to a secret place in our building and we would try to figure out where they were located by asking good questions!

Before they called us, we spent some time working out the logistics of how you would even begin to narrow down someone’s location in this big, wide world of ours.  Using Google Maps and a map of our school, we had some up-front teaching about continents, countries, states, cities and how to narrow down a location by eliminating the possibilities.  We talked about directions and how just asking north, south, east, west can cut out a HUGE part of the world that they are considering.  We also talked about landmarks (both natural and man-made), and how these can be helpful in determining a location, as well.  When we looked at our Robinson maps, we connected these ideas to the floor our friends might be on, as well as our school “landmarks” they might be near, like the gym, cafeteria, library, elevator or bathrooms.  They caught on really quickly, and were excited to get started!

Our friends called us and kiddos got busy!  Rm. 202 kids were paired up with a friend, and they worked together to study the map, consider the clues they got from our friends’ answers, and then decide on our next question.  Pairs took turns coming up to the computer to ask their question and get the answer.

Our questions went like this:

1. Are you in the basement?–NO

2. Are you on the first floor?–NO

3. Are you on the 2nd floor?–YES  (at this point they all knew they could just focus on the sheet that had the 2nd floor on it!)

4. Are you in the NORTH part of the building?–NO (this is the end where we are)

5. Are you in the EAST part of the building?–YES (this part had 5 classrooms in it, so again we narrowed our focus!)

6. Are you near MRS. FRY’S CLASSROOM?–YES

7. Are you in MRS. HONG’S CLASSROOM?–NO (she is next door to Mrs. Fry)


After a bit of cheering and a few high-fives, we debriefed on how the experience went, as well as what we’d do for the “real” Mystery Skype session in a few weeks.  We used the protocol of “plusses” (things we’d do again) and “deltas” (things we’d change).  I’d say they had some pretty great insights!

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 4.31.44 PMI especially thought the one “watch their actions” was a good idea.  It came because of the question we asked about our friends being “near Mrs. Fry’s room.”  Millie noticed that Ms. Turkens’ friends were snickering and covering their mouths when they answered, which told her that they were probably IN her room.  We agreed that often watching how someone reacts can give clues.

I was beyond impressed with how well both classes of firsties did, and am continually amazed at how well “little” kids do with “big” kid things like blogging, Twitter and Mystery Skype.  I’d say it’s proof that you should never underestimate someone because of their size!  WAY TO GO, RM. 202 KIDDOS!

List-Group-Label: MAPS

Or “This protocol worked really well with 5th graders and I was dying to see how it would work with my first graders.”  The answer?  Read to find out! 🙂

When I taught 5th grade, I read about a protocol called List-Group-Label for organizing ideas and learning new vocabulary.  Originally the structure was applied to geometry vocab, but I’ve used it with topics in Science and now Social Studies, as well.

First, we needed to explore.  So I gave them some maps.  And if you have known me for longer than 5 minutes you could probably guess the kinds of maps they were given.  Any guesses?  See if you can figure it out in the pictures…

(Can you see?  It’s the Happiest Place on Earth!)

After they had a chance to explore their maps–well 4 different ones actually–they came to a blank chart like this one and were supposed to add their ideas about what all of the maps had in common:


After they had worked for a little bit…


It looked more like this:


That’s the LIST part of list-group-label.  Now, normally with big kids, I have them group the post-its by how they are similar, but for many reasons, I led this next step with my kiddos.  After I grouped them, the chart looked like this:


See how they’re in groups now?  It was great to see how many similar ideas kiddos came up with!  They were spot on with their noticings!

Next came the LABEL step, so I made the post-its into a web so we could see the groups as well as write the labels:


Working together as a class, we decided what each group had in common, and what statement we could make about maps and how they work based on the information.  I was IMPRESSED!! These kids had loads of background knowledge about maps and their features, which made our use and study of them easier.  This is one reason I LOVE this protocol–it quickly gives me a good idea of the class’ schema on a topic, which helps me know where to go next.  They are doing the work and making the connections, which is meaningful work, and they are having fun!  Win, win, win for everyone!


Our finished web about maps! Pretty comprehensive, wouldn’t you say? 🙂

Now, I have to focus in on one bubble of this web for a second.  Look at this one:


This particular bubble has a great story.  One of our friends was gone on the day that we first studied our maps, but returned on the day we were reviewing the web we had made.  She said, “Wait, there’s something else you should add!”  She proceeded to describe “that thing that’s on there that tells you which way you’re going.  You know, like ‘Never Eat Soggy Waffles!’ ”  “Of course!” we all thought, and we added a bubble about compass roses.  The best part?  The chart originally had a big empty space here, so it was like it was waiting for this super-smart addition!

Well, as is always the case in our room, this conversation sparked a great idea for the next step: we needed signs in our room that told us which way was which way.  Kiddos quickly got to work in small groups creating direction signs for our walls. Another “best part” of this project?  Every single sound in the words NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST can be figured out by first graders using word wall words, resources in the room or knowledge about sound chunks.  ANOTHER win-win as we could connect literacy to our social studies work! 🙂





What smart suggestions for ways to improve our room and give us new resources to help us learn!  I LOVE what they look like, too, and how they add to the “kid” feel of our room.  KID WORK everywhere! 🙂  Great work, Rm. 202 friends!

Mystery Skype Take 2

Last week we participated in our first Mystery Skype.  It was great fun, and we were looking forward to our next opportunity, which came this week!  On Friday, we were able to connect with Ms. Copland’s 4th graders–a connection we made from some friends I have on Twitter.

We had some basic knowledge this time around, since we’d done it before, but we were determined to improve on some things.  For one, we knew that we’d need to have more maps out, and to already have our computer ready–if we needed a map or some other resource that wasn’t in our atlas.  And since I didn’t have pictures from our first try, I knew I wanted to have a photographer ready for this call.   It was great to have some teachers comment on our blog in the meantime, too, offering great suggestions for how they do Mystery Skype.  Thanks to Mrs. Kneller, Mrs. Venosdale (who was our Mystery Skype call last week!), Mrs. Bowman, and Ms. Ripp (who didn’t comment on our post, but who is definitely one of my go-to teachers on topics like this!) for sharing your Mystery Skype know-how with us!

This time the set up of our call was a little trickier (at least for me!) because there was a time difference to take into account.  I cannot tell you how many times I checked and then double-checked if the times we were throwing out were for Central (where we are) or Eastern time.  Finally we settled on a 9:40 EST phone call.  This meant that I would have less of my class present for the beginning of the call (since we don’t really start school until 8:45 CST), but it worked out ok, I think.  We were able to get started with 7 or so students and then the rest joined us as they trickled in.

So we were prepared with our first question to be related to time zone, because last time it gave us great info to start narrowing down where our Mystery Skype friends were located.  But then, I had a smart cookie who saw this on the message board on my Skype page where I’d been talking to Ms. Copland prior to our call:

Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 9.59.39 PM

We didn’t need our time zone question anymore, because my friends had already figured out that our new friends were calling from somewhere east of us.

This time we had “stricter” rules that you had to get 10 clues before you could guess the other classes’ location, so we kept careful track of their answers to our questions.


I was pretty impressed by the questions that the kiddos thought of this time, but even more surprised by the initial prediction that Seamus made on the state they were in.  Once he knew they were in the eastern US, he said, “I bet they’re in Massachusetts.”  It was kind of a fluke, related to the fact that his dad is from Boston, but was indeed the place we were supposed to be guessing!   So with Massachusetts knowledge in his head, he began to gear our questions toward MA facts that would help us decide if that was indeed the mystery state.



As the rest of the class starting arriving, more and more kiddos got involved in the work, using the big map on our wall, the computer and the atlas.


I was so impressed by how well this one went!  Last time we were a little fuzzy on our own MO geography, and so we knew we needed to brush up on that before this call.  This time we knew the answers to the questions they asked, used many resources at our disposal to figure out which questions to ask, and also paid attention to the details we saw in their room to help narrow down our guess on their location–like the fact that someone close to the camera was wearing a Boston Red Sox shirt!  We asked them about that, but they quickly pointed out all the other teams represented in the room–including our very own St. Louis Cardinals!

What a great time we had!  We’re definitely Mystery Skype missionaries now, and are helping connect other teachers in our school to this great activity!  Another 5th grade class is going to visit during our Mystery Skype next week (yep, already have another one on the calendar!) so that they can learn how it works.  So cool!

Yay for Mystery Skype!


One more resource I found was this list of other ways to use Mystery Skype, posted by Krissy Venosdale (@ktvee) on her blog,  Excited to try some of these others in the future!


Mystery Skype!

What a great opportunity we had today–we did our first Mystery Skype!

Because of the connections I’ve made on Twitter, I’ve been exposed to many new things that seem right up our alley, and Mystery Skype was one of them.  The basic idea is that you Skype with another class–somewhere in the world–only you don’t know where they are (ok, well I knew where they were, but the kiddos did not)!  You ask each other yes or no questions that help you narrow in on the location of the other class.

We waited patiently until 10:35 when they called–Ms. Venosdale’s 6th grade class.  We answered the call, with nervous but excited feelings in our stomachs.  I had already set it up so that they would lead, since we’d never done it before, and so they asked the first question.  They asked, “Are you near a major body of water?”  Our answer, of course, was yes–the Mississippi river is just a hop, skip and a jump to our east.  Our first question was (we hoped) a good one, too–“It’s 10:35 here, is it the same time where you are?”  We had been having a conversation about time zones just before we answered the call, and so they thought this one would help narrow down (and so eliminate) much of the world  if their answer was yes.  And it was!

I wish I had grabbed the list of all the questions, because we kept one, and I wish that we had a picture to share–but we didn’t take one.  We had coordinated “jobs” before we got started: some were charge of the map, some were in charge of writing down what we learned from our new friends, some were in charge of writing down the questions we each asked (so that we could look at them for ideas for the next time), someone was in charge of asking the questions and the rest of us worked to synthesize the clues and figure out what to ask next.  It was really cool how a room full of about 20 people could all be involved in the same conversation in such different ways.

In the end, we found out that our new found friends were actually calling us from very close by in Missouri!  Hillsboro, actually.  That was surprising to them, too, because they’re used to chatting with people from much farther away!

All in all, we had a great time, met some new “friends” and figured out that we need to brush up on our Missouri geography a bit.  🙂  We already have our next Mystery Skype on the calendar for next Friday and are VERY EXCITED for it!  I’m interested to see the way their questions change and improve each time, and for what it will be like when we talk to someone from a place where we’ve never been.  It’ll be very cool to learn what life is like in that other next of the woods!

Until then–have you every been a part of Mystery Skype?  Who did you “meet?”  What suggestions do you have for us as we try again with another class?  Tell us your story–we’d love to hear from you!


Today our class went geocaching!

First we had a reminder lesson about latitude and longitude, and a how-to with the GPS devices.  Oh, and we talked about what GPS was, too. 🙂  We needed our plan and our GPS devices:


Then we were off!  And how lucky we were they today’s weather broke just before we were scheduled to go outside on our hunt.  We’d been watching it rain all morning out our windows, but it was reasonably dry by 1:00.  Yay!


The cache we were looking for was hidden across the street from our school at Meramec Community College and was put there by a College for Kids class that learned about geocaching a couple of years ago.  We went walking in that direction, checking our GPS’s as we went.


Then we new we were getting close when lots of kiddos started to gather around this tree.  Their directions were to just stand there if they thought they found it–rather than yelling and screaming and spoiling it for everyone else.



We found it!!  Can you see it there?  Even though we didn’t need it, there was a clue on the directions to help if you got stuck.  The clue was: the container is a camouflaged plastic jar.


Now, to open it!

Yeah, I know–horrible picture! But inside we found a log book, directions and an explanation, and lots of little trinkets that other geocachers had left before us.  We signed the log book, and I showed them all the other goodies that were inside.


We logged in: 9/17/12 Robinson 5th Grade 2012.  We saw that lots of other people had been there since the cache made in 2010.  One entry was from the  Trailblazers group at our school on June 29, 2011, and one was even Anna’s family!  I took a picture of the log book to prove it, but alas, it was blurry, too.  Believe me, her dad signed it with song lyrics! 🙂

I know–corny pic, right?  This one was a card that the person made solely for the purpose of using it to geocache.  He was San Diego, CA!  All the way to that geocache in Missouri.  Very cool.
So after we found this one, Keelan and I took the class to the geocache that Trailblazers (a science/technology club that our librarian, Mrs. Meihaus, and I let the last two years) had created and placed.  We were originally going to hunt for that cache, but we couldn’t find it when we searched for it online. BUMMER!  We took them there and found another huge bummer.

Looked great on the outside, but the bummer was what we found on the inside of our cache:

Half of the things we put in there were gone, and it was all wet and moldy!  YUCK!  This will definitely take some tender-loving-care to get back to the state it was in when we hid it last year.  Boo. 😦


Ok, now a few more fun pics that were taken when I gave Fiona the camera, and a group shot.

Say cheese!


What a great afternoon of geocaching fun with friends! I know I wish I learned about geography like this when I was a kid. 🙂

Have you ever been geocaching before?  Do you have any suggestions for any good caches we could find? Tell us your stories!

Kids Have the Best Ideas

Remember this? We started this map a little bit ago and have been so excited to watch the pins get added to mark all the connections we’re making!

Friday was class meeting day, and so the thing that everyone wanted to talk about was our Making Connections Map.  I thought that was odd at first, because I didn’t know what there was to talk about with it.  But that’s what’s really cool about how our class meetings work (if you haven’t read about them yet, check it out here): they’re in charge of what they want to talk about, and usually their ideas are WAY better than what I would have suggested anyway. It’s there classroom, too, after all, and they know what issues are bugging them as well as I do (sometimes better!).

So it ended up that they wanted to talk about the process of putting the pins on the map.  And they wanted to talk about how I shouldn’t have to do it all by myself.  Somebody even said, “Come on, guys, Mrs. Bearden was nice enough to not give us any homework, and so we should be nice to her and take care of this ourselves.”  Love it, right?  Then they decided that since the Manager’s job (maybe I should post about our classroom jobs some day soon) to check in homework, and they don’t have that responsibility anymore, then the Manager should be the one who is in charge of adding new pins to the map each week.  Which actually makes perfect sense, since we want the map to be interactive and usually I am the only one interacting with it!  Loved the idea of how it meant they could each get their paws on it, and be responsible to find the places for the pins.  I actually though, “Duh, Mrs. Bearden.  You probably should have thought of that initially–it’s kind of the point of the whole project.”  But now it’s even better because it was my 5th grade friends who reminded me of this fact.  Thank you, friends.

Another decision they made–which I agreed with again–was that our map was entirely too small!  We had so many pins already and they were all on top of each other.  Just St. Louis alone had about 6 or 7 because we marked them as each individual town.  So we found a bigger map and hung it up and we LOVE IT!  Check it out:

They decided to move it to the other side of the room to that big wall by the door.  It’s easier to get to, and it’s somewhere we’re always walking by, so we could look at it and talk about it really easily, too.

Most of our pins right now are in the US and Canada, and our new map makes them much easier to see.

It might look like we have a lot of blog followers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (or like my map friends don’t know where Missouri is!), but those are actually linked to a pin that’s on St. Louis.  We had a really interesting conversation about how we could label our own hometown in all of those ways.  So far we have blog commenters from St. Peters, Florissant, Fenton, Webster Groves, Crestwood, Kirkwood, and Bel Ridge–all part of the metropolitan St. Louis area.

But this still might be my favorite pin.  Courtesy of Judy McKenzie in New Zealand.  Check out her class blog here. 🙂

Are you connected?

Today I was at school all by myself.  Ok, not all by myself, but without any students there.  It was a work day for teachers before students return tomorrow.  And it’s definitely a nice way to ease back into the school routine slowly.

I had a couple of goals today, one of them being this new bulletin board:

It’s right at the front of the room, behind the rocking chair I sit in for read aloud and much of our carpet time.  I hope it becomes a place where we can have daily conversations about the world, specifically about the people and places we’re connecting with via our blogs.  The plan is to mark the places where visitors (and those who leave comments) to our site are from.  I anticipate some really rich conversations around culture and geography will spark from this map–thanks to you, our readers.  Can’t wait to see how full the board becomes as the year goes on.

Will you help us?  We’d love to set the goal of getting as many different pins as possible on our map! Be sure to leave us a comment after you read and tell us a little about your town and yourself.  My kids would love it if you did the same on their blogs, as well, which can be found at

Can’t wait to see who we will meet this year!