Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding a #MysterySkype Connection for Your Students

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to build cultural awareness, critical thinking skills, and geography skills by guessing the location of the other classroom through a series of yes/no questions. Other variations can be used for different content areas.  Classes can play “Mystery Element” or “Mystery Animal” in science class, “Mystery Number” in math class, or “Mystery Historical Figure” in history class.  It is suitable for all age groups, from Kindergarten through college, and can be adapted for almost any subject area.  Some general guidelines that I’ve typed for my teachers can be found here: Mystery Skype Guidelines

Once people learn about Mystery Skype and the student learning that results from playing, they immediately want to begin setting up connections for their students.  In this post, I will share three easy ways to find a partner class for your next Mystery Skype game.

Skype in the Classroom Website

If you have never taken the time to explore the Skype in the Classroom (SITC) website, drop everything and do it now. In addition to Mystery Skype connections, this site will allow you to find authors, scientists, social innovators, and experts who are willing to talk to your students via Skype call to enhance their learning. There are also Skype Guide lessons which will teach you how to use Skype in your classroom and how to best use the website to create amazing learning experiences for your students.

Finding Mystery Skype connections is amazingly easy on the Skype in the Classroom Website.  First, create an account and log in. You can use your Skype or Microsoft ID to create your SITC account.  Be aware that, while they are connected to each other, your SITC account and your Skype account are different.
Next, Click on the “Mystery Skype” link on the top of the page (click on pictures to see them bigger).

On the next page, scroll down a bit and you will see a few different ways to connect with other teachers who are willing to Mystery Skype.  On the left side of the page, there are drop down menus that will allow you to narrow down the choices.  This is helpful because there are over 100,000 teachers and experts using the Skype in the Classroom website.  If you choose “United States” as the country you will have the option of narrowing your choices down by state as well. Clicking on any teacher’s name will take you to his/her profile where you can send him/her a message (see below).

My favorite way of searching for Mystery Skype connections on SITC is by using the map feature.  Above the drop down menus there is a blue button that says, “Search the Map.

The interactive map is very easy to use.  Simply move the map and zoom in/out on the location with which you are looking to connect.  Teachers and guest speakers in the area shown on the map will appear below.  Clicking on any of their names will take you to the teacher’s profile.  On this page you can see Skype in the Classroom lessons that he/she have created, lessons in which they’ve participated, and information about his/her class.  To contact the teacher to set up your Mystery Skype, click on the “Send a Message” link on the right side of the page.

In the message, make sure to introduce yourself, to list what classes and/or grades you teach, and to list a few times that you would like to connect.  I also like to include my email address and to have the teacher respond to me via email so that it is easier to keep track of our discussion.

Finding Connections on Twitter

Many educators use Twitter to learn from each other, share lesson ideas, and to set up collaborative projects for their students.  This is a great tool that can be used to find Mystery Skype connections as well.

To get the most out of Twitter, it is important to understand hashtags. Hashtags are used by people in their tweets as a way of curating posts into categories. For example, someone sending a tweet about a math lesson might put #mathchat in their post so that others who follow that hashtag can see it and respond.  Kindergarten teachers may use #kinderchat in their tweets, and principals may use #edadmin.  A rather comprehensive list ofeducational hashtags has been collected and published by Jerry Blumengarten. 

If you tweet out a request for a Mystery Skype using the correct hashtags, there is a good chance that another teacher will see it and respond to you. It’s always a good idea to put the age/grade of your students and any preferences you have in your post.  Since you only have 140 characters, feel free to use abbreviations like “Ss” for Students and “Ts” for teachers.  Make sure that you use one (or more) of the hashtags below in your 140 character post.

Some of the best hashtags to use when looking for Mystery Skype connections are:
  •        #MysterySkype – Lots of teachers follow this hashtag and use it to connect.
  •        #Skype2Learn – This hashtag is used for Mystery Skype as well as other types of Skype lessons.
  •        #SkypeMT – Skype Master Teachers are experts at using Skype in education. Using this hashtag will let them see your request and help you find a connection.
  •        #GlobalLearning – Teachers from around the world who connect their classrooms for global projects follow this hashtag.

A good tweet might look something like this:

Following the hashtags listed above is also a good idea if you are interested in using Skype in your classroom.  To follow a hashtag on Twitter, use the search feature at the top of the page. Type the hashtag you wish to follow in the search field.  Make sure to include the # at the beginning of the hashtag.

After you search for the hashtag you’d like to follow, click on “All” on the top of the page to see all tweets using that hashtag.  If you see a post to which you would like to respond, click on the arrow below the tweet.  This will allow you to tell the person that you are interested in connecting with him/her.

Building your professional network on Twitter will also make it easier for you to find connections.  When you see people who are tweeting about things that interest you, click on their name.  In their profile you will find a button which will allow you to follow them and see all of their tweets. Just as in real life, the more you interact with people, the more you will build relationships that lead to collaboration.

Use Your Other Social Media Networks to Find Connections

Many people think of Facebook as a place to share pictures with friends and family, but it can be a great tool for finding connections for your students.  It never hurts to ask for what you need from your network.  I’ve had a lot of success finding experts to connect with my students in this way.  It also can be a great way to find Mystery Skype contacts. 

Facebook groups also provide excellent opportunities for teachers to connect and learn from each other.  Some groups are public (anybody can join and contribute), and others are private (you must be invited).  If you do a search in Facebook for “Education”, you will see more than a thousand groups where educators are communicating and collaborating with each other. More specific searches such as “Mystery Skype” will give you less results, but may help you find a group that meets your needs.  Find a public group that looks interesting, and join to get involved. If you see a closed group that you would like join, you can send a request for membership. 

The Most Important Thing Is to Get Started

Trying something new is always a little scary. Setting up your first Mystery Skype is no different.  It’s natural to be nervous, especially when you know that another teacher will be seeing your class and any mistakes you make on camera.  Everyone feels that way when they start out, and for that reason, the communities of teachers on the Skype in the Classroom website, Twitter, and Facebook are usually happy to help you get started.  Don’t be afraid to tell the teacher(s) that you connect with that you are new to using Skype and may need some help. Teachers who are experienced at creating this type of learning experience become passionate about helping others do the same for their students.

Once you start using Mystery Skype as a learning tool with your students a new world of global learning will open up to you.  The possibilities really are limitless when you can bring other classes and amazing people into your classroom via Skype to help your students learn. You can see the reactions of teachers to the amazingexperiences their students have had on the SITC website.

There’s no time like right now to add your story to that list.  Go find your perfect Mystery Skype connection!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Now is the Time for Creative, Smart People to Become Teachers

Last weekend Nancie Atwell was announced as the first winner of the $1 Million Global Teacher Prize in Dubai.  She is an amazing teacher, and incredible woman, and a wonderful choice. Her message of student choice, her service to her students, her approach to literacy, and her representation of the profession are inspirations to the rest of us that work with students every day.

After winning the Prize, in an interview with CNN, Nancie made a comment that has gone viral.  I'm sure you've seen it now.  When asked if she would advise kids to become teachers, she said:
"Honestly, right now, I encourage them to look in the private sector.  Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the Common Core Standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them. It's a movement that's turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners.  If you're a creative, smart young person, I don't think this is the time to go into teaching."
And, as much as I admire and respect Nancie, I disagree with her on this.

She's not wrong about the fact that teachers have been turned into technicians.  She's not wrong that the culture in public education makes it difficult for teachers to do what's right for students.  She's not wrong that the way the Common Core Standards are being implemented is forcing teachers to value the content to be covered more than individual student needs.

But, it is the perfect time for creative, smart people to go into teaching.

People choose teaching because they want to make a difference.  They want to help students reach their potential.  They want to create a future that is better than the present.  They want to pass their gifts on to future generations.

People become teachers because they want to change the world.

No teacher I ever met went into teaching because they wanted a easy career. If they did, they are a fool. Teaching isn't easy. It's insanely complicated and hard. The most important things always are.

It's especially hard to be a public school teacher right now for all the reasons Nancie talked about. That's why we need creative, smart young people to flock to the profession.  And, it's all the more reason that we, as teachers, should be encouraging them to do so.  If we don't have an optimistic vision that we can overcome the profiteering off education, the political strife hurting our students, and the short sided view that numbers matter more than children, then who is left to fight for our kids?

Are things bad right now?  Absolutely.  But, the pendulum is swinging.  Parents are objecting to oppressive testing all over the country and opting their children out.  Students are organizing sit-ins and walk-outs all in brilliant displays of civil disobedience because they recognize what's being done to them.  Teachers are organizing to fight against anti-student policies. Just like so many other times in history, passionate people are affecting positive change.

The tipping point is coming.  And when it does, teachers will be in a position to help define what education should be and what learning will look like in an age of information abundance and connectivity. We will be part of the conversation about how education can be a tool to create a better world instead of creating higher corporate stock prices.

When that time comes, we need the most creative, passionate, visionary teachers speaking for us - teachers like Nancie and the other top-10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize.

If you are a creative, smart young person who wants to be a teacher now is your time.  There's never been a better opportunity to change the world.