What is a Mystery Hangout?
A Mystery Hangout is when you set up a Google Hangout in an unknown location for students. The students from both locations do not know where the other school is located. They must ask a series of yes / no questions to determine the exact location. To learn more about how to introduce and do this activity with your students, watch this video: http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/05/10/be-the-fly-on-the-wall-mystery-skype/
I first learned of this activity from my husband and library media specialist, Stony Evans. He had shared with me the fun learning experiences and connections that his high school students had received from this type of activity. I wanted to try this at the elementary level with my students. I mentioned the idea to a 6th grade literacy teacher, Kate Neighbors, whom I have done some collaborative activities with in the past. I told her that this type of activity would go perfect with her unit that she does each year on mysteries. She was all on board for trying this. Our first experience occurred in May 2016 during one of the last weeks of school. We used this as a trial run to see how it worked so she could incorporate it within her mystery unit in the fall of 2016.
With everything you do, no matter if it is your first experience or not, there are bound to be some mishaps along the way. These problems are good learning experiences for students and educators. How can we learn and improve on our practices if we do not learn from our mistakes? I want to share about four Mystery Hangouts that we have done and what we learned from our experiences.
|Students are always excited and somewhat nervous when doing a Mystery Hangout.|
My husband introduced me to Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Schools' Library Services on the island of Guernsey. Stony had met Elizabeth through Twitter when she saw that he had posted about a recent Mystery Hangout that he had done. She was interested in doing this activity with her teachers and students. After she had participated with his high school students, he asked her if she had some elementary teachers who might be interested in connecting with my students. She found a willing teacher, so we set up a time to do our first Mystery Hangout.
When doing a Mystery Hangout, especially an international one, you have to consider the time zone. Since Guernsey is 7 hours ahead of us, we had to begin our Mystery Hangout as soon as school began for us because they were about to end their school day. For this reason, we did not have time to dawdle. The students had to have their questions ready to ask.
With this being our first Mystery Hangout, we were still learning the do's and don'ts of the game. We were not aware that the questions had to be posed for "yes"/ "no" answers. The first question that our students asked was not in this format. They were looking for a specific answer. Elizabeth quickly informed us that the question needed to be restated in a way that they could answer "yes" / "no". Mrs. Neighbors told our students that they would need to look at their written questions and figure out a way to ask them in the "yes" / "no" format. Thankfully, these students were great thinkers and problem solvers because they were able to do this in the short frame of time that we had. They were able to determine the location.
We also had time at the end for each school to share facts about their location. Mrs. Neighbors' class had made a slide show to tell the students about Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were unable to share the screen in order for the students in Guernsey to be able to see the slide show. To monitor and adjust, Mrs. Neighbors told them just to pull it up on an iPad and show it in front of the webcam. Then we discovered that everything was showing up reversed on the screen on their end. We finished the session by sharing with no visual aids.
|Here is Elizabeth Hutchinson and her students connecting from the island of Guernsey.|
After attempting our first Google Hangout in May 2016 with one class, we were ready to attempt this with all of Mrs. Neighbors' classes in the fall. Since Mrs. Neighbors has three separate literacy classes, we had to find three different locations to make the mystery connections. In case her students talked to students from her other classes, we thought it would be good to find a way to hopefully throw them off from finding each location. For this reason, we decided we would do a local / in state connection, a national / out of state connection, and an international connection. Through PD trainings and social media, I had become aware of a local teacher librarian, Leslee Eskola. She is at Magnet Cove Elementary / Middle School which is located about 15 miles away from our school in Hot Springs. She had a 6th grade class that she chose to connect with us.
This was Magnet Cove's first time to attempt a Mystery Hangout and our second attempt (so neither of us were experienced connectors). Leslee was a little nervous about making sure that everything was going to work properly in order for us to connect. For this reason, I told her that we needed to test everything out in advance. A couple of days before the event, we scheduled a time for the two of us to connect. We had a few issues at the beginning from their end, but after a few tries we were able to see and hear each other. This also gave us some time together to discuss how to conduct the Mystery Hangout to make sure that we were on the same page. The morning of our actual Mystery Hangout, Leslee and I both arrived early at our schools to double check our connection. Everything worked great, so we were ready to make the connection once we got all of the students in our libraries.
We actually thought that this local connection would be the hardest for the students to determine because we thought the students would come in expecting it to be a far away place. (They did until the unexpected happened.) The students in my school entered the library talking about how nervous they were to do this. I assured them that there was nothing to fear and that it would be fun to get to talk and learn from students from another place. We got started right on time with no technical issues. About two questions into the Hangout, one of our students said, "Hey, that is Eddie!" Mrs. Neighbors and I looked at each other. I pulled the student aside and asked her if she really knew the student. She confirmed that she did. I told her to not disclose the location. However, it was too late. The other students had caught on that it was a nearby school, so they started asking if they were at certain schools surrounding Hot Springs. Thankfully, it took a few wrong locations before they discovered it. The whole Hangout lasted less than 10 minutes. Once the exact locations from both sides were determined, Leslee said, "One of our students recognized one of yours." (So they were dealing with the same mishap on their end, too.) Even though it was disappointing that this happened, the students still had fun talking to each other. They were amazed at the differences between both schools even with us only being 15 miles apart.
|Here are my students vising with their new (and old) friends at Magnet Cove Middle School.|
Council Bluffs, Iowa / Lynn Kleinmeyer
When I was thinking about a national connection, Lynn Kleinmeyer was my first thought. Lynn is a teacher librarian at Titan Hill Intermediate in the Lewis Central School District. Stony and I met Lynn Kleinmeyer face to face the summer of 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. She was one of the main members of our personal learning network; we felt like we had known her forever when we talked to her in person. During our visit, I asked Lynn if she had done a Mystery Hangout with her elementary students. I was excited to hear that she had done Hangouts, so I knew right then that I was going to make it happen in the fall at my school. Lynn chose a 5th grade teacher and her class to do the Mystery Hangout with us.
The day we connected with Lynn and her students, it was a very busy day for both Lynn and me. For this reason, we did not get a chance to do a test connection prior to her scheduled time. I had connected with Lynn on another occasion, so I assumed everything would go just fine. We had no problems making the previous connection. However, the audio was not very good. We could just barely hear their voices. I double checked my speakers and the volume control on the device; everything looked fine. We took a few minutes to work on the problem, and I even pulled my technology person in to help troubleshoot. We completely shut down the device and restarted it; we had no luck. Next, we tried a different device. Everything we tried did not work; we even connected more powerful speakers and tried a different device, but the sound did not improve. While we worked on the issues, the students continued on with the Mystery Hangout despite the fact that the audio was so low. The way they monitored and adjusted was that the students sitting in front of the device would repeat what Lynn's students were saying. Other than this mishap, the Hangout went smoothly.
After school, Lynn connected with me on Voxer to share her reflections of the event. One discussion that came up between her and the 5th grade teacher was what determines a "major city". This question was asked from both sides, "Do you live in a major city?" Since the states of Arkansas and Iowa are small states with the majority of each state containing rural areas and not many big cities, it was like we had varying opinions as to whether or not our locations were major cities or not. I told Lynn that I usually thought of "major cities" being large cities such as New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc. Our largest city in Arkansas is Little Rock. It only has a population of around 193,000 which makes it appear as a small town compared to these major cities. Hot Springs, Arkansas, where my school is located only has a population of 35,000 which certainly makes it far from a major city. This is just one of those questions that seems to be based on one's perception of where they live.
|Here is Lynn Kleinmeyer and her students connecting with us from Iowa.|
Liberty, Missouri / Kris McArtor
Because of time constraints and scheduling, we were unable to make an international connection this time. Instead, I was running out of time to find one more connection for the week that Mrs. Neighbors wanted to do the Mystery Hangouts. I was going to send out a post on Twitter to see if I could find someone. Before doing the post, I just searched #mysteryhangout. At the top of the feed, I found a post from Kris McArtor, a 4th grade teacher in Liberty, Missouri at Alexander Doniphan Elementary. She had posted that they were excited to try their first Mystery Hangout and that they were looking for some other schools in which to make connections. I immediately responded to her. The next day we were sharing our schedules and possible dates.
As I mentioned earlier, scheduling a time seems to be one of the biggest mishaps with Mystery Hangouts. It was hard, at first, to get our schedules aligned. There was really only one time frame that would work for both sides, but we did not know if we would have enough time. Kris said that she would just bring her students in early from recess where we could have a longer period of time. She said that her students would be willing to miss out on recess because they loved doing the Mystery Hangouts. For this reason, we were able to have plenty of time to complete our Hangout.
Kris and I had already made a successful connection a couple of days before when we did our test run. Everything worked perfectly, so we did not attempt a trial run the day of the Hangout. The students came into the library. I started the connection; and we immediately saw Kris and her students, but we could not hear them. I checked the speakers connection, and I also checked to make sure that we were not muted. They could hear us, but we could not hear them. She communicated this to us on a small white board. In order to not waste our short time, she said we would continue the Hangout. They would just write their questions / answers on the white board. This was another great example of how educators must find ways to monitor and adjust. The rest of the Mystery Hangout went very smoothly. In fact, we were so amazed at how quiet our students were on our end since they could not hear the other students. It was also fun to read the facial expressions of the students in Liberty, Missouri since we could not hear them. This was a great example that your just don't have to communicate verbally to connect with others.
|Here is how we communicated without audio with our new friends in Missouri.|
Mystery Hangouts are wonderful learning experiences for our students. Just think of the power we have through technology to connect our students to places all around the world. Yes, with technology and different time zones, mishaps are always going to happen. We just have to look beyond those problems and realize that our students are still connecting and learning about places that many of them may never go to in their lifetime. In the world of education, we must monitor and adjust on a daily basis. It is great for our students to see that everything does not always work out perfectly. They need to see that making adjustments is a daily life skill that everyone must face. We cannot let the mishaps slow us down and keep us from attempting what we are doing. Every day is a new learning experience for everyone.
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