WHAT I LEARNED TODAY!
Hi, my name is Mag Front and I am a technology teacher at Floradale Public School (please link to @floradaleps). I am a big fan of social media (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook) and modeling digital citizenship skills to students through its use.
I’ve been wanting to try a mystery video conference ever since I first heard about it on Twitter. As you may know, it involves two classes from different places asking yes/no questions about each other’s location and trying to figure out where the other is from. This game offers so many opportunities for learning; from practicing communication skills, asking relevant questions, deducing information, and learning geography, that I just had to try it with my students.
So I researched it further and started laying the preliminary groundwork for myself and my grade six students. I’ve never set up and participated in a video conference of any kind, so first I explored the different platforms available to me at my school: Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time, and Lync. I also got on Twitter to find a teacher that would be willing to try this with us. Once I found a willing participant, Kari Schroder (@karischroder), we agreed on using Google Hangouts. We tried it out and everything worked beautifully. Next, we set up a regular video conference (without the ‘mystery’) with our two primary classes, and that also went well. So before we scheduled a ‘Mystery Google Hangout’, we decided to take some time to prepare our grade 6 classes.
In order for my students to start thinking about specific locations in a way that would force them to zoom in from the largest land mass they are on (continent) through to the next (country, region, city), I introduced an activity I call ‘Google Earth Photo Story’. Students had to choose a location, then use Google Earth and Power Point to create a slide show that showed what continent, country, region, and city the location was in. The final product looked like this:
Next, we did a couple of mock ‘mystery’ conferences where students first had to question me then each other about a chosen location. At first they were getting stuck after continent, but they quickly developed strategies to overcome that.
The day finally came when we were supposed to have our first Mystery GHO. Because of timetables and different time zones, the two classes only had 20 minutes in common. Soon after we made contact we discovered that the other class could not hear us. We tried to troubleshoot and get the technology to work but we just could not get them to hear us. Disappointed, we had to say goodbye.
Today, after two weeks, I saw the class again. Since this morning students from this class have been coming up to me and asking if we were going to try another one. Thankfully, although I secretly questioned whether the students would still be excited about doing a Mystery GHO after the flop two weeks earlier, I did arrange for another one (through Twitter, with @Jessjoweb). This time we would have more time (about 40 minutes), and I made sure the microphone was working properly. The kids wanted to do another quick mock hangout, but I soon discovered that they did not need one. They remembered their roles (we had a greeter, questioner, answerer, two runners/communicators, photographer, two recorders, and the remaining students chose to be either Google researchers or part of the think tank that sat on the carpet and looked at atlases and globe) and worked well together to communicate information and come up with questions. We only got to Province/State in out mock hangout before we heard back from the other class that they were ready. It was show time, and we were super excited (and me – nervous). I spoke to the other teacher for maybe 5 seconds before we turned it over to the students, thankfully all the tech cooperated this time.
Then I stood back and watched the magic happen. It was incredible, they were so engaged and eager. Everyone knew their role and did their best, although some would get overly excited and frustrated at times and call out their question or answer when they felt like they were not being listened to. They worked together researching the location on the computers, helping each other along. They pointed out facts if someone made a suggestion that contradicted them. They re-grouped and backtracked if they got a ‘no’ answer to their question. Most importantly, they worked together with very little interference from me.
So What Did I Learn Today?
- Student enthusiasm does not fade easily if given a chance to do something they are really interested in.
- Adopting a “Growth Mindset” is just as important for teachers as it is for students. Had I given up after the first failed attempt at a Mystery GHO and not scheduled another, the students would have been very disappointed and we would have missed out on a lot of great learning.
- Giving up control and trusting the students to take charge can lead to magic.
I cannot wait to do another Mystery GHO and see how students apply what they learned today to the next one.