Our First Mystery Skype Adventure

A little over a week ago, a member of my PLN (Thanks, @korytellers!) threw out a tweet saying she was looking for a few more classes to participate in Mystery Skype. What is Mystery Skype? Basically, two teachers connect their classes digitally (most use Skype but some also use Google Hangouts). By asking a series of yes or no questions, the two classes have to determine where the other one is located.  In this case, both classes were in the United States, so we had students narrow it down to the state the other group lived in, though I believe some narrow it down to the particular city.

So, since I don't have a class of students of my own, I sent an email to my teachers in my district.  Within 24 hours, I had four teachers on board and ready to play!  After figuring out some technical issues (the computer in the back of the room and the SmartBoard in the front of the room), I set up time to meet with each class ahead of time to teach them how to play.

I handed each student a labeled map of the United States with the regions of the United States labeled on the back.  Then we brainstormed a list of questions we might ask to solve the mystery quickly.  Early questions that didn't give us much information (such as, "Are you in Montana?") soon gave way to much more specific and inclusive questions (like "Are you in the IMG_7842southeast region?".  Students had to really think critically about the questions they asked in order to get the best information possible.

To make sure they were really ready, we played a practice game with one half of the class challenging the other.  Since we couldn't both use our home state, each group secretly chose a new state (and of course, chose some tiny state in New England to make it as difficult as possible for the other group).  As they asked each question, they marked off states on their maps which were off the list of possibilities.  They had a lot of fun working together to figure out the answers!

When it was time for the real thing, we took turns asking Mrs. Graham's classes yes or no questions to figure out where they were.  And wouldn't you know it, but they were right here in Minnesota!  Mrs. Graham's students told us a little bit about their school and community and we did the same as well.  Both groups were absolutely floored to find out that both schools do coding in their technology/innovation classes AND both schools are building new primary schools right next door!  What a coincidence!

I had a blast getting to work with these students and they really enjoyed solving the mystery.  I can't wait to try it again with classes from another state!  Thanks to Melissa Kisch, Jodi Burling, Erin Franson, and Michelle Ford for volunteering for this first round!  If you are interested in connected with a class for a Mystery Skype, let me know!

Google Drive Migration Update

Over the past few months, staff members across the district have been working to move their computer files to their Google Drive for storage.

For those of you who have already started (or finished) this process, here are a few reminders that may help:

  • If you are using non-Google files (Microsoft Word/Powerpoint/Excel, Smart Notebook, GarageBand, etc.), those must be opened using the Drive folder and not your internet browser.  If you use the browser, you will always be prompted to download a copy.
  • You can create folders and organize your files in either the browser or the Drive folder on your computer.
  • You can save files directly to your Google Drive (rather than to your desktop and having to move them later).
There is also a guide on the Tiger Tech Tips website to help anyone working through the migration process (view the guide here).

If you still need help or have questions, contact a building technology coach or the technology department.

The New "Ask 3 Before Me"?

When I was in the classroom, I had a rule: ask three before me.  Several of my colleagues had a similar rule.  The basic premise was that students shouldn't come ask the teacher about every single question they had.  The goal was so that students would learn to search for the answer for a bit themselves rather than just defaulting to asking the teacher right away (and honestly, saved the teacher time because there's no way one person can answer every single question from 25 inquisitive kindergarteners in one class period!).
My goal as an educator has always been to help my students become independent learners; ideally, they shouldn't need me at some point if I've done my job well.  But in 2016, I wonder if we need to take this a step further. I've heard many complain about a sort of "learned helplessness" among today's youth, a lack of any real knowledge or skill.  I'll admit that I fall into that category sometimes myself.  There are many things that my parents and grandparents know how to do that I have no clue about, such as changing my own oil or canning vegetables.
Yet in many ways, I am much more adept than my elders at figuring out how to solve new problems.  Take even a simple example: my mother plays a word game on her iPhone. When she gets stumped, she texts me and asks for a hint. For awhile I would help her, but after awhile I got tired of the game and couldn't help her anymore. Instead, I taught her how to do a Google search to find hints and answers. It would have never occurred to her that such a thing even exists (I also showed her on YouTube that some people create videos of the solutions in case she really gets stuck).
Teachers sometimes bemoan the fact that today's students may never know what it's like to have to look up something in an actual dictionary or encyclopedia. While there's something to be said for valuing traditions, when was the last time you picked up a volume of an actual bound copy of an encyclopedia to look for an answer? I bet you Googled it or looked on Wikipedia.  Need to learn a new skill?  You might take a class, or better yet, search for it on YouTube.  Need recommendations for a restaurant?  Visit UrbanSpoon.com or put out a request on social media to get several within hours if not minutes.
So, I propose a new "Ask 3 Before Me" based on this image:
Image by Heather Dowd (@heza)
Notice the teacher is not on the list.  But fear not.  Just because you're not on the list doesn't mean you're not important.  Students need to use collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and sometimes even creativity (together known as the 4 C's of 21st Century learning) to be able to do any of this.  That's where we come in.  These "new" skills are so fundamental to our students' future success that we don't dare send them into the real world without them.
I challenge you to think about this for a bit: how might your classroom look different if you go in with the assumption that students will forever have access to Google (or its someday replacement)?  What do they need to know and do?  What no longer seems important?