Students at Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs walk into library class with the possibility of talking to other students in Australia, Thailand, or Ecuador.
Toni Olivieri-Barton, Library Technology Educator at Fountain Valley, introduced the program Mystery Skype to her students when she joined the school two years ago. Mystery Skype pairs classes from undisclosed locations around the world for video chat sessions. In the span of a class period, students must ask each other “yes” or “no” questions to figure out where their collective Skype dates are from. Olivieri-Barton said common questions include “Are you north of the Equator?,” “Does your country end in a consonant?,” and “Do you have a coastline?”
Fountain Valley’s Mystery Skype pairings can come from within the country or from international schools. Olivieri-Barton said many of the partner classes come from within the United States because it is easier to logistically coordinate the time zones; however, sometimes her students will chat with their peers in Latin America and Asia. She said she tries to partner her students with other students that are roughly the same age. Olivieri-Barton said that many teachers around the world use the application to initiate global learning projects.
“It’s such a great skill because it helps students to think big. Mystery Skype is a global collaboration,” Olivieri-Barton said. “They might learn that they’re more similar or different than they thought they’d be.”
Established in 1930 as a school for boys, Fountain Valley’s 1,100-acre campus resides on land that originally served as a ranch. The school, which includes grades 9-12, is now coed and the average class size is 11 students. Olivieri-Barton, who first learned about Mystery Skype while teaching at the Shanghai Community International School five years ago, stated that some of the students’ interests include mountain biking and prairie ecology.
While Mystery Skype allows for students in Argentina to speak with those in Colorado, sometimes the connections are a little closer to home, according to Olivieri-Barton. Before teaching at Fountain Valley, she taught at an elementary school in Colorado. She said that one time her fourth graders in Colorado were linked to fourth graders in California; after chatting for a little while, the classes discovered that they were both studying the Gold Rush from their state’s perspective. At the end of the semester, they called each other back and delivered a presentation on their findings.
Olivieri-Barton said that Mystery Skype is a collaborative effort, especially for younger students. Elementary students would break into groups, studying Google Maps, globes, and atlases as they tried to decipher where their webcast visits were from. One student kept records of questions asked while another asked the questions.
“It’s a fun activity and it shows a lot of 21st-century skills,” Olivier-Barton said. “We are using each other as primary sources.”