Thursday, February 19, 2015

28 days of Writing 18: Mystery Skype

My year 5-7 English class have embraced the idea of 'Mystery Skyping' this year.

For the uninitiated, Mystery Skype' simply entails linking up with another class via Skype. The 'mystery ' part is that neither class know exactly where the other one is situated and so they ask each other questions until they work out the location. It's like Celebrity Heads combined with 20 Questions, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego and Guess Who all rolled into one 30 - 60 minute exploration of how kids live and learn in different parts of the world.

First we talked to a Te Reo (Maori language) immersion class in Christchurch, NZ who sang us a beautiful waiata and performed a haka for us. This was an easy time zone match for us and we were able to compare lots of the things we have in common as neighbors in the Pacific.

Last week we skyped in to a graduate teacher inservice in New Jersey, USA. This was a harder time match but because the teachers were meeting after school we were able to find a window. Interestingly, the teachers asked pretty closed questions compared to the NZ kids.

Today we talked to a class in the Haryana region of India. This was a really fascinating experience for both groups because very few of them knew anything about the others' country. We did however discover common ground in the students love of cricket; there was a fair bit of good natured heckling about who might win the World Cup! My kids were fascinated by the turbans that the teacher and some of the boys were wearing. I was impressed with the beautiful manners of the Indian class, including the way they stood to attention when the principal entered the room! We were all in awe of their amazing English speaking skills. We finished today's session with a rendition of Waltzing Matilda from us and a Bollywood solo from one of the St Kabir students.

The suggested rules of Mystery Skype are that you just ask 'yes', 'no' questions but we've found that we learn more if we start with these and then let the discussion take whatever turn interests the children. With the Christchurch class we were keen to find out what it was like to live in earthquake territory and the Indian students were fascinated to learn about our native wildlife. Because of the video capability we can hold up artifacts like money and lunch boxes to show how our countries differ. Even our class turtle has made an appearance on Skype.

Often the teacher's profile gives us a big clue as to what part of the world our Skype partners are in and, of course, accents are a big giveaway too. Nevertheless, even once you have the country right, it's hard to narrow right down to the town or city. The kids are learning to be discerning with their questions, zeroing in by using Google Maps and atlases, asking about famous landmarks and using directional words to identify the specific school. There's always a lot of laughter at mispronunciations and a great cheer from both sides when we get it right.

We're learning a bit of geography and extending our speaking and listening and thinking skills through Mystery Skype but best of all, we're learning that the world is much bigger than the boundaries of Mortlake, Victoria and Australia. We're broadening our horizons and learning to see the world through a bigger lens.

If you'd like to Skype with us , please send me a Twitter message @Aaannne or join up to the Mystery Skype web page and find us on there.

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