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Students use Skype as learning tool

Published: Friday, May 2, 2014 11:24 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 2, 2014 11:39 a.m. CDT
(Ty Rushing/Newton Daily News)
On Thursday, students in Wendy Turner’s fourth-grade class at Aurora Heights Elementary School participated in a “Mystery Skype.” A Mystery Skype allows students from two different classrooms from around the country to try to guess the others’ state.

“We are waiting for the call, and we are all excited. Our class is really prepared. The ‘Mystery Skype’ starts at 12:30 p.m.”

These are the words written by Kaylee Wood, a fourth-grader at Aurora Heights Elementary School. Kaylee, along with Laura Grams, served as junior reporters for Wendy Turner’s “Mystery Skype” session on Thursday afternoon.

Skype is an Internet-based call service, that allows people to have video chats globally. A Mystery Skype is where two teachers, from different parts of the country, collaborate to have their classrooms Skype each other and try to guess what state the other classroom is located in.

“The first thing I thought about a Mystery Skype was that it was probably within the state and the mystery was where (they were) at. (I didn’t think) that it would be another state,” fourth-grader Gabe Pemberton said.

Turner said she got the idea to have her students participate in Mystery Skypes from a recent session of EDCamp Iowa at Southeast Polk High School on March 8. She said she then started reaching out to other teachers via Twitter to arrange Mystery Skypes.

So far, her class has Skyped with a school in Indiana and Missouri, and Thursday’s Mystery Skypers turned out to be students from a fourth-grade classroom in Winchester, Mass.

“What I thought of our first Mystery Skype, was that it was really cool to see people in a different state and that you are able to talk to them when they are that far, far away,” fourth-grader Madison Meehan said.

Aurora Heights uses technology very heavily in its curriculum. Students used iPads and Chromebooks to conduct Google searches, take notes and read questions from the devices. Kaylee and Laura also wrote their stories as things progressed on the Chromebooks. The students also used the iPads, along with digital cameras, to capture their classmates at work.

In her story, Laura shared some of the things her classmates learned about their counterparts in Massachusetts.

“Their state does not start with a vowel. They don’t know their school colors. Their capital is Boston,” Lauren wrote.

Besides getting to use technology, the students also seemed to love playing the guessing game with the other school while trying to figure out their location. Questions ranged from “Are you west of the Mississippi?” to “Does your state start with a vowel?”

“The biggest challenge was talking to them,” fourth grader Aurora Nehring said. “When I first got up there, I was really nervous, but I felt better because I thought I was going to mess up — but I didn’t.”

After each class figured out the other’s state, they took turns asking each other random questions and in her story, Kaylee summarized how things ended:

“They like Iowa, we ran out of questions and we are done.”