(Photo by Jason Bonavita)
Jason Bonavita has been teaching 4th grade at Carrie Downie Elementary School in New Castle for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until last year that he began implementing a technology-infused geography lesson into his class curriculum. It’s called Mystery Skype, and it’s gaining traction in the elementary education world.
Here’s how it works: Teachers who are interested in or actively involved in the Mystery Skype community connect behind the scenes — Bonavita said usually through Twitter. The teachers agree on a predetermined time to Skype, then have their students ask each other a series of geography questions to try to figure out where the class they’re Skyping with is located.
"It’s these little windows into what might as well be another planet for some of these kids."
Last year, Bonavita’s class Mystery Skyped 63 times with classes as close as New Jersey and Maryland as distant as Russia, Morocco, Ireland and New Zealand.
“It’s so much fun,” said Bonavita. “The kids get a big kick out of finding the other class.”
But Bonavita adds a few extra layers to the game using a variety of programs. During the Mystery Skype, Bonavita has a group of students live-tweet and another batch handling a back channel where students from each class can communicate through an interactive sticky note program called Padlet. Dang, 4th grade rules.
“It really helps with getting kids out of their shells,” said Bonavita. “They’re so comfortable with a device in their hand. When you put a device or computer in their hands, they’re right at home. When I give them a worksheet, it’s torture.”
After each session, they pin the location of the class they just Skyped with on a world map. Attached to the pin by a string is a QR code, which students can scan to access the content they’ve written summarizing that particular experience.
“The kids get to talk to people they wouldn’t normally interact with,” said Bonavita. “A lot of the kids will spend their whole lives here [in New Castle]. It’s these little windows into what might as well be another planet for some of these kids.”
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