Are you already familiar with Mystery Number Skype? If you are, read on. If you’re not, my six and seven year olds would be happy to tell you how to play it.
I love the way Mystery Number Skype helps students to think about numbers. Every time we play, the game changes and a new strategy and order of questions emerges that can help the children narrow down the options for the number the other class is thinking of. It’s such a great tool for me to see their thinking and for them to try various number strategies.
Before a call, we often have chats about “juicy” questions (a term I got from Karen Lirenman), making a list together of questions that might help us cross off “lots of numbers” on our number chart. As the school year progresses, the list of possible questions grows. Often, they will come up with a question that they have learned from another class, one that helped that class to cross off lots of numbers—perhaps even involving a concept we haven’t yet talked about together.
Having number “sense” is not a given. It needs to be nurtured. And doing Mystery Number Skype is one fun way to do this.
This past year, Karen and I both had a one/two split grade classroom, but we really wanted our students to be able to have regular (weekly) chances to challenge their thinking about numbers and to learn at a level that was appropriate for them. We started out by doing a couple of Skype calls with our entire class using numbers up to twenty so that our grade one students (who, unlike our grade twos had never participated in Mystery Number Skype) would understand the process. After that, we briefly toyed with the idea of taking turns calling each grade, but wondered if we could do two simultaneous calls—one for the grade ones and one for the grade twos. That meant that each grade could ask questions about and use numbers that would be appropriate to their level of understanding. We decided to give it a try.
How Did we Make it Work?
We both have two Skype accounts. I have one for myself and one for my classroom that I set up when I wanted to bring some of my students virtually into one of my presentations. We also needed to have two devices, two number charts etc. After a bit of trial and error, this is what it looked like in two spaces of my classroom.
Karen worked with the grade ones while I worked with the grade twos. We made that choice because I had only five grade one students this year and because of some independence issues. I had a grade one student who had a strong number sense and this was a big help in keeping them on track while I was in another part of the classroom with the twos. I always made sure the grade ones knew what their secret number was, in what order the students would have turns to ask questions and who would be responsible for the big number board. (They used a metal board with magnetic numbers as the master number list.) Each of them also had either a whiteboard or an iPad with the numbers they were using ready to go.
Karen had a more even splitting of the students between the grades, and had a grade two student who, besides having a solid number sense, also had well-developed leadership abilities. He pretty well ran things on the other end of the grade two call. Only occasionally did I have to remind them that their noise level meant we couldn’t hear their questions or that it was their turn to ask a question.
What Were the Results?
The students LOVED having their own grade-level call. In a split grade class, things are done together as a whole group as often as possible for the sanity of the teacher and this was one little piece of our week that was always just for their grade level.
The grade ones had to develop teamwork and independence in working without me. Although my grade one students were not perfect, they had a goal in mind and worked hard to figure out the other class’s number. I infrequently had to help them with an issue—almost always some kind of technological one. They loved to tell me afterwards about juicy questions they had asked or how they had “tricked” Ms. Lirenman’s class. I had to use other means to find out how their number sense was developing since I couldn’t monitor it during our weekly call, but develop it did.
Best of all, I could watch the students learn! I could hear their thinking as they asked better questions as the year went on. I could hear their thinking as they helped their friends saying things like, “No, they said it’s between twenty and thirty, so it can’t be twenty,” or “It can’t end in a nine, it’s an even number.” I could hear the student who asked “Is it 19?” at the beginning of the year begin to ask “Is it more than thirty?” or “Does it have two digits?” and know that he was developing the number sense I wanted him to achieve. And that was what I was watching for. That is why we do Mystery Number Skype.