Category Archives: Videoconferencing

Reflecting on MysteryQuests Over a Decade

As I’ve finished up the MysteryQuest USA and HistoryQuest5 sessions this spring, I’ve been thinking about how our experiences with the MysteryQuests have changed over the years.

With Learning Space in 2000-2004

Our early experiences with this were with the Washington state based group Learning Space.

  • 8 classes connected at a time
  • The facilitator was at one of the classrooms
  • We all connected via ISDN
  • Everyone used maps and print materials to guess… computers / laptops weren’t available
  • 2.5 hours didn’t seem too long

Early MysteryQuest World sessions

You can watch a clip from the early quests here.

  • 6 classes presented at a time
  • Cities presented weren’t too small – they had to be on standard maps
  • I don’t remember the students struggling with taking notes
  • ISDN and H.261 made for low quality connections; but everyone loved the challenge of it!

This spring

Is it just me? I seemed to notice more issues this spring:

  • Students are really struggling with taking notes – how to identify the keyword to write down. It’s showing up in teacher evaluation comments.
  • Classes on a whole have struggled to make clues that are clear and easy to write down. I think teachers have less prep time due to ever tightening and more constrictive/restrictive curriculum.
  • I saw more evidence of less practiced presentations – which I would guess is also due to less time to devote to the project.
  • Almost every class is connecting from the classroom or the library (vs. the high school distance learning room in the early 2000s).
  • Laptops abound! Everyone seems to have much more access…
  • Much more variety in the variations on this format: 2.5 hours; 2 hours; 1.5 hours; even 45 minutes or point to point agendas!

Perish the thought, but do you think that in learning more “tech skills” students are losing their note taking and basic academic skills?  Some of you have participated in many MysteryQuests over the years. What do YOU think? How has it changed? What do you think of how it has changed?

Still, Students Love It!

Here’s a great quote from this year:

My students LOVED it. They were so busy looking for the states and cities. It was a great way to review what they had learned about geography and history this year. Parents have come to me and told me how excited the kids were about doing Mystery Quest. We LOVED it!

I think this format has consistently engaged students no matter their skill level throughout the decade or so we’ve been doing this. It remains a compelling, highly engaging and interactive videoconference format. Do you agree?

Favorite Videoconference: Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center

I’m still cleaning our old website, and archiving old things here on my blog. These are featured articles and video clips on our favorite content providers from 2000-2001 and we still love these providers and programs!

Content Provider
The Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center is a learning laboratory where students experience simulated space missions. BCLC also offers interactive distance learning programs written and presented by our flight directors. Integrating science, math, and technology, the Challenger experience fosters curiosity, discovery, and the pursuit of lifelong learning.

“This is a great program. Entirely interactive-no real presentation. The students go right to work. This was a little pricey but in my opinion it was well worth it.””The principle was that our students were based on the moon and they were to guide another group of students who were at the
center. The other group of students were trying to decide a location on the moon to land. Both groups interacted directly with mission control. This made it very realistic.”


Alpha Base One
Alpha Base One (your class) has been living on the Moon. The Alpha Base Two Team is enroute to the Moon and needs your assistance!! Your students will conduct hands-on experiments to acquire information that is vital to the success of the mission in progress and communicate directly with Mission Control. You have one hour to complete the simulation successfully. Good luck, Mission Specialists! This program offered during the months of October, November, January, and February. Video clip from March 21, 2001. Get QuickTime.

Budget Dust: Invest in VC for Next School Year

As the end of the school year looms, are you also cleaning up accounts and spending last bits of funds? 

Doug Johnson has blogged in the past about ways to spend “budget dust“. I think it’s a great term to describe that last little bit to spend at the end of the school year.

If you want to invest in your videoconferencing for next year, there are two excellent options. Both options allow you to spend this year’s money and use it for programs in the next school year (or even later if you want/need)…

CILC Content Dollar Bank

  • Minimum $5,000 deposit required
  • 20% service fee
  • Funds can be used on all programming on CILC including content providers, professional development, CILC Spotlights, and special events
  • If your district requires preferred vendor documentation, just do it once instead of for each provider!
  • Reduces scheduling hassle
  • More info online

Whirlidurb Membership

  • Minimum membership is $595 and you can get a custom quote.
  • No service fee
  • Access to a wide range of engaging high quality programs for K-8 students
  • Reduces scheduling hassle
  • The certification process eliminates test calls!
  • More info online

Bonus: TWICE Membership

While you’re at it, if you are a TWICE member (or were thinking about it), you might as well buy membership for next school year too!

  • Discounts on ASK program author and specialist interviews
  • Access to special facilitated projects such as Holiday Hoopla and Poetry Idol!
  • Learn more online

Plan now to expand or sustain your videoconference program for next school year!

Connect with your local veterans

Today we had another full day of Lest We Forget Vietnam sessions. Students from Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey,  and Texas interviewed our panel.

Major Gary Lulenksi, MD; L/CPL Denny Kime; and Major Jim Taylor

I have shared lists of questions many times before when reporting on these VCs.

Today, instead, I want to appeal to you!

I urge you to make contact with your local veterans and bring them into your classrooms, either in person or via videoconference.

Our veterans appreciate the experience so much!

  • They say it helps them think positively about their experience.
  • Sharing their experience is so helpful.
  • They are so glad that students are interested in their stories.
  • The student thank you letters mean so much to them. Some of our Vietnam veterans were never thanked for their service until they participated in this program.
  • Having young people say “Thank you for your service” is so meaningful to them.
  • They say that they learn so much from the students.
  • They are glad for the opportunity to encourage students to welcome home and support current members of the service. They don’t want veterans of current wars to have the same cold welcome home that they experienced; so they are glad of an opportunity to educate and inspire students.
  • In the words of one veteran today: “You may think this is an imposition; asking us questions. But it’s not an imposition. This process helps us share our good memories.”

So I urge and encourage you! Connect with your local veterans organizations and bring this real-life learning to your classrooms!

Showing Off VC at a School Opening

Earlier this year we had one of the coolest VCs that we’ve done. It was very simple really, but it was who attended that made it cool!

Her Royal Highness, The Princess Anne, was attending a school opening at one of our collaborative partner schools in Wales.

The school officials wanted Princess Anne to see a videoconference IN SESSION while she was touring the school!

So our class worked with one of their classes to prepare a very simple VC:

  • Introductions on both sides
  • Info about our communities
  • Some question and answer time

We had to submit info about our school for security to check us out ahead of time.

Our students prepared a special greeting for Her Royal Highness.

Think about it!

  • How do you promote videoconferencing in your school?
  • Have your administrators seen a successful, powerful engaging videoconference?
  • Have you invited parents to watch a videoconference in your school?
  • Who else might be interested and therefore willing to support (financially and otherwise) the videoconference program in your school?

I was very impressed with our colleagues in Wales who found videoconferencing important enough to show off to an important visitor!

Lest We Forget: Korean War

Today we had a great group of Korean War veterans to talk to our students locally and around the country. This is part of our Lest We Forget series that occurs in collaboration with our local Lest We Forget veterans organization.

Panel members participating today:

Red Sage, Jim O’Malley, Jim Brinkman, Jim Ball

Here is a sampling of the questions from today:

  • What did you do in your leisure time?
  • What techniques did you use in interrogation?
  • How did the terrain affect combat?
  • What impact did the Korean War have on American citizens?
  • How did you feel about the firing of General MacArthur?
  • Did you share a lot of experiences with soldiers from other UN countries?
  • What lesson should we learn from the Korean War?
  • Were you drafted or did you enlist?
  • How often did you hear from home?
  • How were both sides of prisoners of war treated?

Our high school Lest We Forget Vietnam session in May is full; but we still have room in the middle school version based on the book The Wall. May 17. Would love to have you join us!

How to Expand a Collaboration: Poetry with England

Note: This is a real post; even though it’s April 1. 🙂

This week we’ve had 14 classes in England and Michigan connect together to share poetry! We’ve had performances, recitations with actions and motions, and even costumes! What a celebration of words! Thank you to Heather Hadfield for collaborating with us!

Note the technology is used to connect the students and to see and hear each other; but print materials are very important! Love the book and the map in this picture!

How to Run an Extended Collaboration

I thought it might be helpful for you to learn how we set this up so that you also can do more collaborations. I’ve used this strategy for many collaborations in the last few years. It’s one of the ways we provide programs to our schools.

Step 1: Preparation

  • Pick a partner: I started with someone I knew who also supports several schools using videoconferencing.
  • Pick a curriculum topic: We picked a topic that is in our curriculum and theirs: poetry.
  • Pick dates: This one was fun because our spring break is April 4-8; England is off for Easter from April 11-22; then they are off again for the royal wedding. We didn’t want to wait till May, so we picked this last week before our spring break. It was a little off because our schools do poetry in April, but we still had interest.

Step 2: Get Organized

I really prefer a wiki for this type of collaboration so that all the information is in a place where all the partners can access it. In 2009, I standardized all my project websites to make my work flow more efficient (anything to get more VCs!).

We worked together to set up a wiki with these essential components:

Step 3: Advertising and Registration

Next, Heather and I advertised to our teachers and schools.

  • Registration: When one of us found an interested teacher, we entered all the details on the scheduling page.
  • Pairing: If the teacher matched with one already listed, we matched up the pair.  If not, we made a new pair table on the page.
  • Confirmation letter: After a pair was complete, I used our confirmation letter template to send an email introducing the teachers to each other and giving additional directions.

Heather and I both subscribed to changes on the wiki, so we knew when new registrations came in that needed to be partnered.

Both of us reached out to particular schools and teachers to finish all the pairing.

It took us about two weeks to get every interested teacher matched.

Step 4: Test Calls

Sometimes when I do this type of collaboration, I’m collaborating with a region that we already know. Then we skip test calls entirely! This time though, we tested.

  • Set a date & time window: We picked a Friday morning my time; afternoon in England. Heather made sure the schools had their equipment on; I tested dialing out to them.
  • Skype: We talked on Skype. This removed the international phone calls from both sides; and made it easy to troubleshoot any issues that arose. We did have a few things to solve – mic cables, muting and unmuting, etc.

Step 5: Videoconference!

Finally, make the actual connections. We still stayed in touch this week.

  • Skype:We used Skype to solve any connection issues – and to communicate when the schools were up & running.
  • Feedback: We also shared with each other – mostly via Skype and email – any feedback or comments from the participating teachers.

Your Turn:

Have you done collaborations like this? What tips and tricks do you have to make it go smoothly? Please comment!

Career Interviewing Collaboration Idea

From the files and archives from our old website, I found this collaboration idea. It was written in our first year or so of doing VC in 2000-ish. Sharing here to archive it. Maybe you can build on this idea for your career classes?

Teacher Author of This Lesson Idea: Lisa Brady
School: Galien High School
Course: BST Core
Grade level: 9
Topic: Interviewing (a component of Career Planning)

Background: At Galien BST is team-taught by two teachers. We do very little with the interviewing portion of career planning. We sometimes will video tape the students interviewing with us. They are expected to dress as they would if they were on a real interview. They don’t take it very seriously—they know the two of us too well. We would like to have them interview with someone they don’t know and to see/critique others being interviewed.

Implementation: Students at participating schools would create a business and job opening to be advertised. They would need to create a background for their company, a job description, and then interview questions. Students at the other school would have to look at the job openings, fill out applications and submit resumes and letters of application, and then interview with ‘the boss’ from the other school. They would be expected to dress appropriately.

Additional comments: The research students do earlier could be used to develop their company. Applicant students would have to taylor their resume for the job they apply for.

Timeline/organization: Initial meeting to introduce companies/bosses-these should be prepared ahead of time with copies sent to the other school so students can look at them. After some intervening time, then we would have the interviews.

Issues to discuss/plan with participating schools:

  • Would we do this for every student?
  • Would each student develop a business/job opening and a job application/resume/interview (to be on both sides of the process)?
  • To do all students would require this to go on for several days. It might be better to somehow limit it to have it for 2 -3 days with maybe 3-4 interviews per day. Perhaps students could develop their business in small groups; although the interviewee would be alone but could be interviewed by a panel of interviewers.
  • Would we allow for a follow-up critique live or written; same day or later?

Lest We Forget: World War II

Today we had several schools from MI, NJ, and TX interview our World War II veterans for our Lest We Forget program.

Today’s panel included Captain Jimmy Butt, Sgt Arden Pridgeon, Sgt Val Ripsco. In the first session we also had a new veteran, Captain Rex Welch, who was a paratrooper.

Students learned about rations, v-mail (victory mail), and perspectives from both the European and Pacific theaters of the war.

Here are some of the questions students asked today:

  • Do you think the the war was inevitable? or that the U.S. involvement was inevitable?
  • What new military techniques were developed during WWII?
  • Do you have any good memories from the war?
  • What did you think of the New Deal?
  • What was it like to live during the Depression?
  • What was your inspiration or motivation during the war?
  • Which front do you think was the most difficult?
  • Do you think it made a difference in your experience if you were drafted or volunteered?

By the way, we still have a few openings in the April Korean War Veteran interviews. ($50 each – scholarships available; high school; everyone is welcome).

We also have a similar program but using the ASK process on the picture book: The Wall, where middle school students interview our Vietnam veterans. We have room in that session too! We’d love to have you! $50 or request a scholarship. Everyone is welcome!

Registration for both programs is in CAPspace. Let me know if you need assistance.

Hope you can join us!!

21st Century Communication with TWICE

Cross-posted with the MACUL conference blog.

Here are the resources and links featured in my session at MACUL, 21st Century Communication with TWICE.

We connected to Eagle Lake Elementary in Edwardsburg, for a feature of Where in Michigan; the ASK programs, and Read Around the Planet.

Next we connected to Mars Elementary, in Berrien Springs, for a feature of the Holiday Hoopla Snowman Swap.

Finally, we reviewed the TWICE Discounts with Content Providers / Field Trips, and the CAPspace website.