Tag Archives: MysteryQuests

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?

MysteryQuest World Geography and Visuals

This week I have several classes participating in MysteryQuest World Geography. We’ve been facilitating this program since 2002, and it’s always fun to see what the students come up with for their presentations. This week we’ve had fun costumes, interesting hats, and great PowerPoints with clear clues.

In a MysteryQuest, four to six classes share clues about a country, state, or historical event, and then research like crazy to figure out what everyone presented. At the end, we share guesses and correct answers. Students are highly engaged!

I can tell when the students have used the handout to prepare their posters or PowerPoint. I usually prefer to share only good examples, but this morning, one slide was so hard to read that it makes a great bad example!

Can YOU read the area of the country from this slide?!

You can learn more about MysteryQuests here:

You can also read previous posts about MysteryQuest World Geography:

I hope YOU can participate in an upcoming MysteryQuest or HistoryQuest!

HistoryQuest5: Beginnings to 1800

This week we’ve had several sessions of HistoryQuest5, another MysteryQuest-like format. Last year we tried this out with 2 sessions only; and this year we’ve expanded to 5 sessions.

Classes began by sharing 5 clues on mystery people, events, documents, or inventions from the U.S. History timeline of Beginnings to 1800.

This mystery person was a baby. See the baby doll in the boy’s arms and the question mark hanging from its blanket? Cool visual!

Here’s another example of a great visual to go with the clue!

After taking notes on all the presentations, students work against the clock to try to figure out what everyone presented.

A timer on the screen counts down the time left. Hurry, hurry!

Here’s what the research time looks like in the classroom.

If you haven’t seen one of these, you might want to watch the HistoryQuest5 video clip  here. This is the last set of “quests” before the end of the school year, a great way to end the year!

Have your videoconferences gone well this school year? Are you ending with a bang? Soon we’ll rest for the summer break!

MysteryQuest USA: The Potential of Ed Tech Funding

Today ISTE and the EdTech Action Network are leading a campaign to support federal funding of educational technology (EETT).

So, what specifically, do educational technology dollars do in schools?

One example of the power of educational technology for student learning is the MysteryQuest format. Today we have 11 4th and 5th grade classes from across the U.S. participating in two sessions of MysteryQuest USA, a videoconference project that involves students in presenting, researching, and using geography skills to determine where the other classes are.

Watch a Video Clip

Students Present Clues About Cities & States

In a MysteryQuest USA, the classes begin by sharing required clues about their city and state (or about another city/state they selected). The clues are tightly aligned to the state and national social studies curriculum. Here are some sample clues from the classes today.

Some clues are shared on posters.

This clue was a model – and the students explained that their city was NEAR the city where this model was. But today, most of the schools missed that distinction and guessed St. Louis incorrectly.

This school shared their posters via their interactive whiteboard software (Promethean in this case.)

Some clues made the other class work a little bit to get the piece of information they needed.

Some clues were shared via PowerPoint.

All in all, students spend about an hour frantically taking notes on all the other classes presentations. They are so engaged, they don’t realize how hard they are working!

Research Time

During the 30 minutes of research, students use maps and Internet resources to figure out the mystery locations presented by the other classes. Students work in teams to research the 5 presentations by the other classes. They use their problem solving skills to solve clues and figure out the city and state.

Students Researching: Photo by Paul Hieronymus


After research time, each group has the opportunity to ask a clarifying question of the other classes to see if they are on the right track. The students ask creative questions to see if they are right without giving away their guess to the other classes. Here are a couple examples:

  • Is your city near the bear dunes?
  • Was your city affected by the oil spill?

After clarifying questions, classes have another 5-10 minutes to research. Then they share their guesses. Some groups prepare visuals to share their guess:

Finally, each class shares their correct answer, and their actual location (if they were presenting another location), and signs off with a cheer.

What learning goes on?

  • Students work in groups to prepare their presentations – practicing interactive group skills.
  • Students engage deeply in the content of state geography and U.S. history – both to prepare their presentations and to guess what the other classes presented.
  • Students use problem solving skills to figure out what the other classes presented.
  • Students use presentation skills to speak clearly and slowly enough that the other classes can understand the clues.
  • Students meet and get to know students in different areas of the country.

Compare this to an alternative method of learning about states: students creating reports about the states after reading in the textbook. Which way would you rather your students/children learn? By problem solving or regurgitating information?

HistoryQuest8: Sample Clues and Visuals

Yesterday and today we’ve had 5 sessions of HistoryQuest8: Civil War. Students are giving clues about people, events, inventions, documents, etc. from the Civil War, and trying to guess what everyone else has presented.

We’re using the new short MysteryQuest format that works GREAT for middle school classes. We’ve had 4-5 classes in each 45 minute session. You can read more about the agenda and preparation for HistoryQuest8 online here.

Today we had some neat clues and visuals.

This class did their clues in the form of a court skit. They began with “Welcome to Clueless Court, where we don’t know anything at all about law.” The skit was actually a trial of their mystery person.

Another class gave several clues about a detective, with detective-like clues.

Here’s an example of a visual that doesn’t work! Between the background picture, the red font, and the glare of the document camera, it was pretty hard to get any information from this visual.

Nice big clear font on these posters. Easy to read and write down.

Note this creative way to give a clue for “Greek architecture”.

Music is always fun for giving clues! The song played was “Taps”.

Another class gave these creative clues for the invention of the telegraph.

This is just a sample of the presentations from these HistoryQuest Civil War sessions. If you haven’t done a HistoryQuest or MysteryQuest, you may want to watch the video here.

Still Openings

Also, Paul Hieronymus is running a few more HistoryQuest8 sessions during the week of May 3, and needs some more participating classes. Details here. Hope you can join him! Your class could prep their presentation in a couple class periods if you keep it simple. So it IS doable! Great learning experience for students!!

In addition, we still have room in HistoryQuest5 (5th grade colonial times and revolutionary war) and MysteryQuest USA (US geography for 4th or 5th grade. These are all open to everyone!

MysteryQuest USA and HistoryQuest5 Movies

Last week’s spring break project was to create sample videos of three MysteryQuest format programs. Each video is 6-10 minutes long and has a sample from each section of the videoconference. It’s a great way to learn about how these programs work.

Unfortunately WordPress won’t let me embed the videos right here, so you’ll have to watch them from the wikis:

These sessions are still open for anyone to participate.

  • MysteryQuest USA and HistoryQuest5 are $35 each; however we do have limited scholarships available if the cost is a barrier to your participation. Email janine.lim@berrienresa.org for further details.
  • HistoryQuest8 – the Berrien RESA sessions are full; however, Paul Hieronymous is running another 3 sessions and still needs partners. These ones are free. Details here.

Test your geography/history skills and participate in a quest this spring!!

Time to Register for Spring Quests

Registration is open for the spring “quest” events. You’ll need verified equipment in CAPspace to register. I can walk you through it quickly if needed. Just email me.

Click the project links to visit the wiki with all the preparation materials.

MysteryQuest USA

This project is designed for 4th or 5th grade students studying US geography. Through video conference technology, students are able to meet other students while learning about cities and states in the United States. Prior to the video conference each classroom will create a presentation with clues about their state and city. The other classrooms, using maps, the Internet, textbooks, and other resources, will try to discover the mystery location presented by each participating classrooms.

Dates: April 21 through May 13; lots of times open right now.

Cost: $35.

HistoryQuest5: Beginnings to 1800

This project is designed for 5th grade students studying US History. Through video conference technology, students are able to meet other students while learning about United States history.

Prior to the video conference each classroom will create a presentation with clues about a mystery person, event, invention, issue/problem or section from a document. The other classrooms, using maps, the Internet, textbooks, and other resources, will try to discover the history mystery presented by each participating classroom.

Cost: $35.

Dates: May 17-21. Lots of times available right now.

HistoryQuest8: Civil War

This project is designed for 8th grade students studying US History: Civil War. Through video conference technology, students are able to meet other students while learning about United States history.

Prior to the video conference each classroom will create a presentation with clues about a mystery person, event, invention, issue/problem or section from a document. The other classrooms, using maps, the Internet, textbooks, and other resources, will try to discover the history mystery presented by each participating classroom.

This one is FREE!

Dates: April 22-23. Only 5 slots left!

Student Comments:

Here’s a kid comment from April 2009 MysteryQuests.

It was great!  Problem solving at its best!  Really fun.  One student comment after I explained we would miss recess:  “That’s ok, this is a lot more fun than recess.”  Quite the compliment!  Thanks for making it possible. -Linda Cokley in Missouri

Hope you can join us this year! Let me know if you have any questions or difficulties.

Successful Short MysteryQuest Format

Last summer, in the Jazz workshop, my middle and high school teachers helped me brainstorm a tighter schedule for MysteryQuests that would fit into an hour. The schedule would be:

  • 4 groups x 5 min presentations = 20 min. for group presentations
  • 15 minutes for research (can use computers from the start)
  • SKIP the Q&A and re-evaluate to increase the pressure, make it harder, and make it shorter
  • 5 min. sharing guesses
  • 5 min. sharing answers

The differences between this and a regular full MysteryQuest are less research time,  shorter presentations, and no Q&A clarification time. I also do not include any time to ask for clues to be repeated. You have to hurry with your note taking to get it the first time.

Students researching the presentations. (The carts with name tags for were for their game show.)

Today we have our first two MysteryQuest World Geography sessions with 4 and 5 classes each. (Last week’s sessions only had 2 classes, which makes it way easy to fit into an hour, but isn’t as challenging for the students.)

  • I love it when the MysteryQuests are hard enough that not all the groups get the all answers. Recently with the long format, they were guessing in 15 minutes when we had 40 minute research time. Tightening up the schedule has made it challenging again. Yay!
  • It only took 5 minutes to share guesses, answers, and do a little cheer to say goodbye. So I gave the students 20 minutes research time instead of 15.
  • It seems that (knock on wood), our technical difficulties are much less these days. Less need to repeat clues, clearer audio & video. All this decreases the amount of time needed to budget for problems.

By March 1 (if not before), I’ll have registration and wikis up for the spring quests: HistoryQuest8, MysteryQuest USA, and HistoryQuest 5. I hope you can join us for one or more of these MysteryQuests!

HistoryQuest8: Revolutionary War

Yesterday and today we’ve had several HistoryQuest8: Revolutionary War sessions. These ones have been nicely full with 3-5 classes in each session. The clues have been challenging, so the students have had to work hard. In face in one session, with 10 minutes to research, none of the classes guessed any of the answers! Still, I heard from those classes that they enjoyed it and learned more about the Revolutionary War in the process. I’ve been able to collect some great footage to make a HistoryQuest movie sometime soon as well.

Here are some examples of the clues:

An amazing drawing!

A clue for a person, can you figure out their position/job title from this clue?

From the same presentation… I liked the poetry!

Notice the nice bold writing! Easy to read & record.

Another poster example.

Yikes, what a math problem!! How would you have taken a shortcut in writing down this clue?

Love this clue: “No one sinks ’em better”. Can you think of what revolutionary war ship this would be about?

In the last session, we had a scheduling glitch so I had five classes in a 45 minute session. Believe it or not, it worked!! We ended right on time. This is good to know that it is possible. We’re not doing any clues repeated. I ask the school to repeat a clue during the presentation if it doesn’t seem clear; otherwise I let it go. And there are no clarifying questions either. But the classes are giving really good feedback, so it’s good to know this format will work in a middle school short class period. I’ll be running MysteryQuest World Geography in February this same way (registration will open in CAPspace next week.) Hope you can join us for a Quest in the future!

HistoryQuest8: Revolutionary War

Yesterday and today I’ve been running our first attempt at HistoryQuest8: Revolutionary War. Last year we tried running it in the spring on the whole year’s curriculum and were only able to get enough classes to sign up for one session. This year, in talking to one of my teachers, we decided to try running it with a narrower focus: Revolutionary War. It’s going so well that I think I’ll be doing HistoryQuest8: Civil War in April/May for sure.

I had several scheduling problems, so the sessions today and yesterday have only two classes in them, which is never ideal. Still we are learning some things:

  • HistoryQuest doesn’t really need the Q&A. The history mysteries aren’t as challenging as finding out a country and a city with MysteryQuest.
  • Running it in 45 minutes seems like it will work great. The true test will be the sessions with four classes on November 23 & 24.
  • Giving dates for a clue is definitely a bad idea. Too easy! It’s like showing the flag or map of the country in MysteryQuest World Geography.
  • Also, mysteries like the Boston Tea Party are too easy because it is something the students should know off the top of their head if they have studied the Revolutionary War. The mystery and clues should be obscure enough that students have to use their knowledge of the Revolutionary War and their research skills to figure it out.

We’ve had time at the end of the sessions for the students to ask each other questions, and the classes have enjoyed that. I put up the timer for a minute to have them brainstorm questions first, and then let them ask questions. This gave the teacher time to get the questions organized and made it a little less like a free for all!

Stay tuned for updates on this project in a couple weeks! Also I have one spot left on Nov. 24 if you want to join us! (FREE)