MysteryQuest USA: Wikispaces Archive

Since Wikispaces is closing down, I’m moving my collaborative videoconference projects over to my blog for archiving. Great project formats can still be used and adapted!

A 4th or 5th Grade US Geography Videoconference Project

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.


Note Taking FormMQUSANotesForm

2 hour Videoconference Agenda

  • 5 min. Introductions and Videoconference Directions (Janine Lim will moderate) (NO SCHOOL INTRODUCTIONS as some people are presenting their actual location).
  • 55 min. Classroom Presentations (5-7 min. each for 6 presentations)
  • 30 min. The Quest: Locating Sites (Classrooms divide into 5 teams to pin-point the mystery locations presented by the other 5 classrooms. During this time each team will come up with one yes/no question to ask each of the other classrooms.)
  • 10 min. Question and Answers: Be prepared and efficient! This section will be tightly moderated. (Classroom 1 answers all questions. Classroom 2 answers all questions, etc. )
  • 10 min. Classroom teams ‘reevaluate’ their answers.
  • 5 min. Each classroom presents their guesses to the clues.
  • 5 min. Correct mystery locations revealed by each classroom.
  • Congratulations and sign-off.

Credit: This project is modeled after the Where in the USA project by Learning Space (1996-2004).

Contact and Credits

Note: November 2012, Roxanne welcomes you to use these materials to facilitate your own Mystery Quests. Whirlidurb is currently not running any MysteryQuest USA connections. Be sure to credit the original work of Janine Lim in any adaptations.

Note: as of May 2011, Janine Lim and Berrien RESA have bequeathed this project to Whirlidurb. Roxanne Glaser is an incredible facilitator and has contributed to the quality of materials and facilitation materials for MysteryQuest since 2007.

MysteryQuest USA Project Developer
Janine Lim, Berrien RESA Instructional Technology Consultant, 1997-2011

Credit: This project is modeled after the Where in the USA project by Learning Space (1996-2004).


MysteryQuest USA Video

Sample Visuals
Visual clues can really make a difference in note taking if we have audio problems. Often students read clues too fast and quiet for other students to write them down. So the best solution is to include visual clues to accompany your presentation. This is HIGHLY recommended.

• Posters are the easiest way to share a visual clue but can also be the most difficult to show effectively in a videoconference. In presentations where the other class is taking notes, clear posters are crucial. Even in presentations where the partner class is listening, it is still very frustrating when posters aren’t clear. Placing a poster on an easel keeps the poster still and is therefore easier for the other class to see it. Make sure the font is large and easy to read.
• Your poster should only include information that is needed to answer the MysteryQuest questions. All extra information should be presented separately.
• Bottom Line: Large text, strong contrast with no light colors for lettering, and very large pictures or drawings. Huge thick lines for drawing and writing are best. Test your poster by holding it up; across the room to see if you can still read it. Have students read their part off of the back of the poster instead of the front. This makes it easier to hold the poster still (if not using and easel.)

Use the VC Poster Handout to give to your student groups to assist in making their posters.

Document Camera
Many videoconference systems include a document camera. You can put 8 1/2 by 11 pages (landscape) on the document camera to share clues. Ask your distance learning or technology coordinator if you have access to a document camera. You may want to consider setting presets so that you can switch between the students and the document camera.

With the document camera, it comes through best if you stack the clues and then pull the top one off. This reduces the blurry transition time.

If you’re really up for using technology, ask your distance learning or technology coordinator if you can hook up a computer to your videoconference equipment. Make sure you use large letters. Avoid red. Dark backgrounds with contrasting light text works best. If possible, test the PowerPoint ahead of time to make sure it can be read.
You may want to consider some plan so that we can see the students, then the PowerPoint, then the students again. Or show the PP as a review at the end of your presentation if there is time in your allotted 5-7 minutes.

Background Sets
Some classes like to design elaborate sets for their presentations, which are very visually appealing. Here are some examples:

News shows are always fun, especially when complemented by visuals to review the clues. This class, from Western Hills, El Paso, did a news show. In this shot, the announcer is in a helicopter!!! How cool is that?!

This is an example from New York State of a background that gives clues at the same time as providing a set for a new show.

Other Creative Clues

Clues from Hunter Elementary, Fairbanks, Alaska in 2007.

Climate clue for Alaska: Land + midnight + sun. Get it?

Alaska’s time zone clue: EST -4; CST – 3, etc.

Math and Geography Clues from St. Thomas Aquinas School in Wisconsin in 2007.

Deal or No Deal Game Show by Sylvester Elementary, Berrien Springs, MI, in 2007

Rhyming Clues
Pennfield Central Elementary, Pennfield, MI, integrated their poetry unit into their MysteryQuest USA presentation. Here’s a sample of their rhymes:

  • All of our clues are going to rhyme
  • And we’re all going to have a great, great time.


  • Goods are not just imported by train,
  • They are also imported by semi and plane.


  • The population is more than eleven.
  • But a whole lot less than one thousand seven.

Organizing Your Research Time
These pictures are from Pine River Elementary. They give a great flavor of what the research portion is like in the classroom. I especially like the picture of this strategy of having a wall or whiteboard or place to write the guesses for all the schools. It gives a focal point to the research. See how the students are working there:

[Wikispaces conversion note: Images were removed from the Pine River website and are no longer available.]

Revealing Your Answer
A visual aid for revealing your answer is also a nice touch, especially if your city has a long and complicated spelling. A visual with a map is great too!


Should we prepare an introduction about our school?
NO! Some schools are presenting their actual location. However, when you reveal your answer, if you want to prepare a couple sentences about your community, you can share that at the end of the videoconference.

How To

Creating Posters for Videoconferencing

This VC Poster Handout for students gives simple tips for clear presentations via posters.

PowerPoint Tips

  • Use a large font.
  • Don’t put too much text on the page.
  • Don’t use red for background or text.
  • Have a good contrast between text and background.
  • Blue backgrounds with white or yellow text work best.

Involve All Your Students
During a videoconference, it’s wise to include as many students as possible. Here is a suggested list of jobs to assign students.

  1. Art crew-design backdrop and paint.
  2. Directors-(usually one girl and one boy).
  3. Stage hands-move props.
  4. Lighting and sound crew-turn on and off lights/adjust microphone.
  5. Narrators-(usually good readers and who are not shy to speak in front of the camera).
  6. Actors
  7. Costume and make-up-help put together costumes and help with make-up.
  8. Writers-help write and edit script-help with timing and what scenes can be deleted or added.
  9. Cue card holders-hold up cards with lines on them for anyone who might get stuck-hold up scene or act cards during a transition.
  10. Question and Answer team-These will be the ones who answer and ask questions to the other class at the end of the conference.
  11. Judges-These students watch the performance by both schools and write down any changes that might improve the conference for the next time-we must always learn from our mistakes.
  12. Take Down crew-cleans up after conference.

This list was presented by Kim Pearce, Gatesville Intermediate School, Language Arts 6th grade teacher, at the 123 Jazzing Up Your Curriculum Workshop Summer 2006. Used by permission.


Preparation Information

Preparing Your Classroom Presentation:

  1. Choose ONE STATE to present. Five or six states total will be presented. Email your state right away to Janine Lim so she can check for duplicates. First come first serve. If you want to present your own state, be sure to submit ASAP!
  2. In the presentation, give the required clues in your presentation.
  3. Prepare a visual to reveal the answer to your presentation (city & country).
  4. Make sure all students have paper to take notes on all the presentations. This way if one team figures out a mystery quickly they can help another team.

Tips for shorter preparation time:

  • Have all your sections do the same city/state
  • Use the same visuals (posters/PowerPoint) for all your sections

Fast Transitions

  • Know the schedule and have your students up at the mic ready to go.
  • When you’re about to present, have some kids taking notes and the others getting ready to go.

Helpful Resources from Other Projects

Required Clues

If you prefer, you may add additional information to your presentation. Be sure to keep the presentation to 7 minutes or less.

Developing Your Clues:
When developing your clues try to make sure each one is challenging. The other classes should not be able to determine your city and state just from hearing one or two clues and not doing any research. For example, if you were presenting a clue for Orlando, Florida you would never want to come out and say you can visit Disney World. Also, you would not want to give a clue that the other classes can Google and find in the first few search result descriptions.

State Clues
Answer at least one question from this category.
1. How are goods imported to and exported from the state?
2. How do average people travel within the state?

Answer at least one question from this category.
1. Give a clue about the highest or lowest point in your state.
2. What bodies of water or landforms are near the political borders of the state?

Human-Environment Interaction
Answer at least one question from this category.
1. What are the major economic activities in the state?
2. In what ways have people modified the environment of this state?
3. In what ways have people adapted to the environment of the state?
4. During the months of December through February, what recreational activities does your state enjoy?

Answer at least one question from this category.
1. Give a relative location clue for your state.
2. In what time zone is your state located?

Answer at least one questions from this category.
1. What is the area of the state?
2. Describe the climate of the state.
3. What is the major ecosystem(s) in this state?

Answer at least four questions from this category.
1. Describe the state’s involvement in a major conflict.
2. When was the state established?
3. What European(s) first explored your state?
4. Give a clue about one Native American culture that is historically from your area.
5. What is a major contribution of the state to the world?
6. What is a point of pride for your state?
7. What countries have claimed your state land in the past?

Answer one of the questions from this category.
1. Who are your state U.S. Senators?
2. How many U.S. Representatives is your state entitled to? (Don’t name all of them. Usually too many!)

City Clues

Give at least 7 city clues in your presentation. You are required to give one clue from each section.

Movement (one required)
1. What is the best method of transportation to reach this city or town?
2. How are goods and services transported to and from your city?

Region (one required)
1. Name one or more bodies of water or landforms are near the political border of this city.

Human-Environment Interaction (one required)
1. What is the major industry/employer of your town or city?
2. In what ways have people modified the environment of this city?
3. In what ways have people adapted to the environment of this city?

Location (one required)
1. Which direction from the state capitol do you travel to reach the town or city?
(Note: DO NOT PRESENT THE CAPITOL because it is too easy or gives it away if you don’t answer this question. If you live in your state’s capitol, present one of the suburbs to make it more challenging. If you do this, give a clue saying that the large city is NOT the correct answer and to look further for the specific suburb.)

Place (one required)
1. Give a clue about a tourist attraction or landmark in your city or town. Illustrate if possible.
2. What is the population of your city? (You can give a range if you wish.)
3. Give a clue about the nearest state park.


Note: I am not maintaining these links. They are here for reference and history only.

Presentation Preparation Links

Research Web Links


Michigan Curriculum Framework
Note: Each of the benchmarks listed below are for the later elementary level.
Social Studies
Strand I. Historical Perspective3. Place major events in the early history of the United States in chronological order.
Strand II: Geographic Perspective
Content Standard 1: All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of places, cultures, and settlements. (People, Places and Cultures)
3. Locate and describe the major places, cultures, and communities of the nation and compare their characteristics.

Content Standard 2: All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of ecosystems, resources, human adaptation, environmental impact, and the interrelationships among them. (Human/Environment Interaction)
3. Describe the major physical patterns, ecosystems, resources, and land uses of the state, region, and country
and explain the processes that created them.
4. Explain how various people and cultures have adapted to and modified the environment.

Content Standard 3: All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of economic activities, trade, political activities, migration, information flow, and the interrelationships among them. (Location, Movement and Connections)
1. Describe major kinds of economic activity and explain the factors influencing their location.
2. Describe the causes, consequences, routes and movement of major migration to the United States.
3. Explain how transportation and communication link people and communities.
4. Describe some of the major movements of goods, people, jobs and information within Michigan and the
United States and explain the reasons for the movements.

Content Standard 4: All students will describe and compare characteristics of ecosystems, states, regions, countries, major world regions, and patterns and explain the processes that created them. (Regions, Patterns and Processes)
1. Draw sketch maps of the community, region, and nation.
2. Describe places, cultures, and communities in the United States and compare them with those in other regions and
6. Describe the geography of major United States regions, compare the regions, and explain the processes that created them.

Strand IV: Economic Perspective
Content Standard 2: All students will explain and demonstrate how businesses confront scarcity and choice when organizing, producing, and using resources, and when supplying the marketplace. (Business Choices)
3. Examine the historical and contemporary role a major industry has played in the state of Michigan and the United States.

Content Standard 5: All students will describe how trade generates economic development and interdependence and analyze the resulting challenges and benefits for individuals, producers, and government. (Trade)
3. Describe how businesses are involved in trade as producers, distributors, importers, and exporters.

Strand V: Inquiry
Content Standard 1: All students will acquire information from books, maps, newspapers, data sets and other sources, organize and present the information in maps, graphs, charts and timelines, interpret the meaning and significance of information, and use a variety of electronic technologies to assist in accessing and managing information. (Information Processing)
1. Locate information about local, state and national communities using a variety of traditional sources, electronic
technologies, and direct observations.
2. Organize social science information to make maps, graphs and tables.
3. Interpret social science information about local, state, and national communities from maps, graphs, and charts.

Content Standard 2: All students will conduct investigations by formulating a clear statement of a question, gathering and organizing information from a variety of sources, analyzing and interpreting information, formulating and testing hypotheses, reporting results both orally and in writing, and making use of appropriate technology. (Conducting Investigations)
1. Pose a social science question about Michigan or the United States.
2. Gather and analyze information using appropriate information technologies to answer the question posed.
3. Construct an answer to the question posed and support their answer with evidence.

Language Arts
Content Standard 3: All students will focus on meaning and communication as they listen, speak, view, read, and write in personal, social, occupational, and civic contexts.
1. Integrate listening, speaking, viewing, reading, and writing skills for multiple purposes and in varied contexts. An example is using all the language arts to prepare and present a unit project on a selected state or country.
3. Read and write fluently, speak confidently, listen and interact appropriately, view knowledgeably, and represent creatively.

Content Standard 11: All students will define and investigate important issues and problems using a variety of resources, including technology, to explore and create texts.
2. Identify and use the kinds of resources that are most useful and most readily available for the particular questions or topics they wish to investigate. Examples include knowledgeable people, field trips, tables of contents, indexes, glossaries, icons/ headings, hypertext, storage addresses, CDROM/ laser disks, electronic mail, and library catalogue databases.
3. Organize and analyze information to draw conclusions and implications based on their investigation of an issue or problem.
4. Using multiple media, develop and present a short presentation to communicate conclusions based on the investigation of an issue or problem. Examples include charts, posters, transparencies, audio tapes, videos, and diagrams.

Content Standard 2: All students will use technologies to input, retrieve, organize, manipulate, evaluate, and communicate information.
1. Interpret, analyze and evaluate information with the assistance of technology (voice, data, video, graphics, etc).
2. Use search strategies to locate and retrieve information electronically.
3. Retrieve and communicate information using a technological system (voice, data, video, graphics, etc).
4. Evaluate information received through technologies.

Content Standard 3: All students will apply appropriate technologies to critical thinking, creative expression, and decision making skills.
4. Use technologies to organize thoughts in a logical process (voice, data, video, graphics, etc).

Facilitator Page

Confirmation Letter

Subject: [event name] Confirmation:


This confirmation is for the following session:

Please read below for technical and teacher information.
Technical Contacts (#EQUIPMENTCONTACT##):
According to our records, you will be participating with this equipment:

If this is incorrect, please let me know.

Test Call
The test call window for MysteryQuest USA is: [DATE & TIME]
Your dial in number for the event and test call is: . (If you have Tandberg equipment, you can either dial just the IP address and I’ll connect you to the conference; or I can dial out to you. We can negotiate this during the test call.)
If you have problems during the connection or test call, please call me at

Assist Your Teacher
If possible, please help your teacher understand the distance learning room setup and the options available for presentation (document camera, computer hook up, mic locations, etc.). Find out if they need/want computer access during the research portion of the event. Note that it is highly unlikely that People Plus Content / H.239 / DuoVideo will work for this conference.

Connection Day
The connection will be open for you to dial in 30 minutes before the start of the program. Please dial in as soon as possible. We aim to have
every site connected by 10 minutes before the start of the program.

Teacher Information (##PARTICIPANTNAME##):
CRITICAL: If you haven’t already done so, please email me with the state your class will present. First come, first serve, so if you want to present your own state, tell me ASAP!

One way to do this is to have students vote for top choices and submit the top three to me without telling the students the top votes. Then after checking with me, give them the selected state.

Detailed information about this project can be found at:
Note especially the Required Clues your students should answer in their presentation as well as the How To guides for preparing visuals and the Examples page.

Video Taped Presentations
Please do NOT prepare a taped presentation. Taped presentations are very difficult to understand when sent over compressed video. Please present LIVE!

Video Releases
The event may be recorded by Berrien RESA for improvement of the project, as well as illustrations to post on the web for next year’s project. In addition, many schools tape the program they participate in. Because of this, please make sure the students who appear on camera have permission from their parents/guardian. (Some schools have a video/photograph release form built into their registration process. Here’s a Word file sample you can use.
Please leave the credit at the bottom of the form.)

If you have any questions, you may call me at or email me. Thank you.

Instructional Technology Consultant
Berrien RESA

MysteryQuest Presentation and Test Call Reminders

MysteryQuest USA Teachers and Contacts:
A few reminders and items I want to emphasize as you’re preparing your presentations!

Test Calls
The test call windows are this week: [date & times here]
The IP is . If you can’t do the extension, try just the IP.
I’ll be taking only 3 sites at a time for testing, so if you get a busy signal, try again in a few minutes.
IMPORTANT: If you plan to present with the computer, please be ready to test the computer connection.
If you have trouble during the test or the program, call

If you haven’t yet sent me the state you are presenting, please do so as soon as possible. And yes, the city should be in the state! One way to choose is to have students vote for top choices & submit the top three to me without telling the students the top votes. Then after checking with me, give them the selected state. We do this to make sure there are no duplicate presentations.

Selecting Your City
1. The city should NOT be the capital city, as one of the required clues is to indicate the direction from the capital of the state to the mystery city. If you think of the state when you name the city, your city is too easy.

2. Please make sure your city and clues are challenging. Most classes now have access to Google during the research portion which makes it too easy to find the answers. Make sure that you can’t just type a clue in Google and get the answer. Plan clues that will make the other classes use maps and some sleuthing to figure out the city. Some classes get really creative in writing clues that have to be solved before you can find the answer.More clue examples are on the Examples page:

Clearly Present Clues
Remember that the goal of your presentation is to clearly communicate the clues to the other classes, not to confuse them so they can’t guess. Here are some ways we highly recommend:

*Avoid taped presentations, as the quality of the tape gets degraded when sent over videoconferencing. Plus students will be better prepared to answer questions if their presentation is fresh in their mind.

*Prepare visuals to reinforce proper names and figures that are important to locating your city & state. Visuals for clues can be a “life saver” if we have technical difficulties or audio problems. Use this worksheet to assist your students in making clear posters or PPT slides:

*If you are presenting the clues out of order, be sure to identify the sections the clues are coming from so that note takers can easily write down the information in the right place. Keep the country & city clues together as those are two different side of the note taking sheet.

*Have students practice speaking slowly, loudly, and clearly! Practice those communication skills!

*Have students read clues off notecards instead of paper so that we don’t have the noise of paper rustling.

Double Check your Clues
Check to make sure you are presenting all the required clues and the correct number from each section:

Double check your visuals and make sure what the other class should write down is the LARGEST.

Revealing the Answer
If possible, prepare a visual for revealing the city & state you presented as well as your actual location if you aren’t presenting your own town. This will make it easier to understand unfamiliar names of cities and students
will know easily whether or not they were correct.

We don’t have a video yet of MysteryQuest USA (will make it this year with your work!).
But you may want to watch the MysteryQuest World video and even show it to your
students so they know how the program will go.

I know it can be crazy getting prepared and ready for this event, but relax! Enjoy the process. It should be fun for everyone involved and a great learning experience too!

As always, you can email me or call if you have any questions or want to discuss your presentation or the event.


MysteryQuest Countdown (sent Friday before event)

Subject: MysteryQuest USA [date & time]
Greetings MysteryQuest USA Teachers & Contacts!

Just a few more days til our MysteryQuest USA event! In anticipation of that, here are a few notes for:
[date]: [start & end time in all represented time zones]

Number of Groups
We have [xxx] classes participating, so you should divide your
students into [xxx] groups for researching the other presentations.

Please connect at least 15 minutes early so we can start on time.
IP:  or dial the IP; or I’m calling you if arranged.
If you have trouble, call me at

Order of Presentations
Classes are assigned a number by when they sign up. The assigned
order is:
Classroom 1 Teacher:
Classroom 2 Teacher:
Classroom 3 Teacher:
Classroom 4 Teacher:
Classroom 5 Teacher:
Classroom 6 Teacher:

Things to Bring
*All materials needed for your presentation.
*Research notes from the presentation in case another school has specific questions about your state or city.
*Any print materials for students to use in their research (books, maps, globes, etc.).
*If desired, arrange for the use of computers/Internet connection during the 30 min. research portion of the event.
*Copies of the note taking form (or blank sheets if you prefer)

Note Taking
Make enough copies of the note taking form so that all kids take notes on all presentations. This will help keep them involved, give them practice taking notes, and groups could help each other during in the research process if needed.

If you are using computers for this event, please do the following:
1. Do not allow students to use them during the note-taking. They should be practicing taking notes and being a good listening audience. Remember it’s possible you are the school the presenting school is looking at when they present. So be an attentive audience!

2. During the research portion, only use computers as a last resort. This event is about map skills, group skills, research skills. Some clues could give the answer quickly in Google and we’d rather have students really work to use maps etc. to discover the answer.

I’m excited about this wonderful learning opportunity for our students and look forward to a great event!


Post Project / Evaluation Reminder


Thank you for participating in the MysteryQuest USA videoconference.

Please take a moment to fill out this evaluation form so we can continue to improve the program:

Thank you! Hope you can participate again next year!

Janine Lim

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