Mystery Number Skype – Two Calls at Once?

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.

What Was Your Question?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.

Small Group Mystery Number Skype

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.

Mystery Number SkypeKaren 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.

15 thoughts on “Mystery Number Skype – Two Calls at Once?

  1. Hi! I love this idea for developing number sense! I teach first grade and I think my students would really enjoy figuring out the mystery number, especially using Skype! Such a great idea! I also can’t wait to use the term “juicy questions” with my students. I think it will really push their thinking to the next level. I always tell them I’m “lazy” with math and like to find all the shortcuts and ways to “cheat.” For example, when adding I don’t want to count all of the objects, but rather use a strategy like counting on or making groups of 10 so that I can think faster and not have to do so much work. I think the juicy questions will go right along with that… I can eliminate more possibilities and find the mystery number faster! Thanks again for the great activity! I look forward to stealing more of your ideas.

  2. I just came across this blog and am immediately so impressed AND obsessed with it! Question- who do you Skype with? Are you “Skype-ing” class to class? Kid to kid? I am a PBL coach and want to share with my staff. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ashely,
      Our Skype calls are usually with another class or with an “expert” (anyone I can get to share their knowledge or answer questions that my students have). My students are emerging writers, but they can all ask questions and hear the answer this way. We do a lot of Skyping class to class. The two calls at a grade one/two level was unusual for us, but could work because the students were all familiar with the process.
      I think you could consider the calls with our “reading buddies” in Surrey to be kid to kid. /2015/07/08/my-reading-buddy-lives-1000-miles-away/ We have never been at the point where only two students chatted, but that is certainly a possibility. I can see wonderful things happening if there were two students who were passionate about the same topic and wanted to share information with each other. If you do this, please let me know how it works. It has never worked out for my classes, but I would love to see it work for someone.

      1. Thank you Kathy!! I will share with my staff and keep in touch with you about student to student Skype-ing.

  3. Hi Kathy,
    I am a elementary teacher with limited technology in my classroom. I have been enjoying reading some of your ideas on how to use technology when your resources are limited. I really like the idea of skype-ing with another class. I teach third grade, but I have found that many of my students still have a very weak number sense at the beginning of the year. Mystery Number Skype sounds like a fun way to get kids interested in math and use technology at the same time. I do have a laptop and a Smartboard so that is something I could use in my classroom. I think I would also tweak the idea just a little bit since my kids are older and use larger numbers and clues that include multiplication and division. Also, as the year progresses I could see involving fractions into the mystery number as well. Thank you for such a simple and easy way to use technology for teachers who still do not have a lot of access to it in their schools.

  4. Hi Kathy!
    Oh my gosh, I really enjoyed your blog and video on the Mystery Number Skype Activity. I do something similar to your idea but my way is not nearly as clever as yours because it is just me giving clues to my class as they are using their 120’s charts. I like that Skyping with another class there is more active participation by all. I do have a couple questions. When the kids are asking their “juicy” questions (best term ever by the way) how do they know who is first, second, etc? I may have missed that information. Sorry if I did. I am also very interested in what app do your kiddos use on their IPads? My first grade class is getting a half class set (15) tablets sometime real soon and I love this idea. I was wondering if you could suggest app that you think work best with this activity. Thank you, Lorna

    1. The term “juicy question” comes from the fabulous Karen Lirenman. I agree it is a wonderful term.
      How we handle the order of the questions depends on my students and on how often we have done this. When we first do it, I allow students who feel more confident to volunteer. Later, as the students become more comfortable, we take turns. The app we used was 100s Board by Rubber Chicken apps. A paper 1-100 chart could also work.

  5. Hi Cassidy,
    What a wonderful idea! I am a kindergarten teacher and I’ve been slowly integrating technology into my classroom. Not only will this activity help my students work on their number skills, but it will also allow them to practice oral language and conversational skills. My students become entirely engaged when technology is involved. I’ve already spoken to a colleague of mine, and we plan on skyping each other next week to test it out. Thank you for posting a video! Loved seeing it in action, especially when your student defined “juicy question.” Your blog is full of amazing ideas. I will be coming back often. ☺

  6. Hi,

    I am an elementary teacher in California. Our school district has purchased Chromebooks for each student in the district. I’ve been trying to incorporate more technology into my classroom. I absolutely love your ideas about technology, especially using Skype to communicate with other students/ classes. I will definitely be trying this out! I think this is a great way to teach Number Sense to students. It seems like it could also be used in other ways such as Number Talks. Thank you for sharing such a great strategy. I will be using it in my classroom!

  7. This is a great idea! I currently have a second grade class but I am thinking about how this can be adapted for my third grade class next year. I would think it could lead to multiplication. I love how your students explained the Mystery Number Skype Call. It is great to see that your students have built that teamwork mentality and work well as a group. I often find it hard to get my students to really give each other a chance to help out in a group. There are usually the ones who take charge for better or worse. Due to the high engagement and developing skills of your class from this fun learning activity, I may just want to do it for the rest of the year. I also love how the students are really working the technology in the photos and video. With all the technology that is available to us, students need to start learning how to utilize it. I do not think there was anything in this post that I would not want to do in my classroom. This was such a great idea! Thank you!

  8. Hi! Thank you for sharing this idea! I love it! It is such a fantastic way to help students with number sense and integrate technology in the classroom. I can see that the more they engage in this activity the more complex their questions will become. The term “juicy question” is genius. It teaches students to be thoughtful about the questions they are asking. I teach Kindergarten and the other K classes do many of the same things as my class. It would be so fun to call the other K classes at my school! As I was reading your post and watching the video I couldn’t help but think about how this idea could be used in so many different subjects. This idea could be applied to language arts and we could do “Mystery Character Skype”. It could even be applied to History and we could do “Mystery Person Skype” or “Mystery Event Skype”. There are so many different topics that this idea can be applied to. Using it to help students with number sense is awesome! Number sense can be so tricky for these little ones. This idea gives them the opportunity to grow their number sense while having fun. I can’t wait to use this idea in my own classroom and apply it to all different subjects.

  9. I love your idea and am so happy to have found your blog! I am a first grade teacher as well and this year I have many students who are struggling with their number sense. Through your video of your students explaining how to play the game, I started imagining all of the possible questions the students could ask each other. The idea is a great way to bring technology into my classroom. I use technology but I have yet to really let my kids explore with it.
    I can see where you can even differentiate the instruction so kids are working with the numbers that they need the most help with. In my classroom I have some students who do not recognize their numbers to 20 and others can recognize their numbers past 120. Breaking the kids up into different small groups would be beneficial to them. I can’t wait to get to school tomorrow and share this idea with my grade level teammates. We could even have classroom vs classroom Skype games! Oh I am just so excited! Thank you!

  10. I love your post! Thank you for such a great way to integrate deeper level thinking into your math class. I can see doing this with my fifth graders using fractions or decimals or multi-digit numbers. I also love the directions explained by your students. I would definitely use this video as an introduction to Mystery Number and how to ask those “juicy” questions brings in so much language for my EL students. With only having two fifth grade classes, I might look into playing with a fifth grade class from another school in our district. Thank you for the tip on creating two Skype accounts, this is very exciting and I can’t wait to bring it to other teachers!

  11. OMG!!! I love this!!! I love this entire site!!! What a great way to incorporate tech AND make the kids excited!! I bet the kids are 100% engaged and I can’t wait to try this with my little ones. I am on a mission to include more tech into my classroom and my daily lessons. THIS IS SO CREATIVE!!! Skype could take pen pals to a whole new level!!! EEEEEEEKKKK my excitement is growing and my ideas are flowing!!! THANKS SO MUCH!!!

  12. This is such a simple and engaging way to integrate technology into the classroom on a regular basis! I can’t wait to try this with my second grade class. It seems like such an authentic and meaningful way to develop number sense, as well as language and conversational skills. With students being required to explain their thinking in mathematics, this is a wonderful way to get them thinking deeply about how to describe and classify numbers in multiple ways. The idea of teaching the students to ask “juicy questions” is giving them an invaluable skill they can transfer to any subject! This was a great post and a great idea!

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