MACUL Newsletter Article
Out on a Lim with Technology
By Janine Lim

MysteryQuest videoconference exercises give middle school students a reason to research

Guess this country! It is located in the Western Hemisphere, east of the Pacific Ocean, northwest of the Caribbean Sea, and west of the Gulf of Mexico. The area of the country is 756,066 square miles. Any guesses yet?

Here are a few more clues. The lower mountains extend northwest from each end of the volcanic chain forming a great U-shape. In urban areas, people wear clothing similar to what we wear in the U.S. The women may wear fringed shawls to cover their heads called rebozo. The men may wear leather sandals called huaraches. The country has 31 states, and is slightly less than three times the size of Texas. Do you know yet?1

These clues are part of the presentation of middle school students from Godwin Heights, Grand Rapids, who participated in the November MysteryQuest: Western Hemisphere videoconference.

In November 2002, the Berrien County Intermediate School District coordinated this videoconference project, which targets middle school students studying world geography. Through videoconference technology students are able to meet other students while learning about cities and countries in the world.

Prior to the videoconference each classroom created a presentation with clues about their mystery country and city. The other classrooms, using maps, the Internet, textbooks, and other resources, attempted to discover the mystery location presented by each participating classrooms. Eight days of sessions were scheduled, with four-to-six classrooms participating each day.

Forty classrooms, or about 1200 students, from Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin participated in the project.

After signing up for the project, teachers and students chose the country to present and began to research. Each classroom prepared a five-to-seven minute presentation. The presentation had to include a certain number of required clues. Creativity and extra information were allowed in preparing the presentation.

Teachers found that the research required matched their curriculum. One teacher said, “The required clues and questions were right in line with the objectives and fit into our curriculum well.” The required clues follow:

• Five Themes of Geography
(Answer four questions in this category.)
1. Describe how land and sea areas define the country's borders.
2. What is the latitude of the northern boundary of the country?
3. What is the area of the country?
4. What body of water is closest to the country?
5. What is the major ecosystem(s) in this country?
6. Describe the climate of the country.

• People/Culture
(Answer two questions in this category.)
1. What is the primary language of the country?
2. Describe or illustrate the dress of the people in the country.
3. What is the population of the country?
4. What is the country's major religion?
5. What are some of the ways people work in the country?

• Political
(Answer two questions in this category.)
1. Show the flag of the country and explain its origin.
2. What kind of government does the country have?
3. Are there any transnational issues for this country, i.e. border disputes, etc.? (See CIA WorldFactBook).

• Economic
(Answer two questions in this category.)
1. What are the major economic activities in the country?
2. What is the literacy rate for the country?
3. What is the GDP for the country?
4. What are the main industries in the country?

• City Clues
(Answer five questions in this category.)
1. Which direction from the country capitol do you drive to reach the town or city?
2. What body of water is nearest to your city or town?
3. What is the weather like in your city/town?
4. What is the population of your city?
5. What is the major industry/employer of your town or city?
6. Name one tourist attraction in your city or town.
7. What is the best method of transportation to reach this city or town?

Students used research skills in various ways throughout this project. As one participating teacher said, “This was a good way for students to use their research skills. It was also a good cooperative learning project.”
As students prepared their presentation, they had to choose which clues and information to share in the presentation, which defined their research task. They determined which information sources would be appropriate. Most schools used both print and technology resources for preparing the presentations, and for researching the other presentations during the connection.
A teacher from Chesaning, Michigan, shared, “We not only used the links to prepare our information but we used the links to investigate other countries so they would have prior knowledge of the area before we linked up with the other schools.” The following suggested Websites were provided on the MysteryQuest Website at
• CIA World Factbook
• Country Reports.org
• Electronic Embassies
• Ethnologue
• Flags of the World
• Lonely Planet Destinations
• National Geographic Atlas
• Population Reference Bureau
• The Weather Channel
• World Time Zones
• Yahooligans: Around the World

Preparing Presentations
After researching and collecting information, students prepared their presentations. Many classrooms assigned the sections of required clues among small groups in the class. Presentations were shared in a variety of ways: with notecards, via PowerPoint, with slides on the document camera, with iMovie or videotaped presentation, or in skit format.2
Students then practiced their presentation skills: speaking loudly and clearly so the microphones would pick up their voices, and speaking slowly and clearly enough so that the other participating classrooms could record the clues.
In preparation for the event, teachers divided their students into five teams. Each team was responsible for discovering one mystery location presented by the other classrooms. The students had 35-40 minutes after the completion of all presentations to match the classrooms with their corresponding mystery locations, using books, atlases, globes, the Internet, etc. A note-taking form was provided to the teachers to copy for the students to use during the presentations.
Some schools arranged for the use of a few computers in their distance learning room, or the use of a computer lab down the hall. Teachers and students found that having multiple sources of information was helpful to the research process during the event, especially if there were technical difficulties. Print materials used for the project included:
• wall maps
• encyclopedias (World Book Encyclopedia, Worldmark Encyclopedia (set) of Lands and People and the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations)
• atlases, world atlas, road atlas for Canada and Mexico,
• globes
• textbooks (such as Prentice Hall, 2002 Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere)
• almanacs
• other various library reference books.
On the day of the event, I facilitated each connection to help the process move along smoothly and efficiently. We followed this agenda for the two and one half-hour connection:
• Introductions and instructions. Each team introduced themselves and shared information about their location and an interesting fact or two about their school.
• Then each classroom shared its five-seven minute presentation. If there was time, we checked with each site to make sure they heard all the clues clearly. During this time, students at each site carefully took notes on the presentations, writing down the clues to use later in their research.
• After all presentations were completed, students began The Quest. This portion was about 35-40 minutes depending on the number of participating classrooms. A countdown was posted on the screen. “My kids loved the idea they were competing against the clock ticking away on the screen. The pressure was fun for them,” shared a teacher from Chesaning.
• Next, each school had an opportunity to ask one “yes or no” question of each group. The questions were used to clarify clues or check for correct answers. Students asked questions such as: Does your city start with an A? Is the name of your city also the name of a dog? Is _____ the northern most point of your country?
• After hearing the answers to their questions, classrooms had 10 minutes to re-evaluate their answers.
• Then each classroom shared their guesses.
• Finally the correct mystery locations were revealed and students celebrated their success.

Project Evaluation
In the evaluation of the project, we received many positive comments such as the sampling below.
• I would absolutely recommend this project. It was great and the students really enjoyed it.
• I would definitely recommend this project to another teacher. I would like to do it every year.
• Everything was very clearly laid out. I felt comfortable prepping my students. It was nice to be able to e-mail if there were any questions.
• I was worried that 40 minutes would be too long for my students to research, but it turned out to be perfect.
• I was happy to know we could add more to the presentations after we answered the required questions.
• My students were very excited to do this and I think they will remember it for a long time. Thank you!
• Now that I know about this I can start planning and thinking for next year.
• I think this was the best “field trip” this district has taken. Lots of participation, fun format, not just staring at the screen.
• Projects such as this one, with students interacting across the state in such a meaningful, high tech manner, could possibly make me delay my retirement five years.
It was clear to everyone involved that this unique project simultaneously addressed many essential academic and social skills. Students focused on social studies curriculum, learning about geography, the economics of the countries, and used their inquiry skills.
In addition, during the project, students used language arts skills such as reading, writing, note taking, listening, and speaking. They used technology skills in their research before and during the connection, and in using the videoconference system to talk to other students around the country. Finally, students used teamwork skills in preparing their presentation and researching the countries and clues shared by the other classrooms.
The Berrien County ISD will be coordinating this project again in November 2003. If you are interested in participating, visit the Website at in late September or early October to register.
You should also join the TWICE (Two Way Interactive Connections in Education) listserv as the project registration will be announced there. Visit for details and instructions. We hope to connect to you next year!

1. The presentation was on Mexico.
2. For more information on research skills, visit, Big6 Skills in School, Life and Work Contexts.

Janine Lim, Berrien County ISD Instructional Technology Consultant and MACUL Board member, coordinates distance learning for Berrien and Cass counties and trains teachers on effective technology integration.