Tune-in to Your Students with Classroom Clickers

Grade 4 student casts vote using student response clicker.  “I wish my teacher knew that I don’t really understand what they are trying to teach me today.”  How many of our students think these thoughts each day?  Well, some very smart people in the physics department at M.I.T. decided the large lecture hall approach just wasn’t working for their university students.  An article written by New York Times columnist, Sara Rimer, described the transformation in, At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard.  The new interactive, high-tech, collaborative classrooms have resulted in higher attendance rates and significantly reduced failure rates.

One key to creating a truly student-centered learning environment is to ensure that every student is heard.  In traditional classrooms, teachers never have the time to call on every student, leading to disengaged learners or dare I say, bored.  The student response system solves this problem by creating a classroom in which every student responds using a hand-held remote.  At the Ferryway School, where I work as a technology specialist, I’ve been helping elementary teachers make their instruction interactive with the Qwizdom student response system.

Third graders enthusiastically vote, Yes, on using Qwizdom to learn vocabulary.

Think about how many PowerPoint presentations you have sat through where you wished that the presenter would tune into the audience.   Now consider a third grader stuggling with new vocabulary words.  We’ve been able to transform vocabulary instruction using a response system — here’s how.  Students view a presentation projected on the white board at the front of the classroom controlled using a special teacher remote.  The lesson begins by showing students a list of the unit vocabulary words.  The teacher uses her remote to randomly select students to read the vocabulary words aloud, their names flash on the screen.  A nifty feature for keeping students on their toes.  Hey, better pay attention, you could be next!  We then provide a subset of 4-5 vocabulary words asking students which word they can easily use in a sentance.  Students write descriptive sentances on paper and then send their chosen word to the computer.  The teacher displays the classes’ responses in the form of a bar graph.  This technique gives teachers immediate feedback on which words students don’t feel comfortable using in a sentance.  Teachers use this real-time assessment to immediately adjust their instruction.  Next, traditional worksheet exercises such as select the best definition or identify the parts of speech, i.e. noun, verb, and adjective are converted into multiple choice questions.  Send responses, share, and discuss results.

Using images to reinforce vocabulary comprehension.

To differientiate instruction, pictures are displayed and students asked to select the best word(s) to describe what they see in the image.  In one lesson, students viewed an ape hoarding food in his zoo enclosure.  [Picture credit: Patries71, Flickr, Creative Commons license] Which word would you choose?  A) care  B) attention C) probe D) enrich E) saving.  As you can see in the picture, student responses were well distributed as represented by the bar graph on the right-hand side.   Students then justify their word selections in writing and share their reasoning with classmates.  This approach enables students to master unfamilar vocabulary words through writing, reading, discussion, and visual analysis.  A detailed answer report on student performance generated after each lesson is used by teachers for grading purposes.

The excitement students feel about being heard is confirmed as I walk the hallways,  Mr. Simpson when are we doing the next Qwizdom lesson?

Instructional Changes with a Student Response System

Return the lost vertebrates with a SRSThink of how many times you have given PowerPoint presentations and had to stop to ask the audience if they understood what you were presenting.  Maybe you just trudged through the presentation just to finish in time to beat the clock.  What if you could capture the audiences thoughts and understanding?  Would it change the way you present?  Would your students connect with your content?

Student Response Systems (SRS) have made a major push into the educational world in the last year.  Last year at NECC 2007, I had the opportunity to test drive a few of these systems on the exhibit floor.   A SRS consists of a set of remotes that wirelessly communicate with a receiver attached to a computer and projector.    Coincendentally, I was involved in writing a Technology Enhancement grant proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Education focused on 1-to-1 laptop computing.  One grant outcome was to evaluate changes in student use of classroom technology and whether it would aid in the acquistion of content knowledge.  We decided that a SRS would be a useful tool for assessment.   We chose the Qwizdom system with Q4 student remotes and the Q5 teacher remote.  The system uses Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit meaning that you don’t have to be in the line-of-sight of the receiver.

Poster Q&A sharing student resultsTeachers participating in our Laptops in American History grant experimented with the Qwizdom SRS in a high school history classroom.   In preparing the PowerPoint presentations, teachers had to consider the effect of asking questions that probe student background knowledge to ones illiciting student opinions about an image.  The analysis of political cartoons and posters from the World War II era became a highly interactive and assessment rich lesson due to the SRS.  Every student’s response was recorded and displayed with summary graphs on the computer projector.  One especially powerful teacher outcome was the ability to assess student understanding of isolationism versus interventionism during the lesson.   The teacher was surprised that students had not mastered the distinction between the two concepts and choose to review the concepts at the start of the next day’s lesson.

What biome do I live in? Poison Dart frogAnother group of elementary teachers used the SRS to teach a new grade 4 science unit on biomes.  Students enthusiatically embraced the SRS and teachers were excited by the increase in student engagement.  In order to drive home the student inquiry nature of the biome unit, it was critical to capture student misconceptions about the world’s land biomes such as where they are located and their climatography.  The SRS enabled teachers to visualize these misconceptions and encouraged students to discuss their written observations.  Students also learned to use observational skills to predict which biome an unknown animal belonged to based on the their physical appearance.  Which biome do you think the red frog to right calls home?  If you said, Rainforest, you are as smart as a fourth grader.  Teachers were so impressed with the ability of the SRS to support student-centered instruction that they applied for a Qwizdom Educational Grant.  Good Luck!