21st Century Learning

Online Polling Engages Math Students

Justin Yantho knows that the subjects he’s teaching don’t always fully engage his 9th- and 10th-grade students. In fact, there are times when the material he is teaching completely escapes them. “Math in general is always a subject that students struggle with,” said Yantho, a math and computer science teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Oakville, Ontario, “and keeping them focused during a 74-minute classroom period is a continual challenge.”

Always on the prowl for tools that will help him engage his algebra and geometry students and keep them on task, Yantho learned about Top Hat Monocle from an online article about new classroom solutions. Designed for use in the college classroom, the web- and mobile-based response system allows teachers to get real-time feedback on student comprehension without using handheld clickers and bulky software systems.

Yantho was at first skeptical whether Top Hat Monocle would work in his classroom. “It wasn’t free and was definitely geared towards higher ed,” he said. “Even so, I thought it would be worth touching base with the vendor to see if they wanted to test out the product at the high school level.” The answer was “yes,” and Yantho is currently piloting the platform in his math classes at no cost.

Getting Started

To get the polling system set up, Yantho conducted a quick student survey to find out how many of them owned smartphones and how many carried standard mobile phones. To fill in the equipment gaps, Yantho had several classroom laptops and Chromebooks (which were part of another pilot program) for students to use.

To access Top Hat Monocle, students must first use a laptop or desktop computer to register and log in. “Mobile phones aren’t the best for completing registration forms,” said Yantho, who participated in a web conference with the vendor to learn the ins and outs of the system. “They showed me how to ask questions, compare results, and generate reports. It was very helpful.”

Yantho develops the questions in advance, loads them to the web-based system, and then has students log in online and input their responses during class. This means that he can receive and act on feedback in real time. He can also review the answers later and conduct deeper assessments of student input. “If I ask a question I can instantly see what percentage of my students are ‘getting it’ and which are not,” he said. “I can narrow it down to which kids are struggling and address those issues right there in the classroom.” Students are then prompted to revisit the original question and answer it again. “I can see if retention has improved or not,” said Yantho, “and get a good baseline and comparison on the before-and-after.”

Heading to the Polls

From his vantage point at the head of the class, Yantho can either show the polling questions on his whiteboard or activate the questions in the online application. If, for example, he has preloaded the system with five questions for a specific class, he can walk the entire class through each one—keeping only the “active” question visible on his whiteboard—and discuss the queries before having students log into the online polling system with their mobile phones and laptops.

Students submit their responses to Yantho, who then tallies and tracks responses. Students can also use the system to respond directly to other students in a threadlike manner. According to Yantho, this method of teaching has allowed him to break through the traditional nods and shrugs elicited by questions like, “Does everyone understand what they just learned?” He said, “Now I have actual data at my fingertips and I can act on it immediately. This has really helped me reach the math students who don’t want to admit that they’re struggling.”

The polling system also allows Yantho to “bank” questions and then use them for future classes. “That saves me a lot of time,” he said. “When I’m teaching 11th grade math I can go back to my 10th grade queue and pull questions from that bank as well.”

Yantho is gradually increasing his use of the polling system in class, and said that the application also stokes collaboration in the classroom—even when students don’t all have their own devices. “Students can partner up, confirm their answers together, and officially submit them,” said Yantho, noting that the actual act of submitting a reply has made his student more conscientious. “I get more active participation than I ever did in the past. That’s pretty powerful—even in a group setting.”

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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