T.H.E. Journal Focus

May 12, 2011

Response Devices Click with Students

“Hey, we haven’t had a clicker question in a while!”

This is a comment Misa Contreras-Williams tends to hear when she doesn’t use the classroom’s handheld response systems often enough with her students.

To say that her students’ are enthusiastic about the devices is an understatement. Contreras-Williams teaches math at the Denver Center for International Studies, a magnet school for 6-12 grades that is part of the Denver public school system. She began using an interactive whiteboard three years ago, followed by the student response devices, and then a slate tablet that allows her to write and diagram equations on the whiteboard from anywhere in the classroom.

While keeping students active and engaged is a tough challenge for any teacher, devices like whiteboards, tablets, and clickers can help. New research bears that out. A two-year study of Promethean’s ActivClassrooms by Marzano Research Laboratory showed a 16 percentile point increase in student achievement when teachers used interactive instructional tools. Conducted by Dr. Robert Marzano and launched in 2008, the multi-year research project included nearly 5,000 students and 120 teachers from a range of schools in rural, urban and suburban districts. The study examined the performance of two student groups who were taught using the same lesson—one equipped with the Promethean’s ActivClassroom, a complete suite of interactive tools and resources designed specifically for learning, and one without. Results over the two-year project were consistent: Student achievement was higher when lessons were delivered using Promethean’s interactive technologies.

Each student in Contreras-Williams’ classes picks up a response device at the beginning of class. Called ActivExpression, the devices resemble colorful, slightly oversized mobile phones. Made by Promethean, a provider of interactive learning technology, they work with Promethean’s ActiveClassroom suite of products, including whiteboards, wands, slates, and clickers.

Over time, Contreras-Williams has developed her lesson plans to consistently include questions that require the use the popular ActivExpression devices. When she doesn’t, she hears about it, as she did in a new class she took on this year for which she yet had time to develop daily questions. Students actually look forward to special “expression days” in which the class does a subject-matter review, using the clickers to communicate their mastery of the content. In general, she likes to start classes with a warm-up exercise, then ask a question using the response devices. “And I sprinkle questions throughout lesson to see how well they’re getting it,” she says.

And when 100 percent of the class answers a question correctly? The class responds with a big round of applause.

Student engagement happens not just with the response devices, but with the interactive whiteboard as well. After everyone submits their answers, results are immediately available on the whiteboard via a bar graph.

Student competitiveness kicks in and students “get engaged and try to beat each other,” Contreras-Williams says. “Then we have a good, accountable talk about [the answers]. Kids tend to admit when they guessed and didn’t know the answer.” Solving problems on paper doesn’t draw 100 percent participation, Contreras-Williams says, but using the clickers invariably does.

Students register their devices at the beginning of each class so that answers can be traced to individuals; she can also export the data into an Excel spreadsheet to view, store, and manipulate later.

The clickers can be used anywhere in the classroom since they connect via radio signals, and come in several models. The ActivExpression devices that Contreras-Williams uses allow more than just yes-and-no responses—with keypads styled more like cell phones, they allow full text questions and answers, including numbers, letters, symbols and math equations, multiple choice, sort-in-order, and Likert scale responses.

The devices also allow self-paced questions, in which individuals can answers questions at their own speed. This option allows teachers to assign full quizzes of varying difficulty, giving students the opportunity to complete them at their own pace.

The bottom line: Promoting interactivity with whiteboards, clickers, and other technology engages students like no other classroom materials. Contreras-Williams sums it up when she calls the ActivExpression devices “fabulous technology that the kids love… I just get more engagement from students when I use them.”



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