By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Jack West helps science students point “clickers” at a receiver
Car number 38, otherwise known as high school student David Kim, leaves his classmates in the dust, and he basks in a moment of glory before the bell rings with a victory salute.
He and his classmates have just been given a quiz using “clickers.” Students answer multiple-choice questions by holding up remotes and clicking at the large screen at the front of the classroom. Each student is represented on the screen by a racecar, and the car with the fastest correct answers wins. The screen shows the percentage of students who got the answers right, as well as those who answered correctly the fastest, even by a hundredth of a second.
While Kim has chosen to reveal his identity, other students are happy to remain an anonymous number on the screen. Math teacher Sierra Vasquez can see their names on her laptop, pinpoint those who are struggling, and provide them with help at a later time.
“Clickers bring a sense of excitement to the lesson, especially with competition,” Kim says.
Clickers — a “student response system” — are increasingly popular with teachers looking to promote active learning. Teachers can post a true-false or multiple-choice quiz and within seconds, students’ responses are logged, their scores tabulated and grades assigned on a screen. Teachers see immediately what percent of the class understands the lesson, and students know immediately where they need to improve. More publishers are gearing textbooks to provide tests for classes with clickers, because they are so popular with the MTV generation, reports The Associated Press.
“Clickers really engage students,” says Vasquez, Glendale Teachers Association. “Students think they are having so much fun playing a game when really they are learning. It’s much better than waiting for them to do homework and finding out the next day where they are having trouble. I like that students can participate in a risk-free environment.”
Students become more responsible for their own learning with clickers, says Karen Taylor, who teaches students with mild to moderate learning disabilities at Monte Vista Middle School in Tracy.
“It creates metacognitive learning in the classroom,” says the Tracy Education Association member. “I love that they get so involved in the learning process. And when I look at the graph of how many students got the answer right and how many got it wrong, it gives me an idea of how to guide my teaching the rest of the week, because I know if they are getting it or not.”
“Clickers are fun — kind of like texting, but in a different way,” explains student Juan Ulloa.
Taylor appreciates that the program allows her to create a grade book for tracking student progress and save on paper by conducting clicker tests. The only downside is the price; it cost $2,000 for a set for her small class of about 15 students, which her school site council donated.
Sequoia High School physics teachers Jack West and Ben Canning in Redwood City, and J. Bryan Henderson, a doctoral student at Stanford University, spent three years studying the use of clickers with peer instruction in the science classroom. They concluded that the interactive technology could create social learning opportunities.
Using handheld devices, students anonymously answered multiple-choice questions projected at the front of the room. After giving their answers, students were asked to discuss the questions with their peers, which resulted in “convergence” on the best answer with little additional information provided by the teachers.
“Clickers focused the classroom activity on student-to-student interactions, and from this social learning the students appeared to make progress their own,” says Henderson. “Even more encouraging was that these classrooms often performed at statistically higher levels on a common international physics assessment than classrooms not utilizing this technique, even when the teacher was the same.”