Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Day: January 26, 2010 (page 1 of 1)

Reflection on using Activexpressions for the first time

I used clickers in the classroom for the first time today.  For those of you who don’t know, a clicker is also known as a classroom response device, and is used to collect immediate student feedback.  Students have a small device, it looks like a remote and on your computer you have a hub of some sort for collecting responses wirelessly from the students, and some software on the computer to process this data as well as display the questions.  You ask a question, it gets displayed on an LCD projector, the students answer the question, and you can post the results very quickly.  The whole process takes under a minute, and can take as little as 15 seconds once the students understand how to use the clickers.

The clickers I’m using come from a company called Promethean, they also produce an interactive white board (IWB).  Their clickers are designed to work with their interactive white board software and when you use the installation CD for the hub it installs their IWB software.  I have to say, I wasn’t very impressed with the license for their IWB software.  It only allows a single use and can only be legally installed on one computer.  This means that if you want to share the clickers between teachers, you need to purchase multiple copies of the software.  However, we only have 1 class set of clickers so we will never actually be running one copy of the software at a time.

The installation failed halfway through, it seems it requires a very specific copy of the Macromedia Flash installer.  I tried 4 different versions and none of them worked.  I cancelled the installation of Flash and the rest of the installation went through smoothly.  It was very strange, since of course I have Flash installed on my computer.

Once you actually start using the devices, the first thing that needs to happen is that each device needs to be registered to the hub.  This process took some time, and has some definite flaws in it.  First, you really need to name each device as you register it.  We tried to number all of the devices as we were registering them and we discovered that the internal number changed once we registered it, UNLESS we named the devices with numbers.  Pretty painful, I can’t imagine a non-techy trying to set up these devices.

Creating questions for the students to do was relatively easy, but a bit too slow to do on the fly.  Tomorrow I’m going to test the "question-less" questions, which are ideal for asking verbal questions and getting student feedback and take a lot less set-up.  If you want to have the students answer complicated written questions, my recommendation is to set up the questions in advance and use the multiple-choice or short-answer versions.

Once we were set up, the questioning part worked fairly well in two classes and really didn’t work well in a third class.  My 10th grade class and my IB Year 2 class took to the clickers fairly easily and participated with them well.  My 9th grade students struggled using the clickers.  Some of them were great, but some of the students pretty refused to try them.  I’m hopeful that in the long run the clickers will help this class participate more, but it was not an auspicious beginning.  

We tried a wide variety of different types of questions.  All of the questions are pretty easy to set up but each question requires it’s own screen, so right away I realized that formal assessment through the clickers would be pretty difficult.  Students definitely found answering the multiple choice or true/false questions easier to answer, the text response questions should be limited to at best very short answers.  Trying to enter mathematical expressions on the clickers is tremendously painful and should be avoided at all costs.  Given my recent exploration of the iPhone device, a proper keyboard on the clickers would be ideal, using old style phone texting through a number paid is pretty painful now.

Once the class is over, you can export the results.  If you want to use them again and analyze them, you need to export the results.  I tried to save my flipchart, hoping the results from the questions would be saved as well, and it turns out they are removed.  Unfortunately this means I lost all of my results from today, but the good news is that I won’t make that mistake again.  I probably should have read the manual first, but there wasn’t a paper one included in the set, just one on a CD.  I couldn’t imagine a teacher popping in a CD to read the manual, so I worked out how to do everything without it.

The response from the students was extremely positive from my 10th grade class, and moderately positive in the other two classes.  The students generally liked using the clickers.  One student asked if "we could use these every class."  The 12th grade students had a more reasoned response, questioning if the value of the clickers was worth it, and one wondered if they could spend the money elsewhere more wisely.  One huge complaint from all of the students was the time it took to enter responses via text.  I think I’ll avoid the text responses, unless I use extremely short responses (like numeric responses).

So far it’s gone fairly well, we’ll see if the process improves over time.  I’ll also need to introduce the clickers to more staff members, so far just myself and one other staff member are testing the clickers.

Problem based learning in math

How does problem based learning work anyway?  According to Wikipedia, "Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered instructional strategy in which students collaboratively solve problems and reflect on their experiences."  To me this means, choose problems which will reflect your curriculum and which students want to solve.

Implementation of this in mathematics can be tricky for some topics, even contrived.  If you find yourself really stretching to make a particular concept or unit fit PBL, don’t use it, use some other strategy instead.  However for almost all topics finding a real-life problem, which the students think is interesting or at least has application in their life, is relatively easy.  This is a chance for we mathematics teachers to stretch our creative muscles but it is really important that the problem chosen is either something the students have a direct interest in, or something that they can see someone in their society needing to solve.

The model I use for PBL is this; I describe a problem that exists in our world and needs solving on a regular basis, and I give the students a starting place for solving the problem, then I guide the students through the solution (giving different amounts of advice depending on the understanding of the students). At the beginning of the year the problems are quite regimented, by the end of a school year some students can solve problems mostly unguided.

My objective is to choose problems which ideally weave many different areas of mathematics (or other subjects) into the problem itself.  For example, students were given an assignment to try and decide what the best possible choice of cell phone plan is in the Metro-Vancouver area.  The solution to this involved using linear functions to model the individual cell phone plans, graphical analysis of those linear models to try and determine the best plan for any given number of minutes, algebra to determine the exact number of minutes when different plans intersect, and of course, lots and lots of research into different cell phone plans.

As the students progress through the problem, I can feed them some ideas on how to proceed.  Different groups require different amounts of guidance, and the final product the students produce can vary greatly within a class.  I often find I teach a bunch of related skills to a problem at the beginning of a class, then let the students find the connections and decide how to use the skills during their project.  Most of the time if a given skill is useful, the students find a way to incorporate the use of that skill unto their solution of the problem.

Many of the authentic learning experiences I described in an earlier post can be turned into problem based learning.  You can review these projects and then think of ways you can find problems of your own to use.