Oct 22, 2007 04:30 AM
They’re pumped up like it’s a game show; remote-control clickers clutched in their Grade 6 hands, racing to work out the answer and press the right button before time’s up. They’ve been known to skip recess for this. But are these clickers a hot new teaching tool, or just a tech toy paid for by taxpayers?
“We choose math for 40 points!” calls out Team 3, and teacher Rod Zimmerman brings up the question overhead.
After a huddle, teams point their remotes at an infrared receiver and punch in the answer, then wait to see who was right and how many – but not who – got it wrong.
“Woo hoo! We’re still in first place,” cheers Jonathan Fletcher, 10. “Clickers are really cool – they make education fun.”
Adds teammate Kinshasa Phillpotts: “You don’t even know you’re learning.”
But learning comes, under cover of fun, when Zimmerman flips to a blank screen using his hand-held wireless “chalk board” and reviews the mistake, something the class had covered days before.
Far beyond university lecture halls where they’re used to personalized classes for the masses, “clickers” have landed in Ontario schools as a new way to get children to take part, especially those who are shy, or unsure, or self-conscious about special needs.
The wireless hand-held remotes let students send answers to multiple-choice questions, with the click of a button. With a class set of 20 to 30 “clickers” a receiver, software, a computer, projector and screen, these Classroom Performance Systems are being used from grade school to grad school to get today’s tech-crazed students to plug into classroom discussion.
While teachers warn about using them too often – Zimmerman pulls them out only once a week, despite daily pleading from students, because he says it’s “only one tool a teacher should use” – they are drawing positive reviews.
“Tech for tech’s sake can be a complete waste of time and money,” says education professor Robin Kay of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
“We found teachers who use it for formal evaluations cause students far too much anxiety and stress,” says Kay, who is tracking clickers in 45 Waterloo classrooms from Grades 5 to 12. “But if you use clickers to provoke dialogue – like the Grade 5 teacher who used clickers to ask kids if they had been victims of bullying, and so many responded, they spent the whole class talking about the issue – then it’s an amazing tool to stimulate debate.”
Or to check your teaching smarts.
“When you ask, `Are there any questions?’ who’s going to raise their hand and draw attention to themselves?” says Kay.
“But put clickers in the students’ hands and ask them a question to see if they got it? I’ve found up to 60 per cent didn’t get the concept I was teaching – even when I thought I was being crystal clear!” he admits. “You have to go back and try something different.”
Clickers have been bought in bulk by at least a dozen Ontario school boards and are being tested by individual teachers in dozens more schools in the GTA – and that’s just the ones from eInstruction Canada, one of several firms that sell them.
The company’s infra-red models cost about $1,600 per class set of 32 eight-button clickers and are used more in grade schools. The more complex radio-frequency versions work better in large halls and have more options and a screen.
They cost about $2,600 per set and are more popular in high schools and post-secondary classrooms, says eInstruction’s John Paul Copeland.
“The biggest draw is the anonymity they provide students, who are more likely to participate when it’s a risk-free environment.”
Zimmerman, a teacher at Toronto’s Ellesmere-Statton Public School, agrees it pulls more kids into the lesson: “Look at this room; they’re all engaged – even the kids you never hear from all year.”
A growing body of research, much of it in Canada, shows the gadgets, if used properly – not for marks, never for tests – can engage more students and boost attendance.
Biologist Tom Haffie of the University of Western Ontario is tracking the use of clickers in two first-year biology classes with 600 to 800 students each.
He presented his findings this summer at an international conference in Edmonton.
“We had 85 per cent participating with clickers – and you never get 85 per cent of students to do anything, especially in a group of 800 people,” says Haffie, who uses clickers three to five times in a 50-minute lecture.
The software keeps a record of each student’s responses so teachers can see who is struggling and needs help. Haffie emailed each student their clicker record over several weeks, and 85 per cent said this prompted them to change their study habits, attend more often and 40 per cent sought extra help.
“Suddenly you’re not waiting six weeks until midterms to see how you’re doing,” says Haffie.
“Clickers have the potential to transform learning,” he said.
Kay agrees the enthusiasm clickers can spark is more than half the battle.
“It’s a promising tool for engaging students, especially the 40 per cent who never raise their hands. And if I’m engaged, the chances are a lot better that I might learn something.”
This article was extracted from TheStar.com.
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