Thursday, November 29, 2007

Slates and Clickers

Interesting discussion with a former student today. First of all a disclaimer- I take students complaints about other teachers with a grain of salt. Other teachers have come to me with complaints from my previous students, so I know we can't always match students and teachers perfectly.

With that in mind, I shall proceed. So, a former student comes to me to ask for help with an upcoming Algebra 2 test. Last year when he took my class, he failed because of zero effort. Nevertheless, he was not a horrible kid and he felt comfortable coming to me for help this year. It's funny because he's not very happy with his current teacher and now he's regretting that he didn't try harder last year when he had me- in his mind, the more reasonable teacher.

He complained about the pace of the class with the new teacher. Two lessons per day, no review day before tests and sometimes two tests in the same week. Then he started getting into other details. He said the teacher used slates to allow students to try problems and then show their results to the teacher. The teacher would then point to each slate and say whether it was right or wrong. This frustrated my student quite a bit because he would be told that his answer was wrong, but not why it was wrong. It's interesting to me because the slate idea has been kicked around for a few years now and some people think it's a cure all. It's one of those ideas that sounds good, but it's questionable whether it really is beneficial for students. Of course, like many good ideas, the level of success is dependent on implementation as well.

In comparison, I've been having some great luck with my clicker system. It's a technology system that is designed to give instant feedback to students just like the slates do, with several advantages over the slates- and in some people's minds, several disadvantages. With the clicker system, I create quizzes using PowerPoint. Each slide has a question and several multiple choice answers. Every student in the class gets a remote control and I have an infrared receiver attached to my computer. When I display the question, students press a button on the clicker to "vote" on the multiple choice answer they think is right. After all the students have voted on a particular question, a bar graph appears that shows how many students voted for each answer. If I want, I can also show them which answer is correct. So, like the slate system, students get instant feedback. Unlike the slate system, students get multiple choice answers, so they have something to work toward. Of course some teachers would complain that students may reverse engineer the answers or may copy answers from a neighbor and I'll admit there are problems. But like anything, there can be implementation issues and they need to be worked on. So, I'll continue to work.

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