This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 Harker Quarterly.
Each year, faculty members participate in Harker’s learning, innovation and design (LID) department’s grants program, in which they spend their summers acquiring new skills to enhance their teaching methods. Formerly known as tech grants, many of these projects involve integrating technology into curricula.
Middle school English teacher Henry Cuningham had wanted to integrate an electronic polling system known as Clickers, but found it prohibitively expensive. Although a similar functionality could be found on student laptops, “I didn’t want to create another situation where I am forced to police student usage of laptops,” Cuningham said. “I do that enough already.”
Cuningham then discovered Plickers, a system that performs a function similar to Clickers, but without the need for students to use their own devices. Students simply hold up cards indicating their answers and the teacher records them using a smartphone or tablet camera. Cards are designed to ensure that each student can answer honestly without other students knowing each other’s answers. Moreover, it’s free. “It will be useful in breaking up a class with a short poll to see whether students understand taught material,” Cuningham said. “Plickers should also help to prime discussion.”
Students in Catherine Hsieh’s grade 5 science class have been greatly enjoying their Chromebooks, and Hsieh wanted to leverage this enthusiasm to improve their classroom experiences. “For my project, I explored different Web-based applications (Google Forms, Flubaroo, Pear Deck, EDpuzzle, Plickers) that can be used to create formative assessments,” she said. “The applications work as student response systems so that every student is engaged and can participate in the lesson.” They also provide instant feedback to the students and the teacher, allowing both to gauge how well they comprehend the material.
These advantages also will help Hsieh pace the class more appropriately so that the maximum number of students can benefit. “This would allow me to get a better sense of what works best for each group since I will be able to get feedback from all of the kids, not just the more vocal ones,” she said. It also helps students become more self-sufficient by enabling them to assess their own grasp of the material, and any topics they need to review can be easily revisited.
In keeping with the technology-based theme of the LID grants program, each participating teacher created short YouTube videos summarizing their projects and the benefits for students. These videos were shown at the faculty welcome meeting in mid-August.