Assessing Prior Knowledge with Clickers

Each of the gk12 fellows here at KU has been asked to do a “personal response system” lesson.  For those not familiar with the technology, a personal response system allows students to respond to questions in real time using an electronic device that is essentially anonymous.  The student responses can then be collected, logged, and analyzed in various ways.  I’m going to refer to the electronic devices as “clickers” from here on (because that’s what we seem to be calling them in real life).  Our clickers are the iBright product from H-ITT.  Here are some pictures of the setup that I used (clickers, the receiver, laptop & projector).  I hung the receiver from the ceiling right next to the projected image of the H-ITT software.  That seemed to work well.  I also used a separate laptop and projector for a couple of slides, but that wasn’t really necessary for my lesson.

My original lesson plan was basically a single slide that said ” S P A C E . ”  My goal was to figure out what they knew and where they learned what they knew.  Originally, I hoped to ask a question, have students provide 5 responses, then vote on them somehow.  That failed miserably, as I could rarely get 5 different answers, I couldn’t write/type the answers fast enough, and we generally spent more time trying to refocus than using the clickers.

What did end up working was this:  I started by asking very open-ended questions (e.g., what do you know about space?).  I tried to furiously jot down as many answers as possible for a few minutes just to get the pulse of the class.  Then, I would start in on a series of yes/no questions (e.g., have you learned about space in school? have you learned about space from movies or tv? etc.).  This allowed us to do a lot more voting and by asking consecutive questions with the same answer choices, they could focus on their answer rather than on reading the choices.  After a series of quick questions, I would start in on another broad topic with open ended questions and start the process over again.  I wanted to be sure to get both open ended responses like “space is awesome” and “the nutrients in the sand on Mars are the same as the soil on Earth”, as well as some quantitative data on more pointed questions.  I did not focus on content validity at all.  Again, my goal was just to figure out what they do know, not what they should know.

I found that the kids REALLY got into the answering process, and the competition to be the first to click the answer was sometimes more compelling than my question (when you click, you can see your remote number show up on the screen).

So, I would ask, they would click, then we would look at the results and talk about them.  By simplifying the questions, the students answered more of them, and got faster at answering them, so we were able to spend more time looking at and talking about our results.  Here is an example of the feedback (note the receiver at the top left of the screen):

This was a response to the question:  “Is the path of the planets (A) a circle, (B) an oval/ellipse, or (C) some other shape?”  The more you know, the more confusing this question is, I think, but you get the point.  In this hour the response was 38% A, 56% B, 6% C.

So, what I learned about what these 8th graders know about space already:

  • more answered that they had learned about space from movies or tv (almost 90%) than any other source (school at about 75%, books at about 55%, other people at about 30%)
  • I wish I had asked about learning from the internet, but didn’t
  • a little over half (about 60%) had heard the phrase “dark side of the moon,” but few could define what that meant scientifically
  • about 75% answered that the planets revolve around the sun, rather than the sun revolving around the planets
  • about 65% answered that Pluto still exists, even though it is no longer a planet
  • about 75% answered that the planets revolve in different paths, rather than all in the same orbit (around the sun)
  • the students were split roughly 50/50 as to whether the planets revolve/orbit in the same direction or different directions (around the sun)
  • about 75% answered that they had heard the earth rotates around its axis, about 60% answered that the earth’s axis is tilted from vertical, and about 2/3 answered that the axis tilt does change over time

Overall, I thought this was valuable feedback for the teachers, and my mentor teacher has said that she would like to use clickers to gauge student learning again as we progress through the semester.  I think it was also valuable to have the responses from the open ended questions, as these allowed the students to articulate their own thoughts and interests about space.

One final note:  if you use these, be sure to set up the hardware and try it before class.  I found the cables to be a little fussy.  Also, I found that the clicker’s 9-volt batteries can start to wear down over the course of the day.  They will still work, but some of the clickers farthest in the classroom from the receiver might need to move closer to register.  Also, I would do a practice question to help the kids learn where to point the clicker and how hard to push the buttons for it to be received.  I just had them push a button between A and E.  Interestingly, different classes preferred different letters.  Go figure!

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About Robert C Everhart

GK-12 Fellow University of Kansas
This entry was posted in 2011-2012 GK12, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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