Clickers in the science classroom (and you don’t even need the clickers)

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In 2011 Nobel-prize winning physicist Carl Wieman published this article (1) in the prestigious journal Science. There is nothing remarkable that is what scientists do, the interesting part is that the article was not about the Bose-Einstein condensate, but about education. According to the study students learned much more from graduate students than from University professors if the learning process was more involving for them. Crucial in this involvement of the students were the clickers or class response systems. The students worked in groups and had to answer question through the clickers several times. This way they got instant feedback on their work and the instructors could see immediately if they needed help. The results are really convincing, not only did they score much higher on the final tests, but class attendance and the students’ engagement improved too. A detailed guide can about the use of clickers in the science classroom can be downloaded from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.

Okay, could you say, but what should I do if I do not have these magic machines which can transform my classroom? Well, you should continue reading. Here are four free alternatives to clickers, each of them can do what the class response systems offer, some of them can do much more, and one of them is mainly paper based. Here they are:

  • An earlier post was about Kahoot!, the web-based response system. If you have machines (laptops, tablets, mobiles) in the classroom connected to the internet, you can use it. The major feature of Kahoot! is showing the results on a leader-board to the students. This can be good in a game-like setting but I do not like to use it all the time. Whenever there is a happy winner in the classroom, there are 25 sad losers too. Naturally you don’t have to show the students this leaderboard.
  • Socrative is more sophisticated than Kahoot!, you can ask open questions from your students, not only the multiple choice type. One nice feature of Socrative is that you can put the answers to an open question (all or some of them) as a vote to the students. I use before showing them an experiment. Letű1s say they watch the reaction of sodium and water and before continuing it with the reaction of potassium and water I ask them to write in a sentence to Socrative what do they expect what will happen, following that they can vote on the answers, which they think is the most likely. Only after this will I do the experiment. This way all students have to think not the just the one I ask the question from. Socrative also has a game in it, in the space race each group has a rocket and it is fueled by the right answers. Needless to say, you can download the results of your quizzes as a spreadsheet. Socrative can be used through the web, but it has applications for iOS and Android too
  • Geddit is similar to Socrative, but has an added feature, the students can show how confident they are of the things learned, how much they understand from it. The application is web-based and the teacher’s view shows the students ranked by their understanding of the material. The best part of it is that it is completely private, the students do not feel ashamed if they say they could not understand something. This feedback can be used in several ways, you can differentiate, giving different problems to the ones who already mastered the material and to the ones still struggling with it. Or you can form groups from students who feel that they are at different levels. Working in these heterogeneous groups helps the slower and the faster learners too.
  • The final tool that you can use is quite limited in features compared to the others but can be used without tablets or laptops. To use Plicker only the teacher has to have a smartphone, the students use a sheet of paper with a code printed on it. The teacher puts a question and the students hold their papers with the side corresponding to the correct answer up. The teacher holds the phone’s camera and gets all the results immediately. You can only have multiple choice questions and only with a maximum of four choices, but that is a price you have to pay for the ease of use.

There are many more free tools which can help you in getting feedback from your students in a fast and easy way. if you want a full class management system, you can try Classflow, from Prométhean (it is free too). Engaging students in learning science has never been easier.

(1) Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class Louis Deslauriers, Ellen Schelew, and Carl Wieman, Science 13 May 2011: 862-864. [DOI:10.1126/science.1201783]

Article written by: Gergely Nádori, Scientix Deputy Ambassador

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