Plickers

 Last summer at Twitter Math Camp I learned about an incredible formative assessment tool. I’ve actually started using it fairly regularly now, so I figured I would get out a quick post about it.

It’s called Plickers. It’s essentially a poor-man’s Clickers (think Turning Point Technologies). They’re pieces of paper that you print off for free online and distribute to your class. Each student gets one Plicker. The teacher puts up a question and the orientation in which a student holds their Plicker determines their answer choice. Where the magic happens: download the Plickers app to your mobile device and you can “scan” the room with your camera and the app picks up all the student responses. Think exit slips, class polls, checks for understanding, and the like. It is remarkable. The first time you see it, you literally can’t believe your eyes. Here’s a video.

Pros:

  • Allows me to collect assessment data relatively easily
  • The kids seem to love using it
  • Easy to replace in case one comes up missing
  • No software to install; it’s all web based and the app is user-friendly
  • Free

Cons:

  • Requires preparing prompts ahead of time
  • Cannot export data (or maybe I just I don’t know how to)
  • Requires lamenating for long-term use

There are many things in educational technology that are impractical and overdone. This is not one. Plickers leverage technology in a way that’s simple, accessible, and useful.

In short, Plickers are game changers.

If you haven’t tried them yet and are interested in a slick formative assessment strategy, I would definitely check them out.

 

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Bicycles are STEM

STEM

Last week the NYCDOE ran their first ever STEM Institute. It was a fairly large event; I want to say there was over 400 teachers and 30 presenters in attendance. I have no idea how accurate those numbers are, so don’t quote me, but they seem about right. The workshops were obviously focused on STEM disciplines, which are typically things such as applied math, robotics, computer science, environmental science, and the like.

What was intriguing most about the whole Institute was the fact that I was able help lead a workshop on bicycle mechanics. Yes, mechanics. (Thank you UBI.) My sessions focused on how bicycles and bicycle culture fit into the whole STEM arena. I teach both math and robotics, which are at the heart of STEM, so extending STEM to include bicycles, a huge passion of mine, is pretty exciting.

Bicycles aren’t something that people typically think of when they hear STEM. That is what made the experience so awesome. The whole thing felt like unchartered territory. I helped lead the way as 18 teachers got greasy, learned how to overhaul a bottom bracket, adjusted derailleurs, and then spent a few hours developing STEM lessons and curricula centered around bicycles. Some of the topics that the teachers researched included personal health and fitness, mass, acceleration, velocity, gear ratios, and how bicycles affect gentrification. I also found some great bicycle-themed resources that I shared with the group.

Huge props to Karen Overton and Recycle-a-Bicycle who essentially brought a bike shop to Stuyvesant High School for the three-day workshop.

It was an awesome experience. I got to merge my love for bicycles and bicycle mechanics with teaching, mathematics, and STEM. Plus, I meant some inspiring, like-minded teachers. It feels like the start of something bigger.

 

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Quick Key

To help me collect data, I’ve been using a tool for the last couple of months. It’s called Quick Key and it’s used to quickly and easily collect responses from multiple choice questions.

For a long, long time, my school utilized the Apperson Datalink scanner to aid in scoring multiple choice portions of exams. It not only scores exams quickly and efficiently, but its accompanying software provides insightful data analysis that I use to modify my teaching. On the downside, these machines are pricey (almost $1000) and require you to purchase their unique scanning sheets that work only with their machine. Each department in my school had a machine.

Because of my push towards standards-based grading, I find myself giving smaller, bite-size assessments that target fewer concepts. Consequently, I am assessing more frequently and I need the scanning machine at least once a week. The machine was constantly changing hands and I was always running around the building trying to track it down.

I decided that I didn’t want to be a slave to the scanner – and its arbitrary sheets. It’s not sustainable. Especially when we have mobile technology that can perform the same task and provide similar results.

Enter Quick Key.

Quick Key has allowed me to score MC items and analyze my students’ responses in a much more convenient and cost-effective way. Like, free. Hello. You simply set up your classes, print out sheets, and start scanning with your mobile device. (You don’t even need to have wifi or cellular data when scanning.) The interface is pretty clean and easy to use. Plus, it was created and designed by a teacher. Props there too.

Data is synced between my phone and the web, which allows me to download CSV files to use with my standards-based grading spreadsheets.

SBG screenshot

My SBG tracking spreadsheet

That is the big Quick Key buy-in for me: exporting data for use with SBG. As I have mentioned before, SBG has completely changed my teaching and my approach to student learning. At some point, I hope to write in-depth about the specifics of this process and the structure I use.

Though the Quick Key data analysis isn’t as rigorous as what I would get from Datalink, it suffices for my purposes. I sort of wish Quick Key would improve the analysis they provide, but for now, if I need more detailed analytics, its usually requires a simple formula that I can quickly insert.

Data from QK

Sample data analysis from Quick Key

Data from Datalink

Sample data analysis from Datalink

Through all this, I don’t overlook the obvious: MC questions provide minimal insight into what students actually know, especially in math. That being said, my students’ graduation exams still require them to answer a relatively large number of MC items. For that reason alone I feel somewhat obligated to use MC questions on unit exams. Also, when assessing student knowledge via MC questions, I do my best to design them as hinge questions. TMC14 (specifically Nik Doran) formally introduced me to the idea of a hinge question, which are MC questions that are consciously engineered to categorize and target student misconceptions based on their answer. In this way, students responses to MC questions, though less powerful than short response questions, can provide me an intuitive understanding of student abilities.

Quick Key recently introduced a Pro plan ($30/year) that now places limitations on those that sign up for free accounts. Their free plan still offers plenty for the average teacher.

Either way, Quick Key still beats a $1000 scanner + cost of sheets.

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