Day 36: Plickers

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College-Prep Physics and AP Physics C: Today we tried out Plickers. It’s a student response system that uses paper clickers (hence the name plickers?) and the camera on the teacher’s smartphone/tablet to record their responses. The picture above is screenshot from my smartphone’s app: You can see the histogram of responses (top-right) and the class list with responses (top-left) overlayed on the camera view which flashes students names as it recognizes their responses as you scan the room with your phone’s camera. Each student has a unique QR-code card that they hold in different orientations to indicate a vote of A, B, C, or D. So a camera scan of a code identifies the student and how they are voting.

The inspiration for using Plickers started with my Global Physics talk this past Saturday. During the discussion, I talked a bit about Preconceptions in Mechanics, and Andy posted a link to his blog post about cards vs clickers. I reread Andy’s post that afternoon, and decided to make low-tech response cards for my students to tape into the inside back-cover of their lab notebooks:

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Shortly after I posted that picture to Twitter, I got a reply from Lisa:

which prompted me to check out Plickers.

The Good: It’s set up very well for peer-instruction type discussions. While I scan the room with my phone’s camera, I can project the Plickers website from my desktop computer and show/hide a real-time histogram of students answers, or show the class roster which displays a check mark next to students who have registered their answers.

PlickerScreenShot

You can ask questions on the fly, or create a deck of questions in advance (like the one above).

The Bad: You can’t add pictures to questions or import a PowerPoint slide deck. But you can easily switch back and forth between applications if you want to show the class histogram after voting. Or just put up windows side-by-side:

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While Plickers lets you go back and review the response history of a question, including individual student responses, it cannot generate a student report showing a history of all questions for a particular student. This isn’t a feature I need or use, but it is a feature that traditional clicker systems have, so I figured I mention it.

Time is another consideration. While scanning cards with the phone is rather quick, it’s still quicker to go the low-tech route with colored index cards or the 4-sided card I was originally going to use. But I’ll say that the histogram is really powerful, both for me and the students. Sure, I could say “Most of the class is voting B” or “Looks like there’s a 50/50 split between B and C” but for students to actually see the histogram (and to see it again after a peer-instruction re-vote) carries more impact.

In the end, I think the good outweighs the bad. I’m having the kids tape their Plicker cards onto the inside back cover of their lab notebooks.

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UPDATE 28 OCT 2014: We did a set of Peer Instruction-type questions in AP Physics C today. There were a few hiccups — the network dropped a few times (an issue on our end, not Plickers) and some kids kept mistakenly covering up part of the QR code with their hands. And it does seem to take several seconds longer than just using colored cards and doing a visual scan. BUT the histograms are cool and provide some motivation and interest.

And something interesting happened today. When I did the Peer Instruction “vote – discuss – revote” cycle, rather than gravitate toward the right answer, the class split about 50/50 between the right answer and a wrong one. Now what? Discuss and revote again?

VOTE BEFORE DISCUSSION:

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VOTE AFTER DISCUSSION:

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(The correct answer is C.)

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About Frank Noschese

HS Physics Teacher constantly questioning my teaching.

6 responses to “Day 36: Plickers”

  1. bcphysics says :

    I’ve been using Plickers as a replacement for polleverywhere.com It is more immediate and not everyone has a phone. On the bad side, user error can occur with Plickers. I usually do not like to show the histogram while voting, I think there are too many situations where the histogram influences votes. I much prefer a system that counts for me, rather than me counting votes and getting confused because someone keeps raising and lowering their arm because they’re lazy, etc.

    As for your PI situation, I don’t think I would discuss/vote again. I would maybe do a bit of direct instruction and then have students write a short exit slip: what did they learn from this PI ConcepTest? Having to put this answer in their own words should help reveal if they now “get it.”

    • Frank Noschese says :

      Agree. I’m getting 100% participation with Plickers, vs. maybe 80% when I used small whiteboards. Good advice for the peer instruction. I actually did a bit of direct instruction after seeing that vote.

  2. Jean Gifford says :

    Thanks so much for this post. I’d never heard of Plickers, gave myself A whirlwind crash course last weekend and rolled it out in my on-level Physics, AP1and APC classes this week. The students were wildly enthusiastic, and my room has had a revolving door with other teachers stopping by to see what all of Mrs. G’s students were so excited about.

    I do use it as a “Poll”, then “re-poll” at end of class. I leave the “students” screen visible during voting…when students see a check next to their name, they put down the card, Then, we look at the histogram together, but I don’t say much about it except “By the end of class, when I scan again, I think many of you will be able to answer correctly!”

    They are very excited to find that they DO do a whole lot better at the end of class, and my “street cred” has skyrocketed. “Hey, she really IS teaching us something, and we are really learning it!”

    I teach in a 70% free/reduced lunch school, for what it’s worth. Teaching is my second career, after Chemical Engineering. This is my 8th year teaching.

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