September 15, 2008


A few years ago I was the lead teacher for an EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) grant our site received. Over the course of two years, our site received a truckload of money (like a couple hundred grand) to spend on technology training (from me) and a whole lotta shtuff. Among other things, we bought lcd projectors and computers and wireless slates and some SmartBoards and several sets of CPS “clickers.”

The Classroom Performance System consists of software (a tad clunky, but eventually very useful, and getting better), a USB receiver that looks like a flying saucer, and 32 “clickers” that look like remote controls. You make up series of questions (grouped into what they call lessons) with multiple choice answers. Then you project the warm up, quiz, whatever, on your lcd projector, and the kids click the appropriate button on their clickers. You can set a time limit for each question, and it displays (live) who has answered (but not what they answered), and when the time is up, it displays how many kids chose each answer, and optionally, the correct answer. (Beauty for teaching opportunities: “Now, it looks like a lot of you chose B, and that was wrong; let’s talk about why you might have thought that was right…”)

And, even better, you can use the paper tests, quizzes, etc. that you already have. The software has a FastGrade feature which lets you simply enter the correct answers (it doesn’t need to know the questions, does it?), hand out the test, and start the software. The clickers have forward and backward buttons, and the kids can simply arrow their way though the test, answering each question by clicking the appropriate letter. They can go back and forth, and change their answers at any time. They can all be on different questions at different times and everything. If your test has short answer or essay questions too, the software lets you skip those quesions when they’re clicking, so you can grade that part after.

I hate to sound like a shill for this, but it has definitely changed how I do things. Almost all warm ups and pretests and quizzes are “clicker stylie.” Almost the only grading I have to do now is writing. They still copy the warm ups (to practice spelling, reinforce the lesson, and to have something to study), but they also click in their answers, so there’s no more “trade and grade” or red pens or recording all the warm up scores (the software has a gradebook). The Friday tests used to kill 15 minutes of a subsequent period in grading and going over. Now it’s graded, and we have gone over the answers, in a single period. Even better, I can easily do an item analysis to find out which questions most all of them missed.

You can also use them to just find out if they understood what you said without embarrassing anyone. Ask a question (the software calls it a “verbal question”), click go (or whatever) and the kids click. You can see how many got it and how many didn’t without singling anyone out.

BTW, the kids LOVE them. They go through withdrawal like a bunch of junkies on the few days we don’t use them.

The software is less than intuitive, and the help isn’t very helpful, but now that I’ve figured it out, it is a beautiful thing. It even has a feature, so that when I do the CPS warm ups, I can still export then as .html files so absentees can still get them on the website. I have all of The Outsiders chapter quizzes, as well as some Jeopardy style CPS games (they call them Challenge Boards) in a database, that is available here.

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Mr. Coward has been teaching on the beautiful central coast of California since 1989. He sometimes tweets when he's in the right mood: @mrCinSLO.


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