kitchen table math, the sequel: Paul B on individual white boards vs clickers

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paul B on individual white boards vs clickers

Clickers would be to this process as a music score would be to a jam session.

The whole idea is chaotic interaction on the kid's side with an expert on the teacher's side. When I do it with math it's totally unscripted. I only start with a particular goal in mind and then I let it rip. I'm constantly analyzing for misconceptions, language hickups, arithmetic problems, process problems, etc. It's mentally grueling and physically exhausting.

There's no room for even a second's worth of technology. Technology would be an intrusion on a beautiful thing.

I've had some of my biggest problem students jumping up and down in this process yelling and thumping their chest saying "Yo! I'm smart!". These same kids, under discovery, eat their pencils and throw stuff.

No clickage. Not ever.

This seems like the moment to head on over to Amazon & pick up a copy of Weapons of Mass Destruction Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. (thanks, V.)


vlorbik said...

check the title in the last link.

Rudbeckia Hirta said...

Clickers aren't that hard to use. You press a button on the clicker controller to let it know to start accepting answers, and when you've received enough responses, you press the button for it to stop accepting answers, and then it displays a graph of how many students gave each answer.

The questions can be content-based (what is the answer) or somewhat meta- (do we need to see another example of this).

Some of my students who have been socialized to not be good at math (mostly the sorority girls) seem to do well with clickers because none of their classmates know whether or not they're getting all the answers right (but the software records it.)

My class has 200 students, so clickers are a good option. If I had a small class, I probably wouldn't use them.

Derek said...

I'll back up Rudbeckia here on how easy clickers are to use these days. From the instructor's point of view, it's as easy as advancing slides in PowerPoint with some systems. It can even be done with a remote so you can circulate among the students as they work. And it doesn't take seven seconds to see if the students answered the question correctly or not--more like one second with bar graph.

My guess is that Paul B could make clickers work for his teaching style and there might be some marginal advantages. With his small class, apparently very high ability to think on his feet, and intuitive sense of formative assessment, I'm sure he has great success without clickers.

However, it's worth noting that for teachers who may not be as enthusiastic about a teaching process that's "mentally grueling and physically exhausting," clickers provide almost all of the benefits Paul B notes. Some teachers are good with the jam session; others like to have a score they can use as they conduct class.

ChemProf said...

Sorry, you guys are missing PaulB's point -- with clickers, students can choose from the options you provide, but with his whiteboards, you see the students coming up with their own options. Which, frankly, is the same reason I don't use Powerpoint, easy or not! With a chalkboard, I can ask the students how to start a problem and go with whatever they say, even if it wasn't the approach I had in mind.

Clickers have a place in large classes, and I know some faculty who are enthusiastic about them, but they aren't a cure-all.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think PowerPoints are highly problematic - but have yet to get around to typing up the passage from "Let's Kill Dick and Jane" about use of blackboards in Asian classes. I will.

The issue as I see it is working memory.

Using the 'old-fashioned' lecture method, which meant a blackboard, not a set of PowerPoint slides, a teacher or professor started writing on the left hand side of the board and continued writing until he/she hit the far right hand side.

This meant that students could at any point during the lecture look back to remind themselves of a previous step they had forgotten - or that they had suddenly realized, in light of new material, they hadn't properly understood.

PowerPoints make it extremely difficult to do this. Yes, the teacher can distribute a hard copy of his PowerPoint slides, but I've never found it easy to use the handouts while also trying to attend to a presentation, and that would go double for something as complex as math. With the handout, you are constantly shifting back and forth amongst stapled pages, not tracking your eyes briefly back to the left.

(I've seen one expert on public relations advise lecturers not to give audiences any type of hand-outs, fyi.)

Plus, of course, teachers create the blackboard display as they go along, something they can't do with PowerPoint. If students have questions the teacher didn't anticipate, the teacher can add extra steps to the blackboard material, or draw arrows to highlight certain steps, and so on. Slides don't offer that flexibility.

That said, I appreciate the record a PowerPoint gives me (& gave C.) to use outside the class.

Nevertheless, my feeling is that most classroom presentations should follow something like a narrative arc; lectures should consist of a beginning, middle, and end that cohere, not a serial list of facts.

For that, the left-to-right sweep of the blackboard is the most suitable technology, in terms of the structure of the lecture and the architecture of working memory.

Paul B said...

Powerpoint is not what's problematic. Bullets are what's problematic. Unfortunately, Powerpoint is really, really good at bullets and it's real easy to make presentations with them so this is what most people associate with Powerpoint.

I use Powerpoint a lot but I use it with images, lots and lots of images. I sometimes make a lecture that is pre-recorded with images synchronized to my words. In this type of presentation a given slide might have one word on it and it might be on top of a picture, shown for only a few seconds. The effect is more like a movie than what most people think of as a Powerpoint presentation. When I run these you could hear a pin drop. I throw in a few cartoons here and there to keep it light.

I try to make these no more than 5 minutes (it might be 30 slides) or so and the entire purpose is to 'hook' the kids. It's just a quick overview that gets them started on a problem set. Sometimes I leave it playing in a loop while they work. At the end of the class I do the whiteboard thing, either with me, lecture style, or with them on individual white boards in a chaotic practice session.

At the end of the day this is uploaded along with more deliberate slides to my web site where they can revisit it as many times as they need to for homework help.

The problem with this is that it takes a lot of time to prepare it correctly and the way public ed works there's no way to leverage these things across lots of classrooms so I can't keep up to the pace and only get to do it occasionally.

If we had something other than gomonpolies running things, it wouldn't take too much effort to do these professionally instead of having a hacker like me do it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I use Powerpoint a lot but I use it with images, lots and lots of images.


Ed does that for history lectures & thinks it's great (& his students say so).

He can use as many maps as he wants, which would be fantastically helpful for me.

Catherine Johnson said...

What do you think about white boards???

When I attended the Singapore Math class, I could barely see anything the teacher was writing on the board. The kids couldn't see it, either.

Catherine Johnson said...

Is that common?

Or did they need new dry ink pens?

Paul B said...

Probably you were experiencing old pens. They don't suddenly give up the ghost. They tend to fade and there are also different types with varying quality.

The contrast is way better than chalk. You do have to clean them every day though. If you don't they eventually become covered with leftovers from the erasures.

If I didn't have a classroom with them I would buy melamine panels at Home Depot on my dime before I used chalk.

The little ones for kids are indispensable. Mine are from ETA and they are blank on one side and gridded on the other.

ChemProf said...

I don't know. For a big lecture hall, I find the contrast is much better with chalk and a chalk board than with whiteboards. We do have our boards cleaned every day, though, and my class is the first one in the morning, which makes a difference.

I'd agree that Powerpoint can be good for images and quick reviews, but not for a whole lecture. I use it to give research talks, and for that it is great, but for a classroom presentation, I really prefer the board. Interestingly, in our last faculty search, none of the applicants used powerpoint for their mock classroom lecture, so at the college level at least, it is clearly going out of fashion! Five years ago, everyone gave their mock lectures with powerpoint.