Peter Pappas

Educator, Blogger, Keynote Speaker

The power of instant "Wordles"

I've long held that staff development should model what you want to see in the classroom, and for that reason I wouldn't do a workshop without using a student response system (SRS). I'm not interested in using a SRS to pose objective questions or host a "game-show" style workshop. Instead, I see a SRS as a discussion catalyst and a tool to model instructional strategies.

Clickers have been a central feature of my workshops for many years. But my quest to develop a more highly-interactive webinar PD model led me to investigate "bring your own device" (BYOD) web-based SRS systems. After getting great reviews in my webinars, I thought I'd give Learning Catalytics a try with a live audience of about 100 secondary teachers at a recent workshop I gave at the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS) in St Louis. The system ran flawlessly on the MICDS wifi network, and Learning Catalytics' great variety of question formats spawned some lively group discussion and teacher reflection on those themes. As a defining exercise I posed the following: "The MICDS mission statement notes that 'Our School cherishes academic rigor.' Write three words (or phrases) that you associate with academic rigor." While Learning Catalytics can gather short or long responses as a list, I chose to have it create a "word cloud" out of participant replies (at right)—imagine the power of instant "Wordles."

Later I used a Learning Catalytics "composite sketch" question. Students can use their mouse or touch screen to indicate a point or draw a line on their device. The results are aggregated into a single response by overlaying all the individual responses. To emulate a "classroom walkthrough" I shared a sample lesson and asked teachers to plot their perceptions of its rigor and relevance on an X / Y axis. The resulting overlay graph of the variance in their responses (at left) was a powerful discussion starter.

The system has an array of powerful response monitoring and reporting tools, and it's a standout at fostering peer discussion. Teachers can easily create a student seat map and use it to quickly see who "gets it." Learning Catalytics can review student responses and direct them to discuss their answers with nearby peers who may have different views. It even send out a message telling them to talk with specific class members. "Cameron turn to your right and talk to Zoe about your answer." Questions can be asked multiple times and students can teach their peers before the next re-polling. Collaborative learning is one of the driving principles behind Learning Catalytics.

A longer version of this story appeared on Peter Pappas' blog Copy Paste