Fad or not? Click on your answer

Clickers that let students answer questions in class are proving popular in K-12 classrooms. Is it a gimmick? The Boston Globe visited an eighth-grade class in Lexington, Mass. where students clicked their answers to a question asking if President Polk was justified in asking Congress to declare war on Mexico.

Eight students tapped A: “Yes, it was time for war. Congress was justified.” Seven picked B: “No, it was an excuse to push America into war for more land.” And, four chose C: “Wait! I don’t get this yet.”
In an instant, the teacher, Edward Davey, discovered that he needed to teach more on the topic, the students received a snapshot of one another’s views, and a lively debate ensued about the 19th century conflict.
Teachers like the quick feedback and the chance to involve students who are reluctant to speak up in class.

. . . But although teachers and students rave about the excitement the clickers bring to the classroom, some educators and researchers say schools should proceed with caution. They warn that the remotes, which send students’ answers to a teacher’s computer via radio frequency or infrared signals, risk becoming gimmicks if used for simplistic quizzes and games.

Teachers say it takes time to develop the right questions to work with clickers, though some rely on readymade questions that come with the clickers.

A set of 32 clickers costs $895 to $3,000. I’ll bet that cost could come down.

Core Knowledge wants to see lessons on YouTube.  There’s got to be some teachers out there with great ways to teach fractions. Why not share the smarts?

About Joanne


  1. You can do the same thing for free at http://www.polleverywhere.com using text messaging or via the internet. It works just like this, but requires no hardware–just internet access.

    My students are shocked when I tell them to get out their phones and text in their vote. They think it’s amazing that I’m asking them to use their phones for an educational purpose.

  2. Tracy W says:

    In this particular case it sounds a bit like a gimmick. Questions such as “Was President Polk justified in asking Congress to declare war on Mexico?” seem a bit too complex for a multi-choice question, surely in this case the reasoning is more important than the choice. And the students who picked option C, does that tell us that the teacher needs to teach more about President Polk or do those students have some epistemological problem with second-guessing historical political decisions or are they just inexperienced at forming opinions and the teacher should be guiding them through that?

    Of course if it’s a gimmick that works for that teacher in starting off lively class discussions that’s fine, but teachers have been starting lively class discussions long before clickers (I had some such teachers in my schooling despite the lack of clickers). The article talks about students who are reluctant to speak up in class, if clickers do that then better than other ways then that’s good, but still those students presumably need to be not merely expressing an opinion but having reasons for it.

    The place I would expect clickers to really be useful is in more factual questions to quickly check the class’s understanding and if any student is missing something, like Direct Instruction uses vocal feedback but with more anonymity.

  3. If used for carefully planned formative assessment, then ‘clickers’ can be useful for quick feedback from a class, but they are no better than other methods.

    Each child could write on a small whiteboard and hold up their answer, they could give multiple choice answers by holding up coloured cards (red for A, blue for B etc.), or many other methods already in use.

    UK education inspectors like to see electronic technology in classes, so I expect the clickers will be bought, without training for teachers, at the expense to the rest of the school budget, and without much benefit to the classes.

  4. Miller T. Smith says:

    At a cost of $0 I use raised hands.

    At the cost of a chalkboard (never crashes) and a box of chalk (no virus protection needed) I communicate chemistry concepts.

    $1100 for a LCD projector, $1200 for a laptop, $1000 for a whiteboard, $900 for clickers (24 remotes per bag for a class of 35, ha!), and a TV with DVD player and data collection devices for probes ($8400) in the lab brings us well into $12,600 in just my class alone.

    Let’s cut the budget now!

  5. Lightly Seasoned says:

    If you slip some white postcard stock inside a sheet protector, you get a mini-whiteboard. With dry erase markers, I guess it all comes to maybe $20 for a whole class.

    I do like some of the more innovative stuff my SmartBoard allows me to do, though.

  6. Dictyranger says:

    Yes, the older, cheaper options work too, but the clickers add one important benefit: anonymity.

    If you use clickers to check on core knowledge for a test, a student who seriously isn’t getting the material will know without being humiliated. He or she will notice that hir success rate is significantly below the rest of the class, but without having to worry about sitting there holding the wrong answer up on a whiteboard for everyone to see. I think there’s significant value in that.

  7. I’ve used the clickers for review – it may seem gimmicky, but it is more engaging for kids and there is much benefit to the format. The degree of anonymity is helpful to students, though teachers can also use the results for quiz/participation grades.

    The one drawback is, of course, the significant expenditure of time in typing in the questions. It’s a bit of a pain, but the occasional benefit of mixing up format for students is clear.

  8. Sounds better than the silent moments that can follow a teacher’s question to a class.

  9. Greg,

    Have you tried using the free response feature on polleverywhere?

  10. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I’ve never had a student who didn’t know he or she wasn’t “getting it.”

  11. I believe that Rudbeckia Hirta at learningcurves.blogspot.com has used these in her college math classroom, but I don’t recall if her experience was positive or negative.

  12. Reasonable systems for polling were studied years ago by Doug Carnine and colleagues. Critical features are probably (a) frequency of responding (nowadays, we call it “active learning”), (b) frequency of reinforcement and correction (now “elaborated feedback”), and branching based on student learning (nowadays, sadly, we ignore students’ outcomes).

    Moore, L., Carnine, D., Stepnoski, M., & Woodward, J. (1987). Research on the efficiency of low-cost networking. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 20, 574-576.