Technology helps students, material ‘click’

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008

There aren’t little gold coins to collect or bad guys to shootor moles to bop on the head, but some fourth graders at BrookhavenElementary School have found themselves a part of new classroomtechnology that is almost as exciting.

“I like it because it feels like I’m playing a video game,” saidstudent Michael Harvey as he sat in Jessica Dowd’s fourth-gradeEnglish class.

That’s because he almost is.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Dowd’s class and Mike Fordham’s fourth-grade math class are bothusing new technology that allows students to take part in class -and even take tests – with the use of a television-remote-sized”clicker” that they point at a screen at the front of the room. The”clicker” gives them a feeling of interaction and competition verymuch akin to that of playing games on their Sony Playstation orNintendo Game Cube.

The lesson appears on the screen in the form of amultiple-choice question. Students then select the answer on theirclicker, which has a student-specific number programmed to it.

The bottom of the screen shows a list of the students’ numbers,which light up when they have answered the question on the screen.In the case of a classroom practice activity, the teacher thentells children the correct answer so they can follow their ownprogress.

BES Principal Pam Fearn said the technology, which the schoolhas only had since mid-September, has been a great way to reachchildren who have been unable to really key in on routine classroomprocedures.

“The hardest thing we have to compete with is these gamingsystems,” Fearn said. “But the good thing about this program isthat now they’re all involved, and they can’t wait for the nextquestion. It holds their attention, and it’s become something thekids can really look forward to.”

Dowd agreed that children in her classroom relate to theclickers much better than the traditional method of teaching.

“I think they concentrate better, because it’s more like videotechnology,” she said. “We’re not having to compete for theirattention with the games they play at home.”

Fordham said another perk of the program is the children aremore relaxed in a test situation than they were before.

“Some of the students who haven’t done too well on previoustests are able to see this as a little more of a game,” he said.”It gets rid of some of the test anxiety some of them dealwith.”

The students feel that not only is the system more fun, it’sless trouble for them.

“They’re awesome,” Amber Newton said of the clickers. “It’s alot better when you don’t have to write down your answers. You canjust press the button and send it.”

And for the children who have a hard time paying attentionbecause of learning disorders, too much energy or short attentionspans, the technology is a real breakthrough. Fordham said itinsures all the children will get involved in classroom reviews andlessons.

“It’s always hard to get 100 percent participation,” he said.”This helps everyone be engaged, and it gives them instantfeedback.”

Not only does it give the students instant feedback, but it alsomakes life a lot easier for the teacher. The child’s answers areavailable immediately, so teachers are able to tell which studentsmight be struggling in the lesson.

It also saves long hours of grading papers, teachers said, asthe tests and other work are graded in real time as the studentsenter their answers. And while the program hasn’t been in placelong enough to see a definitive impact on the gradebooks, Fearnsaid there is already a noticeable difference in studentprogress.

“We have noticed longer attention spans, and a real excitementabout learning,” said Fearn. “When a student can’t wait to take atest, I’m sure we’re going to see these grades come up. Andattendance for the teachers that use these is way up.”

Fordham said that doesn’t cut out traditional gradebooks andother teaching methods, but that it certainly helps.

“I joke that I’ve actually realized how time-consuming and howmuch of a struggle it is to write on the board, and all the timeyou spend with your back to the students,” he said. “I hate it whenit’s not working right, because I feel like I’m back in the darkages.”

Speaking of the dark ages, Fearn said, she can remember yearsago, when library card scanners were cutting-edge technology. Thatbeing said, she said she wishes the clickers had been around whenshe was a teacher.

“As old school as I am, I really wish we’d had these back then,”she said.

But, all the educators said, the greatest reward is seeing thechildren who respond to the program.

“It’s a neat system,” Fordham said. “I’ve got a boy in one of myclasses who has ADHD, and he used to just sit over there and do hisown thing. But he’s gotten fired up about this program, and wantedto know if he could do it at home.”

Fearn said the school is looking toward a day when it can haveclickers in every classroom. Funding is always an issue, she said,but the price of getting children excited about learning is worthevery penny.

“It’s about $2,500 for a set of 32 clickers,” Fearn said.”That’s not a lot of money for what you’re going to get from thesekids. It’s a tremendous payoff.”