Monday, February 20, 2012

Making Cell Phones Work for Good With Poll Everywhere - Guest Post has become one of my favorite classroom tools.  It’s free, and easy to use.  All you need is a computer, a data projector, and decent cell phone service in your classroom.  After fighting a daily battle with students to put their phones away, I decided to take away the power of their phones as a distraction by using them for educational purposes.  Here’s how I’ve made cell phones work for me with the help of

Establish Clear Boundaries and Rules

I introduce to students by first doing a quick low tech survey (by asking the students to raise their hands – you can do this seven-up style where students put their heads down so it’s anonymous) to see which students have a cell, and out of those students which ones have a plan that allows them unlimited text messaging.  If more than half the class has met these qualifications I will proceed and allow students to partner with a peer who has a cell phone if they do not.  I will then go over rules and expectations for participating – cell phones may be out and visible during the polling, but once we are done with the polling I will announce that cell phones need to be put away, and within 30 seconds I should no longer see a phone.  If I have issues with phone usage we will not use cell phone polling in class for a week (or an established period of time).  Since students enjoy this activity I haven’t experienced difficulty with them following the rules.

I only use the multiple choice option for polls.  There is an open response option where students could type out a response that would appear on the screen.  Since this option is anonymous a student could conceivably write whatever they want, and it could appear in front of the entire class.  I prefer not to take this risk and stick with multiple choice options only.

The number students text their response to is linked to your account (but in no way linked to your actual cell phone number).  Students can store this number in their cell as one of their contacts so they don’t need to type it in every time they want to participate in a poll.

Predictions and Opinions

Polls are a great way to get students excited about the new unit, to begin thinking about the material, make predictions, and share their opinions.  Allowing them to respond anonymously leads to more students participating, instead of the usual three hands that will always go up.  Seeing the responses come in can lead to a great discussion as well.  This can also be used to check-in on students’ prior knowledge on a subject.  I recently used a poll to ask students what qualities they thought made a good leader prior to begin my dictators unit, this led to an excellent discussion on historical leaders, politicians in general, and the Republican primaries.

Do – Nows and Exit Tickets

Polls are a great way to have students engaged from the minute they walk in the door.  You can have a poll projected up on the board for students to respond to instantly, or you can just write the information (question, response options and numbers) up on the board if you need to use the computer for attendance, or want to wait until later to reveal the responses.  Polls also can serve as an excellent exit ticket to keep students active until the bell rings or to fill in those last couple minutes when there’s not enough time to start a new activity.  At the beginning of the week I always create a few extra polls that I can turn use to keep students engaged and focused.

Review and Feedback

I frequently use polls to review for tests (this can easily be turned into a competition between class periods too).  While this review is good for the students, it’s also good for me to see weaknesses in content knowledge, and catch it before we move onto the new unit.  This information allows me the opportunity to re-teach anything students may have missed or review information they’re unclear on.  Students also have an opportunity to see where their weaknesses are.  When I ask my students if they have any questions or need to go over any material again I get blank stares and shrugs.  Conducting polls makes gaps in knowledge apparent to both the teacher and the students.  I know what I need to cover in more detail, and they know what they need to study to prepare for the test.

About the Guest Blogger
Lisa Herzl teaches freshmen world history at a public school in Massachusetts.  You can find her on her class wiki, on twitter @lisa_herzl, and blogging at