Texting in class: Wiffiti and PollEverywhere

Previously: Getting Students to Ask Their Good Questions

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

This week I gave cell phones in class another shot. I had previously tried this during my student teaching to mediocre results and again in my first year of teaching. Similar to the previous times I’ve pulled out Wiffiti (now branded LocaModa), I used it as a way to submit answers electronically. This worked to varying levels of success, depending on my class.

For my first class, I used it as a way for groups to submit answers to a large pool of questions.  However, this turned into a huge disaster. With 7 groups, text messages were popping up at a rate that was too fast for me to keep track of. Unfortunately, Wiffiti does not store these texts in a way that lets a user easily go back and see what was submitted. Therefore, it turned into a lot of me yelling “Hands up!” at regular intervals so I could catch up and the students could tell me what I missed. I was pretty much simply sitting next to the board scribbling results like crazy instead of walking the room like I wanted.  Strike one.

My second section of Algebra II is much smaller, so I had only three groups to keep track of. Also, I turned it into a jeopardy style game: I asked the questions, they submitted their answers. However, once an answer is up, there’s little to stop a group from just looking on the board and seeing it. It was a set-up that didn’t let students struggle with problems and too easily let them just submit the answer they see on the board, rather than work together for a solution.  Strike two.

The third attempt of the day was my most worrisome. Last period. Largest class. 8th and 9th graders. Madness ensued. Even though I resorted to the jeopardy style so I could keep the rate of texts popping up manageable, there was still too many groups to keep up with. My 8s and 9s did not react well to the down time I needed to keep up and it turned into chaos quickly with few kids working, a few kids waiting for an answer to text in, and a bunch of students just sitting around.  I had to stop the activity and resort to individual practice.  Strike three – at least it was swinging.

Answer: 2 million

In 2012, how many people proposed on V-Day?

None of these times did I feel the benefit from the novelty of being allowed to text in class outweighed the clunky-ness of using the phones.  Basically it was just a way to raise your hand and answer a question – nice and fun for a while, but really I’m not gaining anything by using Wiffiti. It’s flashy and cool looking but it lacks the features a teacher would want: recording data and a multitude of options and features. Plus, I have yet to have smooth cell service and quick results with Wiffiti.

Sorry Wiffiti. We once had something nice – you even gave me a nice line on my resume and some great talking points for interviews. Hey, it’s not you, it’s me.

Unlike the last two years, though, I’m going to stick with it. Nearly 100% of my students have phones and texting, so I’m going to start utilizing that on a regular basis (using partners to ensure everyone has the ability to text).  On to PollEverywhere. I had basically forgot about PollEverywhere. Back in grad school it was mentioned, though at the time it was pretty basic. Now, however, I’m ready to give it another shot.


I tried to make closers a regular appearance since the winter break, but it was never easy nor convenient to collect or grade them. PollEverywhere should make it convenient. I’ll get fast formative assessment and it will be easy for students to submit their answer to a quick question at the end of class.

polle1It will also allow for a way of quick student self-assessment. If 80% of my classmates select the third option, but I chose the first option, I know I have to re-assess the question and my knowledge.  Maybe that is a gateway to sticking after class for 1 minute to ask for a clarification.

Anonymous Questions

This was the new idea that I was hoping Wiffiti could help with. However, PollEverywhere will be much better. If you’re listening to a lecture or watching an explanation of a solution and get lost it is important to ask for clarification. Yet, we know that our students do not want to single themselves out and ask that question for fear of being ostracized. What if they could text in their question and have it appear immediately and anonymously?  I think it will work with PollEverywhere.

polle2The questions show up anonymously and can be submitted via text or online.  Furthermore, I can go back and view a full history of questions that are asked – a feature not available with Wiffiti.

In large classrooms I can see this being useful. The next step is getting two projectors in my classroom so I can have PollEverywhere up as well as SmartBoard slides or PPT slides or the TI Smart View. Don’t know if I’ll get that wish anytime soon though.

Regardless, I see texting becoming a major part of my classrooms now. Despite the failures of the past week, there’s no way I’m going to keep ignoring the fact that nearly 100% of my students have mini-computer in their pockets that can instantaneously share information. That’s power that needs to be taken advantage of.

The Reflection: Recursion with Philip J. Fry

Previously: The Plan, Back to School Night

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.

Bill Cosby

To say I had a desire to succeed with this lesson would be an understatement. I showed the Futurama clip to the parents and got all geeked up about how it would enlighten their children to the power of mathematics!!!  In the end, it wasn’t the lesson that fell flat, but the sequencing of several lessons. That’s exactly why I’m blogging – so this gets recorded and I (perhaps some others as well) can make that enlightening lesson, you know, enlighten.

I slotted this as the second day of our Recursion unit. Why? Because that’s exactly where the book had the question: If Lucy puts $2000 in a savings account that accrues 7% interest yearly, how much money will the account have after one year?”  It is the Futurama question. So, it seemed like it would be the perfect place for it.  The prior day we had discussed what recursive definitions were, how to set up tables for sequences, the difference between an arithmetic sequence and a geometric sequence. However, when I wanted to turn to this lesson, we needed more work with these newfangled recursive formulas, what with their subscripts and all.

After spending the needed time to review those finer points, I went to the Fry lesson, but with just 20ish minutes left in class. The kids liked the clip, of course, but I had provided too much help: they were uninterested in finding the result because they knew they would have to push the button 1000 times. In each class I had one person willing to crank out that work. In one class I had someone trying to adjust the problem to an explicit formula.

In the end, I decided I did not properly set up the problem and gave up actually expecting them to find the answer. I showed them a picture of when I pushed the button 1000 times, talked about exponential growth a bit (without actually referring to exponentiation) and how the more money you invest initially, the faster your account can grow.

Next Year

I think the right way to do this lesson is to not provide any kind of structure for the kids. Show it before we start recursive formulas, do a better job of establishing group norms, and be willing to sacrifice a day to the lesson. If I let my students try to find an answer on their own – without pushing the recursive method – maybe (probably!) they come up with some interesting methods. Maybe they are all completely wrong. And that would be great!  Two days later we revisit Fry and find the correct answer. We can still have the discussion of why recursion can by bad and how it would be great to have a faster way to do this.

While it was a little deflating to be so excited for a lesson only to watch it flounder, I feel like my desire to succeed outweighed my fear of failure. Now the question is, next year, will my fear of failure while sacrificing a day stop me from conducting what could still be an excellent introduction to recursion. Of course it won’t, but it will up the ante that much.