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.

Drive or Fly?

Due to two snow days, I had to axe a “Leaving on a Jet Plane” project [full credit to Dan Meyer] where students were going to model flight cost as a function of distance from Detroit. Pretty simple wrap up to linear equations. Now, however, I’m pretty excited it got pushed back since our next stop is systems…

I’m hoping the quick visual I put together will provide a bit of spark and interest. Which circle represents the area where it is cheaper to drive than it is to fly?


So now, instead of simply plotting flight cost vs. distance, we’ll also plot driving cost vs. distance, helping us find the answer to the question above. A couple plots, a couple lines of best fit, an intersection representing a break even point and YES YOU CAN USE THIS IN REAL LIFE.

UPDATE #1: Here’s the lab that was whipped together.

Fly or Drive Lab – Word Doc

UPDATE #2:  Next year –

The biggest problem I had was with the data collection. This was a class of 13 8th graders and 10 9th graders. It took much longer to collect data (flight cost & gas cost to each city) than needed. I like having that research in there, but it became far too tedious and drew attention away from what we should have been focusing on. Plus, kids that were absent (whether physically or mentally…) while we walked through how to research the costs fell far behind.

Next year I will crowdsource the data collection. Each student picks one city. Each student researches the cost to fly to their single city and the cost to drive to their single city. I would expect this takes about 15-20 minutes. As they get their data, I’m throwing it into a table that is projected up on the board. Everyone uses the same data, which also allows me to more easily check the lab and make sure the data does what I want (the models intersect at a reasonable distance).

Basketbola: The Reaction

Previously: Basketbola, Three Acts: Basketbola Preview

It’s not often I get my kids yelling and hollering about math, but if the Basketbola project was anything, it was fun.

From a math/content/standard perspective, the biggest thing the project did was visualize the result of a negative leading coefficient of a quadratic. While I hoped for a little more, I’ll take it for the first time doing the mini-project. In the future I’ll probably flesh-out some of the other properties of parabolas and address those properties a little more directly. After about 25 minutes, matching the graph to the flight of the ball was a little repetitive, though still interesting enough to hold a sixteen-year-old’s attention.


Three Acts: Basketbola Preview

Previously: Basketbola

This is probably the biggest lesson/activity I’ve put together this year. Thanks to today’s snow/ice day, what was going to be spread out over 3 days will now have to be done in two. I think it’ll be doable.

First, I’ve made it a contest. There are nine total videos of people shooting a basketball. Students will watch Act 1 for each shooter and make their prediction. Does it go in, or not? Correct predictions are worth 3 points. During Act Two they’ll have the chance to change their prediction, however it will cost them 1 point.  If they are wrong, they receive no points.


Act One

I’ll go through showing the nine Act Ones, as seen below. Students will make their guess. Very low entry bar. Anyone can make a guess.

Act Two

Then we’ll go into Geometer’s Sketchpad and start modeling parabolas. Here is where the competition gets interesting. Once students model their equation, they may decide their original guess was off. That’s fine, but it’ll cost them a point if they want to change. That should provide a little incentive to be as precise as possible in their modeling.

screenshot2This screenshot is in Geogebra, but my students will be working with Sketchpad, which should allow things to be a little more intuitive. I’ll set them up with a standard parabola in vertex form: y = -0.5(x – 2)^2 + 2.  That should be plenty to get them going and graphing.

As they progress through the shooters, they get more difficult. One picture will have a random three balls in the picture. One picture has three balls very close to each other, right after they leave the shooter’s hand. One shooter hits a bank shot which should really throw people off.  I’ll have them record their equations and record whether or not they want to keep their prediction, just to keep them honest.


Act Three

The next day we’ll come back and reveal the results.

It’ll be interesting and fun to see how much they get into it, especially when the bank shot throws the entire class off.  We’ll take a few minutes to discuss the investigation questions:

  1. Why is the value of a negative? What happens if it is positive?
  2. Describe what happened when you changed a. What happened when you made it smaller? Bigger?
  3. Describe how h and k changed. What does the point (h, k) represent? What does the line x = h represent?

As for the contest? Whoever wins gets to add their video to the library for next year.


There’s so many other things to do with this! I could use any other form of a quadratic as the focus of the lesson (or all of them).  The sequel I like the best is this:

screenshot4In fact, this is what I hope we get to if the students are able to model the first nine shots quick enough. Had I still had 3 days instead of two, I’m sure we could have. This is a pretty obvious way to show, graphically, that having only two points is not sufficient to graph a quadratic function.

You could also talk about other curves instead of parabolas, too. I’ll be very interested to see what other questions come up in class.


Check out the reaction post.  In short, my students loved it:

The Right Way to do Smart Boards

As the school year winds down and I give this blogging thing a go, I figured a nice way for me to reflect on the year and hopefully share some things would be to recap some highs and lows.

I’ll be the first to say I haven’t taken full advantage of the SmartBoard in my class.  Basically, I use it as a projector.  I run through slides, pull up interesting websites or pictures, play Vi Hart videos, and occasionally it is used as a whiteboard.  But nothing really “Smart.”  Until this:

A simple download of Angry Birds to my desktop suddenly changed an electronic whiteboard into an interactive exploration of parametric equations.  In my Pre-Calculus text book, parametric equations is a one-section topic, thrown in with vectors but not with parabolic motion (which is studied 4 chapters earlier) and before polar equations.  It’s a little odd and  in order to properly teach it, I thought I needed a solid 3-4 days to do it.  Instead, some sacrifices were made and we added a couple of days to really dig deep into what was going on in Angry Birds, including the creation of our own Angry Birds course. We even measured initial vectors of slingshot-ed birds until the primary concern became “can anyone hit the target?!”

A refresher of modeling one-dimensional motion using one of Dan Meyer’s “Falling Rocks” 3-Act lessons was our start, followed by a discussion of Angry Birds, initial vectors, and some trigonometry and so on.  Suddenly, we had a reason for wanting to know a vector’s angle from the x-axis: will the bird hit the piece of wood I think it will?

I’ve found the beauty of the Smart Board is that kids, for one reason or another, love playing with it.  But they love drawing on my old-fashion white board too.  So, how can I really take this expensive piece of equipment and make it more than a combo projector-white board?  I think Angry Birds is a good start.

Next Year

  • Angry Birds in class, for a whole class period, not just the 5 minutes in between class and the 5 minutes at the start.  Let’s make teams.  Who’s the best player at Angry Birds? Why is she the best player? Why can’t you beat her? How can you beat her?
  • Do I save Angry Birds for when we discuss parametric equations or get right to it when we start vectors?
  • How can I turn a 5 day mini-unit into a 3 day mini-unit?  Or, how do I make this 5 day mini-unit more mathematically rigorous?  I’m a little worried the time taken away from the math to play the game, build a real-life level was too much taken away from practice in class (based on concept tests and the final exam after).
  • How can I fix this guided worksheet on one-dimensional motion?  Does it need fixing? Do I need it at all:  Intro to Parametrics
  • If I’m not going to get to Polar Equations anyway (like this year), can I play with a more thorough connection of trigonometry to parabolic motion prior to getting to Angry Birds?

Next on tap: The failure of my texting in class activity, and why I need to try it again.