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What do students know? Let's find out!

January 14, 2015

Those not familiar with today’s public schools may simply view technology in the classroom as a student sitting in front of a computer screen watching a video or taking an online quiz. However, teachers and students are currently experiencing technology in education in a way that makes learning more accessible, engaging, and customizable for each student.

As teachers, we are constantly working to understand what our students know and can do. There are several ways we check for understanding--  calling on students in class or giving quizzes or tests, for example. The information we get as a result provides important insights-- does the class understand deeply enough? Is the class ready to move on to the next concept or topic area? Are there particular students who may need the material presented in a new way?

While I have always gathered information in my classroom through short quizzes before, during, or after a lesson, in the past I would need time to grade the assessment, analyze the results, and sort through stacks of papers to figure out which individual students were struggling with the material and what specific material was not mastered. Today, however, with programs such as Socrative and Plickers, the task of gathering data from students requires little to no time to grade, occurs instantaneously, and eliminates paper from the mix all together. Both of these programs allow me to gain immediate feedback so that I can make better decisions for my students.

Socrative ( is a student response system that allows teachers to create and share simple quizzes and to gain instant feedback from their students’ mobile devices. Teachers can access the Socrative response system through any smartphone, tablet, or computer while the students can do the same. Rather than collecting papers from students and spending valuable time grading multiple choice or true/false questions, teachers can instantly see what students need help and can see exactly what problems are giving them the most trouble. In addition to multiple choice and true/false questions, students can also type short answer responses for teachers to get a better idea of a student’s true understanding.

Plickers ( is another great student response system that allows teachers to gain feedback from students. This app is perfect for teachers with a classroom full of students who do not have smartphones, tablets, or laptops. Rather than technology in each student’s hand, each student is given a unique individual card that is printed from the Plicker’s website. This card is essentially a large QR code that can be turned in one of four orientations to produce answer A, B, C, or D.  The teacher creates or syncs multiple choice questions to the app on their smartphone and then scans the room with their smartphone’s camera. The app immediately records each student’s response and gives teachers instant results from the classroom. The students find the activity engaging and the information provided to the teacher is immediate and extremely valuable.

Both of these programs are just two examples of technology that helps teachers quickly assess student knowledge. By eliminating some of the unnecessary grading, teachers will have the ability and the time to alter feedback and quickly determine interventions before the class period is over. Rather than grading the papers at home and making changes in the lesson the following day, teachers can help alleviate any issues before the students even leave the classroom. Ultimately, these tools aid in the planning and delivery of content and in the assessment and reflection of student understanding. By allowing technology to take care of these issues, teachers have more time to directly work with and help their students.

Dave Schultz is a high school math teacher in Ohio