Unit 4: Designing a Lesson Using a Student Response System

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Previous Unit: Unit 3: How can Student Response Systems be Used?

Unit Objective and Assessment

Given a student response system and computer software, the participant will generate a lesson which includes formative assessment questions about a mathematics topic of his/her choice using the appropriate design tools and sound pedagogy.


View the example lesson by Professor Lazirko of University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, which uses a student response system as an essential component of instruction.

As you read the lesson, consider the following questions:

  • What were the different purposes of clicker questions included in the lesson? (consider the list from Unit 3)
  • What was most effective about the use of the student response system? What was least effective?
  • What ideas does this lesson give you for your own lesson?

Feel free to review any of the other example lessons to gain more ideas.

Designing Effective Questions for Use with Student Response Systems

Question Design Goals and Tactics. Chart taken from CU Science Education Initiative & UBC Carl Wieman SEI, n.d., p. 13.

Student response systems are only as effective as the questions they are used to answer. The questions asked during class must be deliberately created to achieve a particular purpose. Some principles of effective question design are listed below (adapted from CU Science Education Initiative & UBC Carl Wieman SEI, n.d., p. 10-11, and Caldwell, 2007, p. 17-18).

  • Questions should "address a specific learning goal, content goal, skill or reinforce a specific belief about learning" (Caldwell, 2007, p. 17).
  • Questions can be used to develop connections, apply knowledge to a new context, and deepen student understanding, not just test factual recall.
  • Questions should be appropriately difficult; do not make questions too easy.
  • Design questions which will result in a wide variety of answers, including (or especially) wrong answers.
  • Select answer choices to multiple choice questions strategically; include answers which contain common misconceptions or common errors, and offer 'I don't know' as an option to prevent guessing.
  • Limit answer choices to five or less.

A strategy for designing effective questions is to follow this process (adapted from CU Science Education Initiative & UBC Carl Wieman SEI, n.d., p. 11):

  1. Define a learning goal or lesson objective
  2. Identify the goal of the individual question
  3. Choose the type of question (see the chart to the right-- more detail will be presented in the reading)
  4. Write the question and answer choices

Best Practices for Using Student Response Systems

A student uses a clicker. Image from nytimes.com.

Beside designing effective questions, the instructor must seamlessly integrate the student response system into the lesson. Some best practices for teaching with a student response system include (adapted from Caldwell, 2007, p. 16-17):

  • Expect to spend extra time preparing your lessons in order to use the student response system effectively with good questions.
  • Explain to your students, at the beginning of the year, why you are using a student response system and how to use the clickers.
  • Explain how you will use clicker questions as a grade (if at all) and allow students to see their scores.
  • Give partial credit for wrong answers to emphasize participation over correctness.
  • Use the clickers daily so students get comfortable with them.
  • Plan adequate time for discussion and listen to students' reasoning for their answers, right or wrong.
  • Ask some questions twice, with discussion in between.
  • Include peer learning groups in instruction; they are a great way to include all students in discussion to enhance learning and understanding.
  • Limit the size of peer learning groups to no more than six students so all students have the opportunity to actively participate.
  • Build a question library and share that resource with other teachers.

For questions with the purpose of formative assessment, a suggested approach is (adapted from CU Science Education Initiative & UBC Carl Wieman SEI, p. 6-7):

  1. Present the question
  2. Give individual time for students to think about the question and respond
  3. Give time for peer discussion in pairs or small groups
  4. Have students vote again after discussion
  5. Discuss with the entire class

Engage and Reflect

Read these two articles about designing effective questions for use with student response systems: File:Beatty Designing Effective Questions.pdf & File:Bruff Multiple-Choice Questions.pdf

Reflect on the following questions in your journal:

  • Which types of questions will work best for the lesson you are creating?
  • How can you integrate peer learning in your lesson?

Put into Practice

Consider the topic you selected at the start of the course about which to write a lesson using a student response system. Reread your reflections in your journal and pay close attention to the ideas you had about your lesson. Use the knowledge you have gained through this website, readings, videos, and example lessons to create your own lesson using student response systems. You may assume that your students already know how to use the clickers; if they do not, consider that introduction to be a separate lesson prior to this one. Be sure to:

  • Use a variety of question types
  • Design each question with a specific goal in mind
  • Include peer learning through discussion

Additional Resources

Using Classroom Voting in Mathematics Courses - Kelly Cline, Holly Zullo, & Mark Parker: access here

Clickers in the Large Classroom: Current Research and Best-Practice Tips - Jane E. Caldwell: File:Caldwell Clickers in the Large Classroom.pdf

Clicker Resource Guide - CU Science Education Initiative & UBC Carl Wieman SEI: access here

Next Unit: Unit 5: Evaluating a Lesson which Uses a Student Response System

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