Classroom Technology Reinvents the Pop Quiz

GREAT NECK, N.Y. — The games had begun. In a darkened classroom at Great Neck South High School on a recent afternoon, the Advanced Placement physics students sped through a pop quiz, furiously pressing keys on hand-held clickers. A projection screen tracked their responses in real time, showing who knew what through an animated display of spaceships — individually numbered for each student — that blasted off or fell by the wayside with each right or wrong answer.

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As students in Matt Sckalor’s physics class at Great Neck South High School click their answers, the results go up on a screen. They can instantly see their progress, and how the class did. The students were not competing for grades (it was only a practice quiz), but they certainly acted as if they were. “Let’s go, let’s go!” yelled a boy from the back of the class. “What’s the next question?”

The Great Neck district has been introducing the clickers in an effort to liven up traditional classroom teaching with a more interactive approach. After a successful test at one of its high schools, Great Neck expanded the technology to other schools. The clickers are part of an increasingly popular technology known as an audience response system, which has been used for everything from surveying game show audiences to polling registered voters. That technology is now spreading to public and private schools across the country.

The Los Angeles school district has spent about $503,000 to buy clickers for more than two dozen middle schools since 2005, district officials said. Smaller districts in the Dallas and Atlanta suburbs have also invested in them, according to school officials and companies that manufacture the devices.

In New York City, a dozen schools across the five boroughs have experimented with the devices. And in St. Paul, the clickers are routinely used to train teachers and administrators and to get reaction from parents at community meetings. In a typical system, the clickers record data from individuals, and transmit that information, through wireless technology, to a computer program. The program can instantly display the results, tally them and present them in elaborate spreadsheets and eye-catching graphics like spaceships or “Jeopardy!”-style boards. It can track the percentage of correct answers received for each question as well as the participation rate among all users.

The growth of the clicker technology in schools has been “very big and fast paced,” said Jaci Hendricks, a spokeswoman for Qwizdom, one of several companies that manufacture the clickers. In the last five years alone, Qwizdom has supplied more than 750,000 clickers to schools nationwide, including those in Great Neck, New York City and Los Angeles. In Great Neck, the district spent $18,000 to buy the clickers after its technology director, Marc Epstein, saw them at education conferences. He thought they presented an advance over earlier classroom technology, which he said had focused on providing hardware to students (desktop computers, laptops and printers, for example), or helping teachers deliver lessons (“smart boards” and projectors).

In contrast, he said, the clickers used technology to assess student learning. Mr. Epstein found an ally in Randolph Ross, the principal of Great Neck South, who agreed to have the clickers tested at his school, which has 1,300 students, in 2006. Mr. Ross, who constructs crossword puzzles for a hobby, said that some teachers and students had already been requesting an electronic buzzer system to use for classroom “Jeopardy!” games and quiz bowls. Continue reading

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