My Overdue Letter to Time Magazine

December 30, 2014

Dear Time Magazine,

Time Magazine's November 3, 2014 Cover
Time Magazine’s November 3, 2014 Cover

No, I will not be renewing my subscription.  Your sensationalistic November 3rd cover fed a public fire of anti-teacher rhetorical and sentiment churning for the past four or five years.  Your cover, black and white in both its design and message, wounded.

I eagerly read Nancy Gibb’s editorial response hoping the response from fellow teachers would have an impact, but I saw no acknowledgement the artwork was a mistake.  Nancy Gibb’s sentence, “We view education as crucial to America’s success, and it concerns me if teachers who have not had a chance to read our coverage have heard it mischaracterized” assumes outcry was solely due to the article, which was, in truth, more nuanced than the cover.  She ignores the cover, the most visible and displayed aspect of the magazine.

Teacher tenure does deserve discussion, and if Time really did value, as Nancy Gibb’s states, its mission to “spur discussion of important issues,” Time would include interviews from educators and it would look at issues such as the financing of the various movements to chip away at public education.  “Making the story free for all readers on” does not spur informed discussion; it simply makes the monied interest’s message more available.

So, no, Time.  I will not renew my subscription.

Plickers Engages Students

Plickers is the most engaging free app I have come across in years.  It gets more kids involved in class than anything else I could do.

An amazing substitute teacher, Tim Fahlberg,  who has some background in technology, used an engaging and really easy to set-up system, Plickers, when he worked for me a day this year.  The kids loved it, and Tim was kind enough to explain it all to me and get me started.

Plickers is where kids hold up a card to give a response to any posed multiple choice question and the teacher scans the room (I use my iPad, but a smartphone with a camera would do) to collect all the answers, which are printed from templates available from the site (I used colored cardstock).  If you have the ability to project, you can project the “Live View” student list while you are scanning and instruct kids to put down their cards when they see their name is checked.  The software tallies up who answered  what and shows it on a chart (hope you can project it!), where the real instruction begins.

When there are two close answers, the true class discussion begins.  I have mostly used this for AP Lit and their multiple choice, and so I ask the kids to go back to their text and find evidence that D is correct or C is correct, or we see that vocabulary is the culprit and we talk through the words and revote.  Kids get immediate feedback and I see their thinking patterns and can talk through errors they are making.  One beauty of this is that the tool is responsive to that moment.  It find it easier to see the differences between hours than I do when I grade by hand, where assessments blur together.

When we have done Plickers, going through the answers takes two to three times longer, but when I queried the kids, they said it was worth it: they get more feedback and better feedback than any other method.

Photo-0109#1 Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 6.07.05 PM

I used to use cards like those shown and would visually survey the class, but Plickers is better because it is impossible for kids to look around and see what other kids are answering and change their answer, and it provides anonymity for kids.  No one knows if Sam answered A, B, C, or D.  The graph feature is wonderful, and the app tracks who answered what.

There are some missing features of Plickers: it is hard to group and organize questions in order (consider entering them in reverse order), it doesn’t tally up multiple questions in a spreadsheet, and there are only four options.  When I contacted Plickers to tell them how pleased I was with their product, pleased enough to pay for more services, they sent me to their How do we make Plickers better page, which allowed me to upvote some of the modifications I would want to see.

I have also used Plickers to poll my class, based on suggestions from Tim Fahlberg.  You can ask groups if they need 1, 2, 5 minutes more or are done.  Instant answers.  For me, I asked about paper revision plans, and that helped me strategize next steps.

Want some resources?

Here is a slideshare by Kristen Vollmar that has concise directions on how to set up Plickers, including the essential fact that kids can’t cover up the code at all

Some general ideas on use from Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers or from Stacy Barnes at May the Tech Be With You

A YouTube how-to video from Tech in 2.

Teach music?  kindergarten?  math? more music?  Do a search– and maybe some amazing teacher has posted ideas for your discipline.

Plickers is easy, free, and engaging.  I am pretty sure I will find more and more ways to use it.