[Clickers in upper-division physics] 4. Tips for success

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 28, 2009

This is the last in a series of four posts about using clickers in upper division physics courses.

We’ve conducted extensive research on what students think about clickers, in introductory and upper division physics (email me if you want links to our papers).  The survey of students who had used clickers in upper-division courses (across 11 courses, 224 responses) indicates that students prefer:

  • 2-3 clicker questions per hour
  • Clicker questions be interspersed with lecture (not all at end or beginning)
  • Peer discussion be allowed and encouraged, and peer discussion be part of the response
  • Many prefer some time for individual thinking prior to the peer discussion

Clickers set students up to learn more from your lecture. Once they’ve struggled with the concept or idea, then when you do give your brilliant lecture, they’ll get a lot more out of it. To quote Dan Schwartz, there is a time for telling, it’s just not too soon. (more on this idea here and here).

Tips for Success

These aren’t that different from the tips at the lower division, but here they are:

  • Tell your students why you’re using clickers (to help them learn, not to track them)
  • Ask questions that are challenging (but not too hard)
  • Connect questions to lecture (so questions build on lecture or lead into lecture)
  • Create a comfortable environment for discussion
  • Don’t stress the grading of the clickers for the “right” answer

For a detailed instructor’s guide on the use of clickers, see our website.

Video: Tell students why you’re using clickers (1 min)

Video: How do I write upper division clicker questions? (1 min)

Once again, here are a few very useful books on using clickers in the classroom:

Peer Instruction is the “bible” of clicker usage, including sample questions in physics. This text will change the way you teach! Derek Bruff’s new book Teaching with Classroom Response Systems comes highly recommended by Eric Mazur himself, which is high praise! Doug Duncan’s Clickers in the Classroom is a short and pithy gold standard of how to use Peer Instruction in the classroom.


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