A good multiple choice clicker question…? Help!?

by Stephanie Chasteen on June 18, 2009

I’m giving a workshop on the use of clickers in K12 classrooms next week.  I need your help!  The research says that teachers focus too much on the surface features of “example” questions that you give them.  If they’re a science teacher, they tune out during a literature question.  If they’re a history teacher, the science question doesn’t mean anything to them.  They can’t abstract out the central features of that question to see how it might relate to their subject.

So, I want to come up with a question (or two) that are not specific to any discipline.  I need a multiple choice question, that’s hard to answer and requires discussion with your neighbors, and would interest any average American adult.  I was thinking something with nutrition or health…. or maybe something puzzle-like, like the Monty Hall problem (though that’s a little mathy).  My colleague has a nice question about “how many liters of Scotch are stored in Scotland” which you actually *can* answer by making a few estimations — but I kind of like the idea of using a question that has a right answer, since that more matches how teachers would use it in the classroom.

I could also use some examples of good clicker questions from non-science areas, and any K12 question banks that people have.



Derek Bruff June 18, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Here’s my usual demo question:

Your sister-in-law calls to say that she’s having twins. Which of the following is more likely? (Assume that she’s not having identical twins.)

A. Twin boys
B. Twin girls
C. One boy and one girl
D. All are equally likely

It’s mathematical, but not too “mathy.” It almost always generates the distribute I want to see on a first vote–several popular answers, with the correct answer usually the second most popular. This usually leads to very productive peer instruction time.

An audience of mathematicians would find this question too easy. I tried asking harder math questions, but I’ve found that asking science questions (like the one about the source of a tree’s mass) work better. I think the key is for the question to have at least one intuitive but incorrect answer.

That’s all assuming your point is to demonstrate how clickers can enhance a class dynamic. If you’re point is to show how to write effective clicker questions, then examples from your audience members’ discipline work better.

My two cents.

Kenneth Finnegan June 18, 2009 at 5:32 pm

I can’t think of a good example, but I would try and take advantage of the fact that you aren’t talking to average Americans. You’re talking to a group of teachers, so maybe try and come up with something that would interest them. But at the same time, don’t make it teaching mentality questions that would just have people fall into their respective camps (ie more homework vs more in class work). I’m not a teacher, so I don’t know what’s controversial, but not encamping, in teaching.

Derek Bruff June 18, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Here’s another query: What clicker questions would you ask a group of members of Congress?


Rhett June 18, 2009 at 7:43 pm

How about a clicker question about clicker questions. Something like:

Which of the following would be the best type of clicker question to ask at a workshop on clickers?
a. Math question with a lot of numbers?
b. Science question
c. Estimation
d. Art appreciation

sciencegeekgirl June 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Ooh, these are all good suggestions. A meta-clicker question… how fun. How Rhett.

sciencegeekgirl June 18, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Here’s my usual demo question:

Your sister-in-law calls to say that she’s having twins. Which of the following is more likely? (Assume that she’s not having identical twins.)

We’re going to use this one for sure, Derek, thanks for sharing! It is a nice question, interesting, and anyone can figure it out. It took me and my co-presenter a few minutes of discussion, very nice!

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