Wireless device gets students involved

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
March 26, 2008

GUILFORD — Fifth-grade teacher John Montanaro is used to seeing the same set of hands shoot up when he asks questions in his classes.

But now Montanaro can hear from all his students at once, and instantly analyze their responses. Through a grant from the Guilford Fund for Education, he recently acquired 32 wireless handheld devices that allow students to answer questions with the push of a button.

Montanaro, who teaches socials studies and language arts at Abraham Baldwin Middle School, received the equipment in February. Last week, he used the response systems in class several days in a row.

In some classes, for example, students studied the best ways to respond to short-answer questions. Montanaro, whose classroom also has a built-in projector, displayed different writing samples and asked the students to rate them.

Using the handheld devices, he then made a graph showing how many students rated the samples a 1, 2 or 3.

“This gets the kids who aren’t sure of themselves and aren’t ready to raise their hands to give an answer, and it also gives me the chance at the end of a class to see where we are and are we ready to move on,” Montanaro said. “I’ll get a range of scores in a graph and then we can talk about it.”

The devices are made by a Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., company called Renaissance Learning. Montanaro is using their 2Know product, a wireless handheld system that transmits the students’ responses to a receiver on the classroom computer.

Montanaro applied for the money from the Guilford Fund for Education, which offers grants for innovative educational projects, last fall. The $2,700 he received covered 32 handheld units and two receivers, one mounted on a desktop computer and the other on a laptop that can be used throughout the school.

Joe Goldberg, a member of the Fund for Education’s board and grants committee, said that the goal of the grant is to introduce new teaching ideas to the middle school with the new equipment.

“Sometimes in a classroom a student is a little bit hesitant, wants to speak up but doesn’t, but this tool … allows the student to feel like he’s not the only one who doesn’t get it,” Goldberg said. “So that’s what I was very excited about — it really wasn’t the tool itself, but that this was bringing a new method of teaching to the Guilford public schools.”

The equipment does not have to be confined to the classroom or the school building. Montanaro said there is an option to pre-load questions onto the systems, so students on a field trip could answer questions during the visit.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said he will watch to see what Montanaro’s experience is with the handheld devices. If they prove successful, the district could expand the program to other classes and schools.

“We’re going to look at it, see if it works and if we want to implement it in the schools,” Forcella said. “It seems fascinating what the potential might be for it.”

Montanaro is still familiarizing himself with the equipment, but he said his students have been enthusiastic about it so far. Other teachers at Baldwin will also have the opportunity to use the response systems in their classes.

And last week, the equipment helped him realize that many of his social studies students needed to learn more about the differences between the branches of government. On an in-class quiz that students answered on the handheld devices, most of them missed questions distinguishing between the legislative and executive branches.

“It would take me two or three days to compile that data — I know now in this class there are kids who need to revisit that,” he said. “The whole idea is to give me data that I can use to influence my teaching quickly, efficiently and almost on a daily basis.”

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