St. Gabriel teachers receive instant feedback

Written by Karen Mahoney Thursday, 01 October 2009 11:03 

HUBERTUS — After conducting a 30-minute review for an upcoming math test, St. Gabriel fourth grade teacher Linda Markovich decided it was time to see if her students had been listening.

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Barbara Verble, seventh grade teacher at St. Gabriel School, Hubertus uses the Interactive Classroom System in her classroom earlier this year during a Spanish lesson review. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

With a few clicks on her keyboard, she displayed a multiple-choice question and four possible answers on a large white screen in front of the classroom.

Immediately, students pushed buttons on small calculator sized remote control devices. Seconds later, the results appeared on Markovich’s main display unit attached to a lanyard she wore around her neck.

“I love it, and not only do I love it, but the kids do, too,” she said. “It is really another way to check to make sure the kids understand the material; it is more interesting, different and keeps things exciting and interesting.”

First used in the college lecture hall, the wireless personal response systems have made their way into elementary school classrooms as a way to instantly determine whether students are paying attention and understanding the material. The response card keypads or “clickers” can also be used to take attendance or administer exams, and can be used in conjunction with classroom SMART boards.

The Interactive Classroom System, developed by Ohio-based Turning Technologies, was a gift to the school by Wind River Financial and Dennis and Theresa Driver. According to Judy Mortell, principal of St. Gabriel School, Driver contacted the school, asking for a wish list as his company, Wind River, wanted to give the school a gift.

“It was really something because just two days before we had learned of this system through the husband of one of our teachers. He attended a dental convention and was tired from the plane ride. So, when he attended this seminar, the leader announced that he didn’t want to continue until he knew everyone understood the material. He had all the dentists press buttons on one of those response systems and immediately the instructor knew that a third of the class did not understand the material,” Mortell said. “He really tuned in because he wanted to get the right answer and was quite impressed with the unit. He came and told me that they have these systems for the classroom.”

As part of its mission, Madison-based Wind River Financial is a family oriented company that shares its time, talent and treasure with the community. After company executives asked managers for ideas of meaningful places to direct company funds, Dennis thought of his son TJ’s school.

“I asked Dr. Mortell for a wish list, and she told me of this unique tool and it resonated for me,” Dennis said. “The company paid half the $1,500 price and my wife and I liked it so much that we decided to fund the balance.”

The Drivers admit that their belief in Catholic education and St. Gabriel’s educational program was key in directing their funds to bring the response system to the school.

“We just believe so much in the product and in Catholic schools,” he said. “Our son is in (fourth) grade and his class loves using the system. We love our parish and school and are pleased with their program so we wanted to help.”

While the kids think of the system as a game, teachers are impressed with the increased understanding and interest in the material being taught. When eighth grade teacher Pam Merkel teaches history, Spanish or technology she was used to seeing the same hands shoot in the air to offer the answer and the same students slide down in their seats to avoid discovery.

“This system is another way to reach kids who don’t always raise their hands because they aren’t sure if they know the answer. This system encourages everyone to participate and is a real blessing to have,” she said. “I grabbed it the first day to review for a test and thought it was the coolest thing because I got the chance to know what the kids knew and what we needed to practice on. There was no embarrassment attached to this and even the kids who are usually shy were feeling good about themselves when they pressed a button and chose the right answer.”

A hot item among teachers and students alike, Markovich said that the response system is rotated among classrooms.

“We have the one unit for the whole school and share it with the other teachers,” she said. “The kids do want to use it every day, but like with anything, if you use it constantly it gets old. The value is that this is another great technique and helps the kids to know if they understand the concepts.”

Almost serving as an immediate report card for teachers, the Interactive Classroom is helpful not only to see if students understand the material, but that teachers are presenting it in an understandable manner. According to Mortell, St. Gabriel prides itself on its reputation as a small school with an exemplary recognition in the state.

“This system brings one more layer for teachers to test themselves,” she said. “They might think they explained something well, but this system will really reinforce that. It also creates a fun, interactive classroom and lets all the kids participate equally. Even kids on the lowest level think it is a game, and it makes them want to get the right answer. It is so popular we can’t keep it on the shelf – all of the classes want to use the system.”

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