Peer Instruction with NearPod and iPads

This year with my AP Physics B class, I’m trying a number of new ideas. One is peer instruction. This appealed to me because historically my AP Physics students have struggled on the more conceptual questions and peer instruction addresses these types of questions. While peer instruction is often associated with some sort of a “flipped” classroom, I want to be clear that I’m not flipping anything. I’m using peer instruction as a formative assessment tool and an opportunity for students to refine their conceptual understanding through thought and debate.

The particular methodology that I’m trying is best described by Stephanie Chasteen in her post “FTEP Effective facilitation of clickers workshop. She referenced a paper either on her blog or her podcast which described how a specific peer instruction technique was the most effective. The key elements are:

  • students register their answer individually
  • instructor shows distribution of answers but not which answer is correct
  • students discuss, debate, and defend their answer; preferably with students who choose a different answer
  • students register their answer again
  • instruction show the distribution of answers and explains why that answer is correct

The research showed that this final step was critical.

In another post, Stephanie shared several resources for these types of questions for physics. I have found that Paul Hewitt’s Next-Time Questions also make excellent peer instruction questions as long as I post them in advance for students to consider outside of class with sufficient time for consideration.

I started the semester using Turning Technologies clickers, which I already use in some of my classes when administering exams. These worked fine. A colleague of mine showed me the NearPod app on the iPads, and I decided to try that for a change. While creating a presentation on the NearPod web site takes more effort on my part, I and my students have found using NearPod for peer instruction is better than the clickers. Because each student views the question on their own device, I can show more content-dense questions than I can when projecting on a screen in the classroom. In addition, NearPod allows me to create questions where students respond by drawing or annotating. This is perfect for graphical and diagrammatic answers. The only feature I miss when using NearPod is the lack of a countdown timer to remind students they need to submit their answers.

I have continuously been impressed with the level of engagement and the quality discussions that I observe during peer instruction. I’ve heard students devise novel and clear explanations when justifying their answer to other students. I’ve seen students leap into the air when they were in the minority but their answer is the correct one. I consistently receive very positive feedback about this element of class.

I hope to find a way to incorporate peer instruction into my Honors Physics class next year.

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