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Software Tells Teacher When Kids Space Out

ExitTicket, software born in a classroom, can tell a teacher if the kids in the back of the class haven't been paying attention.
"Our average student comes into 9th grade at 5th grade level, hates math, and doesn't think of themselves as academic," Waters said. Yet they get "super jazzed" when they see a series of green icons on the screen showing several correct answers in a row, and that builds confidence, she said. "If they get a certain number of tickets in a row, they get a super-streak and the icon changes."

ExitTicket fan Adiletta said one reason he was interested in the technology in the first place was a positive experience he had a few years ago using clickers while he was teaching social studies at an Oakland, Calif., middle school. "This was an urban war zone, with kids who had never had a positive school experience, and all of a sudden they had something on screen that told them they'd done something right at school," he said. The effect was dramatic and "turned a lot of those students into budding scholars," he said.

More recently, he went looking for a next generation equivalent of that kind of student response system when he was put in charge of implementing 1-to-1 iPad program, where every student got one of the devices, at a private school, Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, Conn. Even though that particular program was based on iPads, Adiletta said he was looking for a Web-based solution that could also be used on other devices in the future, which is what led him to ExitTicket. While clickers are still a good option, a tablet has clear advantages he said. For "the students, having that screen of their own is much more powerful," he said.

Adiletta is starting the new school year as a social studies teacher at the University of Cleveland Preparatory School, an urban charter school in Ohio, where he won't have access to the same technology (although he is working on a grant proposal to change that).

"The pieces I found most attractive were related to ease of use," said James Sanders, who spent a year and a half on a technology evaluation process that led to the selection of ExitTicket by the KIPP Bay Area Schools, a charter school system in California that will begin using the software in the coming year. "We definitely didn't want any technology solution that would put an added extra burden on the teacher. We wanted the net strain on the teacher reduced rather than increased."

Sanders led the selection process while serving as innovation manager for the Bay Area affiliate of KIPP, a national network of college preparatory charter schools. The goal was to find a "real-time or near-real-time system where students would be able to get feedback on their performance," he said, and most of the other potential solutions he looked at were either part of enterprise learning management systems "where we wouldn't be using 90% of the features," while others were too lightweight, he said.

Sanders has since moved on to serve as a presidential innovation fellow at the White House working on educational initiatives, but he said he was speaking strictly as a former KIPP employee where ExitTicket is concerned.

Back at Leadership Public Schools, superintendent Waters said she is proudest of supporting two long-time educational goals: differentiation (altering instruction depending on what students do and don't understand) and intervention (helping students who get off track). Without technology, she said, "those are nice words, but you can't do it because it's too mind boggling -- you don't have the information."

On the other hand, with ExitTicket as a sort of business intelligence dashboard on student learning, it becomes possible to visualize patterns of understanding and misunderstanding. If four students all got the same answer wrong, a teacher can pull them aside and tutor them on that material, Waters said. Teachers can also establish their own playlists of content, such as Khan Academy videos, to offer to students who struggle with a specific concept, she said.

"We're also trying to establish the idea of micro-successes, where it's okay to get something wrong because you'll have plenty of chances, and you learn from your mistakes," she said. "Understanding your misunderstanding is the best way to move forward."

Follow David F. Carr at @davidfcarr or Google+, along with @IWKEducation.