Tag Archives: backchannel

Backchannels, a feedback method for shy students

“Are there any questions?…” The words hang in the air as nervous students shuffle in their seats. The more students there are, the shyer the classroom seems to collectively be. This year at that Maths Association of Tasmania conference I heard from Matt Skoss about a potential solution to this challenge… backchannels.

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 7.51.07 PMBackchannels are live feeds that are running whilst the class is in session. Like Twitter, they act as an online space for people to comment, ask questions, and interact at the same time as class and life is going on as per usual.

Upon hearing about backchannels I was keen to give them a go, but it wasn’t until a few months later that I had the opportunity to try them out in a large enough class. I’ve been working at the University of Tasmania as a tutor since the beginning of the year (2014) but this August an opportunity came up for me to cover a lecture on Index laws due to the usual lecturer being away. I jumped at this chance and thought it would be a good idea to test out this new fandangled backchannel idea.

I prepared for the lecture and used TodaysMeet to set up a digital ‘room’ (see video at bottom of page for how to do this, it’s super easy). And then at 11am it was all go.

The lecture started off pretty well. an+am=an+m kind of stuff. The backchannel was going all right, I was flicking to and from the backchannel between every 3 slides or so. Hmm… I was a bit worried that some of the banter was distracting students too much (you’ll see it in the vid below). Then, at about 13 and a half minutes in, the juice came. (all the action is in the first 35 seconds of this clip)

Wow, now that was worth it! My first lecture at University, of course I was going to be rushing a bit! And instead of me continuing to talk too fast through the whole lecture, and then going on the the next lecture and maybe even keeping up the pattern, this backchannel meant that I was furnished with immediate feedback on my teaching. I was immediately able to adjust my style and communicate more clearly for the remainder of the class.

The backchannel also facilitated other questions later on in the class. Another highlight was that one of the shyer students initially asked a question on the backchannel, then felt confident enough to elaborate and clarify after their question was read out by me.

I’m sure the opinions on backchannels will be divided. Are they too distracting? What ages are they suitable for? If we get students on their phones will we ever be able to get them off them? And there are definitely context in which they’ll fit better (larger classes, older students, more independent learners).

Suffice to say that for my first ‘official’ lecture at Uni, using TodaysMeet proved to be a great way to get student feedback, both on the content and on my teaching style. I’m happy to have it as one more tool in the teaching toolbox that I’ll be able to draw on in future.

 How to use TodaysMeet

1 minute and 34 seconds that you won’t regret.

Please note: TodaysMeet doesn’t save your discussion thread. So if you’d like to keep track of it you can just copy paste the discussion into a word doc or the like and you’re good to go.

Key take-homes from Matt Skoss at MAT2014 conference

This post is part of an ongoing “Wot-I-Got” series. This series acts as a way for me to share Wot-I-Got out of a book or presentation, and to whet your appetite for enquiry. It also forces me to finish books that I start, and to review and summarise my conference notes! 

These are my notes (and annotations)  from Day 1 of the Mathematics Association of Tasmania conference, 2014. MAT Website.

Tradeshow

  • mathspathway. Software for differentiation. Richard Wilson. richard@mathspathway.com, 0403787349, www.mathspathway.com . These guys have developed differentiation software that assesses a child’s ability, finds their knowledge gaps, then designs a personalised learning plan and delivers the associated content. Worth having a chat to!

Day 1, Friday, 4pm. Matt Skoss: Becoming a ‘Top Draw Teacher’… What might that look like? See Matt’s Wiki , Maths-no-fear, here.


  • #lessonstarter

    #lessonstarter as a twitter hashtag-Matt created this as a hashtag as a place for people to share inspiring lesson/conversation starting pictures.

  • Vi Hart on youtube, 3 to 8 minute doodles on maths ideas.

  • “It’s ok to re-visit a similar lesson several times.”-if the content is interesting/complicated enough, follow up lessons can lead to deeper learning.

  • http://danah.org, danah boyd, book: I’ts complicated, the social lives of networked teens.

  • ipad triple click function, locks students onto the current app that they’re working on.-find Matt and ask him how to do this.

  • Sorting Mat: Demonstrates how a simple operation can lead to complicated and ordered results-image to come

  • discovr people appUse it for social networking. Find good connections through people that you trust. 

  • Tech: todaysmeet.com. A great  backchannel that can substitute for twitter.-The idea with this is that it’s a feed that you can use to promote discussion in your class. Set up a virtual classroom on this website and have your students make comments on a current task. Other benefits:

    • More simple than twitter with less distractions

    • Can be a great way to get students to respond to a question, or to brain dump everything they already know about a concept

    • Keep in mind, your backchannel dissappears when the time runs out, so ensure that you back it up if you want to keep the content (copy paste all to a word doc for example)

    • Don’t just give up if it doesn’t work the first time. When Matt first used it some kids put up some really inappropriate stuff. So push through it.

  • “I want to try something out with you so I can try it on younger kids and I need your feedback”-a great feedback prompter!

  • Great task: “Think of a fraction between ½ and ¾ . Try to think of one that no-one else can”–engages students in a more active rather than passive way

  • Evernote: A great tool-Matt uses it to keep students work ordered and can quickly draw on images and comment associated with different tags (a particular student, a particular class, a particular learning module) in situations such as teacher meetings. 

  • A great question Genre: “Always true? Sometimes true?  or Never true?-Put up a sentence like “Squaring a number always makes it larger” or “Dividing one number by another makes it smaller” and get students to discuss whether it’s always, sometimes or never true and to come up with examples and counter examples.

    • … What are some other good questions that suit this genre???

  • Two questions that Dan Meyer leads with: “What would be an answer that’s way too big?, What’s an answer that would be way too small?”

  • Dan Meyer’s questions: at http://101qs.com. Coke bottle pic, what questions can it launch? (See today’s meet)

  • Find inspiration everywhere. Take a pic (eg: hexagonal plughole) and ask your students “what’s the mathematics behind this?

    • Eventually you hope to get to the point where you only have to ask “what’s my next question going to be?”

  • John Mason: “Mathematics hasn’t been done in a Mathematics lesson unless it has involved generalising.”-Encourage students to make predictions based on patterns that they’ve noticed from which they can make generalisations.

  • Key take home message from Matt: …Get a key take home!!! – ie: Choose 1 thing from the conference that you’ve liked and put it into action in your classroom in the next 12 days. If you don’t enact it in the next 12 days you never will. 
  • #lessonstarter as a twitter hashtag. Matt created this as a hashtag as a place for people to share inspiring lesson/conversation starting pictures.

  • Vi Hart on youtube, 3 to 8 minute doodles on maths ideas.

  • “It’s ok to re-visit a similar lesson several times.”-if the content is interesting/complicated enough, follow up lessons can lead to deeper learning.

  • http://danah.org, danah boyd, book: I’ts complicated, the social lives of networked teens.

  • ipad triple click function, locks students onto the current app that they’re working on.-find Matt and ask him how to do this.

  • Sorting Mat: Demonstrates how a simple operation can lead to complicated and ordered results-image to come

  • discovr people app-Use it for social networking. Find good connections through people that you trust.

  • Tech: todaysmeet.com. A great  backchannel that can substitute for twitter.-The idea with this is that it’s a feed that you can use to promote discussion in your class. Set up a virtual classroom on this website and have your students make comments on a current task. Other benefits:

    • More simple than twitter with less distractions

    • Can be a great way to get students to respond to a question, or to brain dump everything they already know about a concept

    • Keep in mind, your backchannel dissappears when the time runs out, so ensure that you back it up if you want to keep the content (copy paste all to a word doc for example)

    • Don’t just give up if it doesn’t work the first time. When Matt first used it some kids put up some really inappropriate stuff. So push through it.

  • “I want to try something out with you so I can try it on younger kids and I need your feedback”-a great feedback prompter!

  • Great task: “Think of a fraction between ½ and ¾ . Try to think of one that no-one else can”–engages students in a more active rather than passive way

  • Evernote: A great tool-Matt uses it to keep students work ordered and can quickly draw on images and comment associated with different tags (a particular student, a particular class, a particular learning module) in situations such as teacher meetings.

  • A great question Genre: “Always true? Sometimes true?  or Never true?-Put up a sentence like “Squaring a number always makes it larger” or “Dividing one number by another makes it smaller” and get students to discuss whether it’s always, sometimes or never true and to come up with examples and counter examples.

    • … What are some other good questions that suit this genre???

  • Two questions that Dan Meyer leads with: “What would be an answer that’s way too big?, What’s an answer that would be way too small?”

  • Dan Meyer’s questions: at http://101qs.com. Coke bottle pic, what questions can it launch? (See today’s meet)

  • Find inspiration everywhere. Take a pic (eg: hexagonal plughole) and ask your students “what’s the mathematics behind this?

    • Eventually you hope to get to the point where you only have to ask “what’s my next question going to be?”

  • John Mason: “Mathematics hasn’t been done in a Mathematics lesson unless it has involved generalising.”-Encourage students to make predictions based on patterns that they’ve noticed from which they can make generalisations.

Key take home message from Matt: …Get a key take home!!! – ie: Choose 1 thing from the conference that you’ve liked and put it into action in your classroom in the next 12 days. If you don’t enact it in the next 12 days you never will.-I’m going to use the ‘Always, Sometimes, Never true” question genre in class on Wednesday!

Dinner conversation…

  • Computer Science Unplugged conference, July 2nd 2014. Campbelltown. Introducing digital technologies to the curriculum. More info here.
  • Creative Mathematical Sciences Conference, Chennai, Dec 9-14 2014.
  • Site sucker: An excellent app to suck a site onto your computer for use offline (or after a subscription expires!)
  • Scratch: Drag-and-drop programming to get students (and teachers) familiar with programming processes
  • Hour of Code: A 1 hour introduction to coding. Over 36 million people have tried this!