What Are Plickers?

So what exactly are Plickers?  Plickers are small cards with QR codes printed on them that any smartphone or tablet camera can read and interpret.  They come in a set of between 40 and 63 cards and are intended to be used one to a student.  Each card has four possible answers, A, B, C, or D, depending on which direction the plicker card is held.

 

How Do Plickers Work?

In a classroom setting the teacher asks a multiple choice question, the students hold up their cards in the orientation that puts their answer facing up, and then the teacher scans the crowd using her phone’s camera and the Plickers app.  The camera sees each individual answer and translates it into the appropriate A, B, C, or D answer.  If the teacher has set it up ahead of time and assigned specific cards to specific students then the app records the answer along with the name of the student who is responding.  At the end of the “quiz” the teacher can download a spreadsheet of all answers and use it for formative or summative assessment purposes.  

Setting Up The Plickers Quizzes

While it is possible to have students answer a basic, informal Plicker question written on the whiteboard the app gets much more powerful when you use Plickers.com to build a multiple question quiz that can be projected to the class.  Questions and answers can have images attached to them, allowing for more flexibility when assessing musical concepts, terms, etc. with the limiting factor being that there can be no more than four possible answers.  Questions are saved individually in a question library and can be ordered into any number of quizzes.  

Using Plickers With Large Groups of More Than 63 Students

Many band, choir, or orchestra ensembles have more than 63 members in them, so at first you might not think that Plickers would work.  However, with a little organization it can.  In an 80 piece band for example you would print two sets of cards, each set on a slightly different color of paper like yellow vs. white.  When it comes time to do an assessment have the yellow card students hold up their cards first, scan the room, then repeat for the white cards.  This requires a little extra work, and works best with two different devices, but it does get the job done.  

Overall Pros and Cons of Using Plickers

Pros:

  • Easy and free to use
  • Allows you to create quizzes by selecting questions from a central bank.  No need to recreate each question each time you want to make changes to the quiz.
  • Fairly fast to use in class and requires little effort other than the initial quiz or classroom setup.
  • The phone app or online app provides instant feedback as the questions are answered.  Analyze student answers just seconds after you take the photo in a simple, bar chart format.

Cons:

  • Restricted to 63 students per class unless you use the trick mentioned previously.
  • Cards are lost easily (but can be reprinted for free)
  • While it is difficult it is still possible for students to “cheat” if they have good enough eyesight to see what answer is being held up by their neighbor.  Print on heavy card stock if possible to prevent the possibility of seeing the letter through the sheet.
  • No community question library.  You have to make all your own questions.

Recommendations For Use:

If you have matte finish laminator supplies use it to laminate the cards as they will last longer.  Never use glossy though as the reflection screws up the camera.

Write your student’s name lightly on the back of the card when assigning it.  Have them keep it in their music folder or on their music stand so that it will be handy when needed.

Don’t hold the camera in landscape orientation.  It has to be held portrait style for it to analyze the answers correctly.

Conclusion

Plickers are, in general, an easy, fast way to do spot assessments of concepts that can be tested in a multiple choice format.  Because of this they are best used for quick formative assessments rather than as end of unit, summative ones.  Plickers are free to use though, so it can’t hurt to try them out in your own classroom.

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