A Journey Through Technology


on October 5, 2015


For most students, high school chemistry is not an easy class. It is not a class based on memorization of concepts, but instead learning how to apply concepts to the world around them. While everyone seems to associate chemistry with explosions and fun experiments, every day course work can cause students to lose interest and focus their attention elsewhere. Through action research, I hope to make the more boring parts of chemistry, namely notes and lecture, a more engaging experience for my students by using clickers, or Audience Response Systems (ARS). I currently teach five sections of high school chemistry and one section of high school physical science. The focus of this project will be two chemistry classes, one consisting of 22 tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students, another consisting of 25 tenth and eleventh grade students. These two classes represent a wide range of academic abilities and I believe they will both provide an adequate research environment as I research the question “Does the use of clickers increase student engagement in the high school chemistry classroom?”

Literature Review

Many teachers are constantly working to change how material is presented in their classrooms so the students become more engaged and take a more active role in learning. Many classes use a traditional lecture-driven model, but there is a lack of evidence that lecture-driven classes should be the only instruction approach used in classrooms (Lumpkin, Achen, & Dodd, 2015, p.121). Classroom communication systems, which include the use of clickers, or Audience Response Systems (ARS), are commonly used to break out of the lecture-based teaching style.

Beatty (2004) defines classroom communication systems (CCCs) as “technology products…designed to support communication and interactivity in classes” (p.2). Moore (2007), as cited by Devlin (2013), says that learners have “grown accustomed to acquiring information and communicating by utilizing technology-based methods” (p.1). Students are rarely seen without some kind of technology in their hand, so why not add that to the normal classroom routine. Multiple research studies have been conducted and have found a strong correlation between the use of an ARS and increase student participation and engagement. (Barnes, 2008, p.535; Beatty, 2004, p.5; Dunn, Richardson, Oprescu, and McDonald, 2012, p.1173; Gunn, 2014, p.1; McNabb, 2009, p.20; Micheletto, 2011, p.10; Terrion & Aceti, 2012).

One benefit to using clickers as an educational tool is that an active learning environment can be created. An active learning environment allows students to learn from doing activities and working with other students instead of just listening to a teacher lecture. Lumpkin et al. (2015) found that “active, collaborative activities engaged students and positively impacted learning” (p.129). Barnes (2008) used both lecture-free and lecture-based methods with four different high school biology classes and found that a majority of students preferred the lecture-free method that utilized an ARS, saying they learned more and had to use their brains more than in the lecture-based method (p.534).

However, it is not a simple process to begin using an ARS in the classroom. “Using new technologies in teaching brings with it the risk of mis-using technology or not using technology in a pedagogically effective way” (Chittleborough, 2014, p.391). It would be very easy to start using clickers without carefully planning how to use them effectively. Shirley, Irving, Sanalan, Pape, and Owens (2010) also touch on an important aspect of using connected classroom technology (CCT), and that is how practical it is to use. “Practicality consists of three constructs: congruence with teacher’s values and practice; instrumentality — compatibility with the existing school structures, and cost/benefits — whether the reward is worth the effort” (Shirley et al., 2010, p.459) It is possible that implementing a certain technology will not fit well in certain schools or with all teachers. Penuel, Boscardin, Masyn, and Crawford (2006) mention a need for teachers to have adequate training in how to use student response systems effectively in the classroom (p.342). Most teachers do not have a background in the different technologies available, so extra training would be beneficial before using them in the classroom.

“With the ubiquitous use of computers in society there is an increasing need for computer technology to be integrated into teaching” (Chittleborough, 2014, p.374).  Utilizing clicker technology is one way of integrating a computer technology into the classroom, and hopefully that integration will increase student engagement and offer students a better active learning environment. “Technology may offer a means to enhance student engagement” (Terrion et al., 2012), so trying to implement an active learning classroom by using clickers appears to be an attainable goal.


This research project will focus on two chemistry classes, first period and fifth period, at Palmer High School, in Palmer, AK. Classes at Palmer High School operate on a modified block schedule. In a normal five-day school week, classes meet four days during the week. Two of the days are forty-eight minute periods, and two of the days are sixty-seven minute periods. Students enrolled in these two classes range from tenth grade through twelfth grade, with twenty-six sophomores, nineteen juniors, and two seniors. Of the forty-seven students in the study, 42.6% are female and 57.4% are male.

The Audience Response Devices (ARS) used in this project are the students’ own cell phones. By using the website Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com/), students will be able to turn their cell phone into a clicker by simply texting their answers to a pre-determined location. I will be using the K-12 premium plan for a wider variety of options with respect to grading and data collection. Student responses are anonymous to the class using this platform, but the teacher can still see who answers each questions, and if they answer correctly.

At the beginning of the project, before the students have used clickers in class, each student will take a survey consisting of approximately 10 Likert-scale questions asking them how they perceive their engagement and participation in class. Students will then take the same survey after the five-week research has concluded.

A second method of data collection will be through student focus groups. A focus group of approximately 3-4 students per class period will meet twice during the research project, once at the beginning and once again at the end. I will randomly select students to be in the focus group to decrease the likelihood of any bias in the students. The focus groups will meet during PHARM time, which is an advisory-type period that occurs every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for 30 minutes. Each group will get a set of questions to discuss as a group. I will record audio and take notes as each group discusses the questions.

The final method of data collection will be through observations and notes. I will use a tally system for each class to make note of any time a student is not engaged in class. Tallies will be taken at least twice per week, once during a clicker day, and once on a non-clicker day. These tallies will be anonymous, so I will not be keeping track for each student individually. An outside observer will come to class and assist me in making tallies so I do not have to try to teach while making tallies at the same time. This observer will make a mark anytime a student is not actively engaged in class. Examples of behavior that would receive a tally mark are: inappropriate cell phone use, talking out of turn, head on desk, or working on other homework, the observer will mark a tally on the sheet for that class. At the end of each class period that clickers are used, I will also make a short note about how things went during class and any issues I may have encountered.

The study will be conducted over a five-week period. During this time clickers will be used any time notes are presented or we have a class discussion about a topic, as well as if we are reviewing for a test or quiz. There will be at least two assessments given during the research period, and I estimate that clickers will be used at least once per week.

To measure if student engagement increases when using clickers, I will look at my three sources of data. I will compare tally counts for days we used clickers to the days we did not use clickers. I will also use notes taken during the clicker days to evaluate the tally marks.

The average Likert score for each of the questions for the initial survey will be compared to the averages for the final survey to see if students’ perceptions about their engagement have changed.

The focus groups from before the study and after the study will also be compared to see if there are any significant changes in the group discussions.


Barnes, L. (2008). Lecture-Free High School Biology Using an Audience Response System. The American Biology Teacher, 70(9), 531-536.

Beatty, I. (2004). Transforming Student Learning with Classroom Communication Systems. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2004(3).

Chittleborough, G. (2014). Learning How to Teach Chemistry with Technology: Pre-Service Teachers’ Experiences with Integrating Technology into Their Learning and Teaching. J Sci Teacher Educ Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25, 373-393.

Devlin, T., Feldhaus, C., & Bentrem, K. (2013). The Evolving Classroom: A Study of Traditional and Technology-Based Instruction in a STEM Classroom. Journal of Technology Education, 25(1).

Dunn, P., Richardson, A., Oprescu, F., & Mcdonald, C. (2013). Mobile-phone-based classroom response systems: Students’ perceptions of engagement and learning in a large undergraduate course. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 44(8), 1160-1174.

Gunn, E. (2014). Using Clickers to Collect Formative Feedback on Teaching: A Tool for Faculty Development. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 8(1).

Lumpkin, A., Achen, R., & Dodd, R. (2015). Student Perceptions of Active Learning. College Student Journal, 49(1).

McNabb, K. (2009). Use of an Audience Response System to Evaluate and Streamline a General Chemistry Class.

Micheletto, M. (2011). Conducting A Classroom Mini-Experiment Using An Audience Response System: Demonstrating the Isolation Effect. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 8(8).

Penuel, W., Boscardin, C., Masyn, K., & Crawford, V. (2006). Teaching with student response systems in elementary and secondary education settings: A survey study. Education Tech Research Dev Educational Technology Research and Development, 55, 315-346.

Shirley, M., Irving, K., Sanalan, V., Pape, S., & Owens, D. (2010). The Practicality Of Implementing Connected Classroom Technology In Secondary Mathematics And Science Classrooms. Int J of Sci and Math Educ International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 9, 459-481.

Terrion, J., & Aceti, V. (2012). Perceptions of the effects of clicker technology on student learning and engagement: A study of freshmen Chemistry students. Research in Learning Technology, 20.


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