Honesty hotline

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Do they, or don't they? Quizmania creeps into the curriculum as schools discover pupils are more truthful and happier to reveal answers anonymously. Hannah Frankel reports

Take out Chris Tarrant, the flashing lights, dramatic music and the mind-numbing repetition, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? could be an enjoyable show. It could also be educational, which is why schools are adopting aspects of the programme across the curriculum.

The school version of the popular ITV quiz comes courtesy of a hand-held gadget called Qwizdom, which is now being used in more than 2,000 schools across the UK.

The device looks similar to a TV remote control and allows pupils to answer questions anonymously, while the teacher receives the information almost simultaneously.

As such, the tool is proving a hit in PSHE and citizenship lessons, where pupils can share experiences without being identified.

Ashfield Girls' High School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is using the voting system to gauge honest opinions about its pupils' attitudes to drugs, sex, alcohol and religion.

Last September, Qwizdom donated 20 free handsets as part of a sponsorship deal, which helped Ashfield to become Northern Ireland's first specialist technology school.

The pupils took to the handsets immediately. They loved the variety, the gaming element and the ease of use, as well as the device's anonymity. The school was so impressed it bought another 20 units.

"I can't see a curriculum area where it wouldn't be useful," says Lex Hayes, vice-principal of Ashfield and a science teacher.

Lex also says the largely Protestant school has no doctrinal problems concerning sex education or religion. "We use it in all sorts of lessons, including citizenship, PSHE and sex and health, plus we find it useful in staff inset days.

"This system gives you honest and anonymous feedback, which allows pupils and staff to express their views without putting out their peers."

A typical lesson using the technology would involve Lex asking the class how many of them have already had sex. "A show of hands could lead to showing off, but the technology takes out that bravado element," he says.

"The anonymous nature means you get a greater degree of honesty, which is a good basis for a class discussion."

The school has discovered that girls are much less experienced than staff had previously assumed, and is able to tailor lessons more effectively.

Pupils can enter their answers in various formats, including true or false questions, multiple choice or through numbers.

The results are fed back immediately via a whiteboard or laptop to the teacher, who can use them to promote discussion or to create pie or bar charts, pictograms and graphs.

Lex says: "Because they are handling information about themselves, they find it much more relevant and interesting. It helps them see how powerful data can be when organised into a format such as a pie chart."

The data element makes the technology ideal for maths and science classes, while also prompting discussions in PSHE and citizenship lessons, according to Gary Morrison from Qwizdom.

"It isn't just a tool for formative assessment," Gary says. "It can help teachers quickly identify knowledge gaps so that their teaching is more informed.

"We have had teachers using the tool to see which areas of the curriculum need more work, to identify the level of bullying in school, to find out the extent of drug use among pupils, and, of course, to bring more creativity and variety into the classroom."

And if pupils do not know the answer, they can always ask a friend or their audience

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