March 20, 2013


I visited the Hayward campus of Leadership Public Schools today to learn about a classroom formative assessment application they've been developing for a couple of years, called ExitTicket. The superintendent of Leadership Public Schools, Louise Bay Waters, describes the LPS system as an R&D network, focused on bringing teachers directly into the development process. The idea for ExitTicket grew out of one teacher's experience using a clicker system in his classroom. Taylor Garland realized that having (and giving his students) instant access to data about learning had a powerful impact on his class's success. Dr. Waters provided support for Taylor to work at developing a scalable system that could extend to other classrooms in the school. They hired a developer and began iterating. For a couple of years they've been refining the application and providing support for an expanding number of teachers and classrooms. 

I met Taylor several weeks ago at a tech oriented PD. At that time he showed me a version of ExitTicket running on his iPad and mentioned that they were going to roll out a public version this spring. Today, being the first day of spring, seemed the perfect day to visit and learn more about their invention.

I joined a group of other visitors, including teachers from nearby schools and a representative from the New Schools Venture Fund. We observed two classrooms and saw teachers using the tools in very different, but equally effective ways.

In Micheal Fauteaux's 10th grade geometry class, students entered, grabbed an iPod touch from a box near the door, picked up a packet of materials for the day's class and got started on their "Launch" activity. Each student needed to work a problem based on the previous day's lesson. Once they'd worked the problem, students logged into the ExitTicket web app on the ipod touch and entered their answer to the launch activity. On the board in the front of the room a live display showed students logging in, and answering the question. The display immediately tallied the classroom results while the teacher circulated and checked on students who were lagging behind their peers. He was carrying an iPad with a display similar to the one on the board. (His display showed student's names where the display on the board just showed anonymous students.)

Once all students had posted their answers, Mr. Fauteaux toggled to a view of the board which showed how many students had chosen each of the available incorrect answers to the problem. (He could have made a free response question, which would have produced a larger array of wrong answers, but his multiple choice answers were designed to expose specific errors that he anticipated students might make, based on the previous day's activity.) He asked students in class to explain why they thought someone might have chosen one of the wrong answers. Hands shot up and the students provided suggestions for why each incorrect answer was incorrect. After introducing some new material, along with the content he had taught the previous day, the teacher, using the information on his iPad, quietly pulled together a group of 5 students who had chosen one specific incorrect answer on the launch problem to reteach the missing concept that had caused their error. When he was finished working with that group, he called on a couple of students who had chosen a different incorrect answer, exposing a different skill or knowledge gap. While he worked with these two groups at his "Genius Bar," other students were working on a set of problems related to the new material introduced after the launch. There room was relatively quiet but students were working together to solve the problems in the set.

Because of how the ExitTicket software recognizes streaks and reinforces student engagement through instant feedback on their work, the students wanted to make sure they had the right answer before entering it into the application. Students who had already mastered the underlying concepts were helping the students who were struggling. After he finshed with students at the Genius Bar, the teacher again began to circulate and pulled kids aside who needed a little extra support. As they wrapped up this section of the class, the teacher posted some survey questions on the board. In the polls he asked students to predict which types of errors they might expect on the problems they had been working on. The polling results displayed instantly as students entered their responses. Class discussion focused on students defending the logic behind their choices. The teacher asked the students to turn to their neighbors and discuss the poll. Then he asked them to take the poll again and the class reflected on the changes. None of this activity was focused on simply getting the right answer. It was all about helping students grapple with the idea of productive struggle, and building skill around how to understand and break down problems. 

As we moved to the other classroom Dr. Waters described ExitTicket as an onramp to a blended learning environment, and in Rose Zapata's 9th grade algebra class we saw a different method for using the application which hinted at a blended learning environment. As we entered, students were working on learning playlists that the teacher had developed using the previous day's results from ExitTicket. During the independent work time, some students were using Khan Academy, others were working in groups on a set of problems, others were working in a small group with the teacher. In our conversation with that teacher after class, she noted that se was able to keep tabs on the whole class on her iPad, even as she was working closely with the small group. (Her dashboard shows students names on tiles that indicate whether they're logged into ExitTicket, so she can tell whether they're still on task.) After students completed their activities, she asked them to reflect on what they had accomplished that day using a Google form on which she captures their meta-cognition about their learning. This class was using chromebooks, so they had a more robust text entry tool than the students in the 10th grade geometry class. While this teacher did not display the live data on the board, students were getting immediate feedback on their chromebooks, and on the board was a big display of the previous day's data showing how many students had mastered the current concept. 

After visiting these two classrooms, I hopped onto a Google Hangout with Taylor and Lewis Leiboh and Kate Madden. Taylor ran through the teacher interface for the application. There's an authoring environment for creating the assessment questions. The UX and UI are clean and well thought out (probably the result of the two years they spent developing the application). Teachers can easily share assessment questions, and create their own exit tickets using a combination of shared questions or their own questions. Polling questions are similar to regular assessment questions but may not necessarily have a right answer. 

Future plans include connecting every teaching objective to a common core standard. (The authoring environment shows placeholders for the interface for choosing connected standards.) When I asked about creating a method within ExitTicket for allowing students to add metacognitive tags to items they master they said they would consider such an addition. (No timeline discussed.) Taylor said they were planning an API to connect to other teacher tools. (gradebooks, SISs, etc.)  They showed an interface for configuring teacher specific mastery ranges. The tool looks pretty mature for an initial launch. 

Their current pricing model is to provide a Free tool for teachers with a minimum feature set, a Pro version for individual teachers with a few additional features, and a school/district/CMO version of the tool with a full feature set and data integration. Specific prices are still unspecified. 

According to their research, students in classrooms using ExitTicket are making an average of 2.5 years of gain, while other students in the LPS system are making an average of 1.6 years gain. 

A major drawback is the necessity of having a wifi enabled device with a browser for each student. The students in Mr. Fauteaux's class were using old iPod Touch devices, many of which appeared to be quite old, so the device needn't be a flashy new device. And they did point out that students may share a device, (One student logs in, enters an answer, logs out and passes the device to another student.) While it might work to share between 2 or 3 kids, there's still a need for the school to invest in technology. BYOD is an option, but the school might still need to purchase some devices. On the other hand, classrooms that already have 1:1 devices could adopt this tool right away. 

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