So Random

June 09, 2006 1 min read

A high school math teacher in Florida has found that using a computerized random-name generator to call on students in class helps improve their preparation and focus. The finding came as part of a graduate school research project in which the teacher, Paige Allison, was originally looking for a way to make sure math teachers called on girls as often as boys. With the help of a programmer, she developed an Excel-based name-generation program that could be used on a handheld computer. She then compared 15 math classes in which the device was used against a control group of 11 classes in which teachers called on students by their own methods. At this particular school, Allison found little evidence of gender bias on the part of teachers in the control group. On the basis of subsequent focus-group discussions, however, she did find that the students whose teachers used the name generator were more likely to be prepared for class and to pay attention to their teachers. “They felt they had to tune in more, because they knew they had a chance of being called on for every question,” Allison said. She also believes the program could help harried educators engage students who might otherwise be overlooked: “It’s easier and faster to let the student who knows the answer respond to you,” she observed. “So the quiet person in the corner who doesn’t raise a hand doesn’t get called on much.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.