Obviously I like using random question generators. I have a whole website built around a family of activities that make extensive use of random questions. But why do I like them? It all started with me trying to find questions to use in class. As a new teacher it took me time to come up with questions, so I had to plan them out before the lesson. This was fine, but I soon realised that sometimes I needed a few more questions, as students had not quite grasped the ideas from the number of questions I had planned. This left me trying to come up with new questions off the cuff, which I found quite a stressful experience (liking to always be in control).
As I developed as a teacher I saw the power of a random question generator as a tool for formative assessment. In conjunction with Mini-Whiteboards, these provide one of my main means of quickly assessing the knowledge and understanding of my classes. At any point in a lesson, I can pull up a question for students to attempt and I can get a glimpse of how they are doing on that particular skill. If needed, I can instantly create a second question of the same type. But this was when I realised that I needed some progression in the generators. So I started to add options to each generator. For me this is the main difference between my QQI Activities and random question generators elsewhere. I love these other sites and use them regularly, but with my activities I wanted to give teachers more control over the details in the questions (see images below).
With these options I was now able to assess one skill, and then make an alteration to see how students dealt with this new (related) type of question.
I then went through the phase of extending the QQI Family. Not only would there be an option to produce questions on the board, but other activities based on the same random principle. So 10 questions at a time for starters; timed question activities; relays that students type the answers into to add some competition; random bingo games; and finally the worksheet generators with printable resources. Some of these I still use regularly in my classroom. Others, not so much. But developing them made me reflect on my own teaching and how these types of activities fitted within my classroom. I love the bingo as a fun activity at the end of a topic. And the worksheets have proven invaluable as I have developed my teaching style to focus on drilling specific skills.
I went through a phase where I thought these tools would also be really useful for student self-study. This was why I added the ability to type in and check answers in the four first activity types. And indeed this is a useful tool for students, though definitely not the main use I give the activities.
And now I have been going through a time of research. Off the back of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast (which every teacher should listen to as it is the best CPD I have ever had), and reading through some of the research articles Mr Barton put together, I have been reflecting on my own classroom pedagogy. For a while I had been focusing more on my instruction and explanations, but with my reading on the ideas around Cognitive Load Theory I have started to make a concerted effort to reduce cognitive overload in my students. And one way I have been attempting this is through example-problem pairs (as discussed by Greg Ashman). And the idea of random questions fits with this perfectly as I can do one question as a worked example (very important according to CLT), and then give students an almost identical problem (with different numbers) to complete themselves. I can even generate a quick worksheet of questions of exactly this type for them to do in the next five minutes, before repeating for the next skill.
So my use of random questions has evolved since I started this site 5 years ago. But I am still a huge fan of them. In fact, I have found that they have fitted well within most pedagogical ideas I have incorporated into my classroom over those years. I still have a long way to go with CLT and other educational research, but I think that random questions will always form a big part of my teaching.
Do other teachers use random questions? How do you use them in your class? What are the downsides to using random questions?
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.