A New Way to Do Q & A

Have you ever had to facilitate Q & A for a speaker?  What an awkward endeavor!

Does this sound familiar?

You announce that you are opening the floor for questions.  A bunch of hands go up in the audience.  Some poor soul has to run around through the audience with a microphone. Perhaps to make it easier, you have microphones in the aisles.  Someone takes the mic and either yells into it and everyone winces, or whispers and no one knows what the question was.  He then spends the first minute talking about himself and/or ranting about his own agenda.  Finally, a question pops out but who knows what it might end up being.  If you are lucky, it’s a relevant question.  If you’re super lucky, it’s not “David Robinson, how tall are you?”

There had to be a better way!

On November 21st and 22nd St. Christopher’s School hosted our Building Leaders Symposium with five amazing speakers and over 3200 guests from the Richmond area.  In planning the event, we wanted a system where the questions would run smoothly, the audience could be more engaged, and we could share some of the great technology tools we use at our school.


Symposium Speakers: Liz McCartney, Ishmael Beah, David Robinson, Chad Pregracke, Phil Hansen. Photo by Jay Paul.

During the Symposium we used Poll Everywhere to streamline the Q & A process.  Poll Everywhere is a tool designed to include audience participation using mobile phones during a meeting, class, or other event.  In the past, we have used Poll Everywhere to poll the audience during our Presidential debates, to have students answer questions as part of a presentation about school rules, and in individual classes to check for student understanding.  A year and a half ago this system worked really well as an opening activity when St. Christopher’s hosted the International Boys School Coalition Annual Conference.  Our audience of over 500 educators was divided into four teams playing a game against each other.  Attendees raved that the game helped them feel more connected and engaged from the beginning of the conference.

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Photo by @nonprofitbowtie

For the Symposium, we used the Poll Everywhere Conference Plan for $375.  You can use a different plan for this based on your needs, but you must have at least the Presenter Plan ($65) because you need moderation capability.  Poll Everywhere lets you purchase the plan for the month you need it, which makes it more reasonable for a single event like this one.  We’ve harassed Poll Everywhere with many questions over the years and they are always helpful and quick to respond.

We loved how the system worked for the Symposium so we figured we should share what we did.

Our System


  • The Poll Everywhere presentation was running on Carey’s computer which was hooked into the physical switcher that the production company was using in the back of the room.  During the course of the questions they were switching between a live video feed of the speaker, a slide on their slideshow describing how to send in a question, and the live question on Carey’s machine.
  • J.D.’s laptop had the two google presentations on it to send the questions to the two ipads up front.
  • We had two iPads in the back with the Poll Everywhere app on them for Carey and J.D. to find and select questions.  The second iPad was a backup in case the first didn’t work.
  • All four of these devices were on a personal wifi hotspot so we didn’t have to rely on the wifi in the room.
  • There were two ipads up front each set to the appropriate Google Slides presentation.
  • These two ipads were on a second personal wifi hotspot we hid in the plants in front of the stage.
  • We set the room wifi as a backup in case the personal wifi hotspots went down.
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Phil Hansen. Photo by Jay Paul.


  1. Attendees text in their questions.
  2. Carey and J.D. look at the questions on the Poll Everywhere iPad app and choose a question.
  3. J.D. types the question into a Google Slide on his computer. We alternated between two Google Slide presentations because we had two sets of students each with a teacher (Sarah and Christie) in the front to ask the questions.
  4. Sarah and Christie select the next prepared question on the Google Slide and held the iPad up while the student reads the question to the speaker.
  5. As the question is being read, Carey selects the question on the iPad so it will be projected on the screen.

The Life of a Question

Untitled InfographicSticking Points

The above process worked really well for the most part, but we did run into some snags along the way:

  • Some of the best questions we found were either misspelled, missing a capital letter, or missing a question mark.  In order to remedy these issues we had to re-text the questions ourselves with the correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  It would have been really helpful to have a way to edit the questions texted in before putting them up.
  • Once we chose a question to use, there was no way to distinguish it from the other hundreds of questions.  You can highlight questions that you don’t want to use, but they are still there.  When we were ready to choose a question to project on the screens, we had trouble going back and finding it.  It would have been helpful to have a queue for questions we knew we were going to use.
  • In a perfect world…there would be a way to have Poll Everywhere replace the Google Slides step by getting the queued questions to the people in front.
  • There aren’t settings to center the responses.  With just one question at a time, an option to center it would have made it more visually appealing.
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Photo by @ PowhatanHS

 What Worked Really Well

  • We had a group of students who read the questions to the speaker.  We considered giving a device to the speakers so they could read the questions, but that seemed impersonal.
  • Getting to vet questions made for a better Q and A experience.
  • The efficiency of the system allowed for more questions.
  • The students reading the questions had practiced using the microphone so they were easy to understand.
  • Having the question on the screen while it was being read made sure the audience knew what the question was.

Aisha Grantham and Dr. Sarah Mansfield asking questions. Photo by Jay Paul


Overall, we loved how the system worked and we got wonderful feedback from the audience members and event organizers.  In case you are still wondering, though, David Robinson is pretty tall.



Charley Stillwell and David Robinson. Photo By Jay Paul

By Carey Pohanka (@capohanka) and J.D. Jump (@jdj2286)

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Activity 2

How does action research differ from traditional research?

Action research differs from traditional research in a couple of key ways.  While traditional research is characterized by collecting quantitative data action research is more concerned with qualitative or observational data.  In addition in traditional research the data is collected by an independent observer and does not take into account the experiences of the people participating in the research project.  Action research asks participants about their experiences as a way to gain more data about the project.

Why is a qualitative action research approach appropriate for my project?

Qualitative action research is appropriate for this project because we are particularly interested in the experience of the students.  By making qualitative observations rather than just collecting quantitative data we can make intuitive leaps about how the project is going and adjust the things that aren’t working.

How many participants should I have?

Our primary participants will be our maker class so it will depend on how many students sign up.  We could do this project with as few as a couple of people if we need to.

Will I need a control group?  Why or why not?

We do not need a control group for this project because we are concerned with qualitative rather than quantitative data and our subjective observations will be the source of our data.

Can I research something I am already doing?

Yes.  Part of the reason we do action research is so we can improve things we are already doing.

Over what period of time should my project be undertaken?

We are hoping to use the semester time frame as our length of cycle so that we can obtain data from our first cycle and try to implement changes in our second cycle.

How might I collect data?

We will be collecting data by direct observations and by interviewing our students.  We will also be looking at projects turned in and possibly be recording classes.

How might I analyze data?

We will analyze our data by taking a look at everything we collect and by drawing conclusions from that data.

How many cycles of research should I do for my project?

We hope to do at least 2 cycles of research.

Who will I share my research with and how?

In addition to my research partner, Carey Pohanka, we will be sharing with our “Tech Squad” as well as with the Director of Teaching and Learning at our school.

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Activity #1

I have been thinking for a while about the fact that the skills that we teach in the maker space are very similar to the skills that we teach in technical theatre.  The McWilliam article reinforced my thinking on this connection.  Once I got past the dense language in this article I discovered that her description of creativity is very similar to the way the production process works in the theatre.  Theatre is a single artistic product that is put together by multiple artists working together.  The director comes up with an overarching concept for a theatrical production, but there are scenic, lighting, sound, and costume designers that are responsible for their respective portions of the production.  Each of the designers works with the director to design their own individual portion of the production to fit in with the whole.  In addition the design team meets on a weekly basis so they can work together and share ideas.  In this way the entire design team is involved in creating each portion of the whole of a theatrical production.  In the maker class that we are teaching next year we are hoping to incorporate this type of cross pollination.  We plan on having a portion of every class where the boys gather in small groups to share what they are working on and to be able to give each other ideas to improve the project they are working on.

In the Schwartz blog post she talks about the importance of tinkering.  She specifically speaks about the need for giving a broad prompt intended to get students to tinker with ideas in order to make them work.  The older I get, the more I find that I work this way all the time.  I find that my life is a series of projects and that I am constantly mulling over those projects until i come up with a solution.  I feel that if someone had taught me to work like this when I was in high school I would be a lot better off now.

I am really looking forward to exploring these concepts with our maker class in the fall.

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The Just-to-See-If-I-Can-Fix-It Purchase

If you have read my “About Me” Page you know that I have been a tinkerer all of my life.  I have always been drawn to taking things apart and trying to understand how they work and trying to fix them.  Over the last 5 years I have made a few purchases that I would characterize as “Just-to-see-if-I-can-fix-it” purchases.  That is I have purchased an item on Ebay that is broken mostly to see if I could fix it.

The first time I did this was during my first year of divinity school.  I had purchased a microphone for my iPod just to find out that the iPod I had didn’t support the microphone.  I started looking at iPods online to find that there were a number of iPods that looked like they just needed the battery replaced.  I looked up directions on how to change the battery and went for it.  It was a great experience because I not only got the product I was looking for, it also reinforced my hope that I was handy enough to be able to fix just about anything.

The year after, my room mate had a misfortune that all gamers dread.  As he was playing on his Xbox 360 one night the screen went blank and the console started flashing the dreaded “Red Ring of Death.”  As he was trying to track down the issue, I did a little bit of research on my own and I came across a fix that would supposedly work on this issue.  I offered to try this on his console, but he opted to trade in the broken console at GameStop instead.  After a couple of days obsessing about whether I could get this to work I decided to buy a broken Xbox 360 to test it out myself.  After quite a bit of work and tweaking I got it to work!

Both of these situations boosted my self esteem and helped me to understand that I really had good technical skills.  These experiences were pivotal to me and yet they are not things I was capable of doing before I was in my 20s.  I was taught growing up that you don’t spend money unless you need to.  In fact, if I had told my mom, “hey, I’m buying a broken iPod to see if I can fix it,” she would have told me how foolish it was to spend my money on something so frivolous.  But sometimes going outside of conventional wisdom is good.  In the making environment, this kind of experience can help kids to realize the value of the skills that they are acquiring.  I think it is important as someone who teaches Making to encourage kids in these kinds of endeavors.  It can make a huge difference to have an adult tell them, “You can do this and it does have value.”

I recently followed this pattern of buying something to see if I can fix it.  This time, I took a bit more practical tack.  I needed a new cell phone, so I bought a Samsung Galaxy S4 that has a broken screen and is stuck on boot.  I am still waiting for the phone to get here, but I will post on how this project goes once I have it up and running.

Have you ever bought something just to see if you could fix it?

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The Beginning of a New Project (Based Learning)

This blog post is the inaugural post on a blog that is going to be devoted to my journey to becoming a teacher.  I am in my second year of working as a technology specialist in an independent school and am thinking about beginning to make the transition to teaching.  I am fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to be involved in the process of exploring the use of a makerspace in our school.

For those of you who don’t know, a makerspace is a laboratory for teaching students about design through “making.”  This space incorporates concepts related to such academic buzz words as “Tinkering”, “Project Based Learning”, and “Iterative Design.”  In practical terms a makerspace is a place where students learn by solving specific problems through designing and redesigning specific solutions.  The makerspace makes use of a number of cool new technologies including 3D printing, Physical Computing, and Wearable Computing.

We have been doing a lot of work over the last couple of months to develop a maker space here.  A colleague and I have been working on these projects with the help and support of the School’s tech department.  A few weeks ago we submitted our makerspace proposal to our development office.  We have begun working on a maker class for next year which we are hoping will be a technology and arts elective that students in the Upper School can take.  We are offering a build your own 3D printer camp this summer.  And we have been selected to be part of an Action Research project with the International Boys School Coalition on the topic of “Boys as Makers.”

With all of this exciting stuff going on I want this blog to be my chronicling of my own transformation into the role of teacher as well as being a place that I can share resources and projects as they arise.  My hope would be that I can contribute to the global conversation on makerspaces in education.  As well as sharing my own musings on teaching and technology.

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