FACT vs. Paper-based Classroom Challenges

Posters and cards

When students work in small groups on the paper-based version of the Classroom Challenges, they usually construct a poster by gluing cards to the posterboard and writing on the posterboard and cards. They often must cut the cards out of a sheet of paper. With FACT, every student has their own viewport (i.e., the screen of a tablet or laptop) onto the group’s electronic poster and the poster already has electronic cards on it. Students can scroll and zoom around the poster using the usual pinching, dragging and mouse gestures. Instead of gluing paper cards, students tap on a pin icon. They can move cards by dragging on them. They can type anywhere. They can draw anywhere using a stylus or finger on a touchscreen or using a mouse. Some key differences over paper are:

  • The typing, drawing and cards created by students are colored, and each student in a group has a different color. Thus, the teacher and the students can see who did what.
  • The Classroom Challenges often ask students to enter explanations on cards. Electronic cards can be expanded easily, encouraging longer explanations.
  • Students can erase text and drawings easily, which can encourage exploration.
  • With paper posters, students must either sit on the same side of the table or continually rotate the poster so that they can read it. With FACT, students can always seeing the poster in its upright position no matter where they sit.
  • The Classroom Challenges often have a student from one group visit another group so that the solutions of the two groups can be compared. With paper posters, the student who is about to leave and visit another group must copy the poster’s content onto scratch paper in order to bring it along. With FACT, the visiting student just brings their tablet or laptop with them.
  • When groups needs to stop and resume work the next day, it is difficult to store the paper poster and the cards without the cards falling off and getting lost. With FACT, students just close the app and reopen it the next day.
  • After a Classroom Challenge is finished, it is difficult to store paper posters for inclusion in portfolios or for future reference. FACT posters are stored indefinitely on the FACT secure server, and/or they can be stored as digital images on the school’s file server.
  • When teachers want to show a group’s paper poster to the whole class, they can try to squeeze it under a document camera, or they can just hold it up; either way, the content will be hard for the class to see. With FACT, the teacher can tell the classroom projector or SmartBoard to display any group’s poster. The teacher can then zoom and scroll so that students can see the key parts easily. The teacher can edit on the poster, e.g., to circle important parts.
  • If the teacher wants a student to present a poster, the teacher can project it and then hand the teacher’s tablet to the student. The student can then scroll, zoom and even edit the poster while explaining it.

Classroom orchestration

Teachers typically use speaking to the whole class and circulating around the classroom to guide the workflow and monitor students. Some teachers have a digital projector or SmartBoard that they use to display PowerPoint slides, videos or other content. Some teachers have a document camera for displaying student work. FACT augments these orchestration tools with some new ones.

  • Teachers can rapidly gain the attention of the whole class by tapping on the Pause button. This cause all the FACT student screens to display “Eyes on teacher” and freeze. Tapping the Pause button again unfreezes the student screens and allows students to continue their work.
  • Teachers can watch the work of a student or group without having to walk over and visit them. They tap the name of the student or group, and they are now “peeking” at the work. This allows a teacher to decide whether a group needs a visit or is making good progress on their own.
  • When peeking at student work, the teacher can zoom and scroll around the poster or worksheet. This is especially handy when visiting a group and trying to read the poster, which may have small handwriting on it.
  • For most activities, FACT can tell how far along students or groups of students are. For example, if the activity involves filling out cards with explanations, FACT can tell how many cards have writing or typing on them. It displays such progress with a bar beneath the students’ or group’s name on the teachers’ dashboard. This allows the teacher to tell how far along the class is, and who is lagging behind.
  • Classroom Challenges have several activities. The paper-based versions of an activity come with pdfs to be printed in order to make the paper cards and worksheets. Most activities also have a PowerPoint slide for launching the activity (i.e., for giving students instructions and introducing concept). With FACT, no printing is necessary, and it is no longer necessary to hand out and collect paper. To start an activity, the teacher taps the name of an activity. This causes the launch slide to be displayed on the classroom projector and all the materials to be “handed out” instantly to the students.
  • The Classroom Challenges encourage teachers to review the work of their students outside of class in order both to get a sense of what the student understand, and to allow the teacher to provide written comments on the work. This is inconvenient for paper worksheets and impossible for paper posters. With FACT, the teacher can review all their students work using their home or office computer.
  • When teachers are reviewing the work of a student or a group, they can replay it like a video in order to see how the work developed, who did what, and what work was erased. For example, if two students’ worksheets are identical, then the one that was written rapidly is probably a copy. If a great idea was written in blue, erased, and replaced by a mediocre idea written in green, then the group dynamics may need attention—the blue student’s ideas may not have been taken seriously.


The Classroom Challenges require non-routine problem solving of students. This means that their posters and worksheets can display complicated and even novel work. This can make it difficult for a teacher to understand what the students are doing. Because FACT can see every action done by every student, including the order in which actions were done, it can quite literally see more than a teacher. The FACT analytics look for patterns in this huge stream of action data that indicate opportunities for the teacher to intervene. When it finds one, it instantly displays an alert on the teacher’s dashboard. Teachers can tap on the alert to see the part of the students’ work that raised the alert. If teachers don’t immediately see what to say the students, they can tap again and FACT will suggest something to say to the students and explain why it’s appropriate.

FACT cannot hear students’ discussions, so its suggestions should be viewed as tentative. Ideally, the teacher will visit the group with the alert’s suggestion in mind, and use the suggestion only if it still seems relevant after talking with the students. However, if a teacher likes the suggestion and is too busy to visit right now, the teacher can tap a third time on the alert and FACT will send its suggested message directly to the students. For example, when a group finishes ahead of the class and all its work is correct, FACT’s suggestion is usually to write explanations for some of the group’s key decisions. A teacher may wish to send this suggestion immediately rather than visiting.

The FACT project team is working hard on increasing the power of the analytics and the utility of its suggestions. Your comments and suggestions would be extremely valuable to us. Please contact us in that case.