Tuesday Tips (and Tech): Digital Popsicle Sticks

I have briefly written about how a foundation of my class is Harkness discussion. Recently, thanks to a collaborative effort with my friend and colleague Quentin Donnellan, I have been tweaking my methods.  One tweak that I have especially loved is that I now have only half the class discuss at a time.

In order to provide accountability for actually reading the assignment, the students cannot know ahead of time who will have to discuss that day.  Every time, I must select the names to discuss at random.  This means that a student might have to discuss two days in a row or might not have to discuss two days in a row.  The key here is that there must always be a chance that any student will be chosen on any given day.

Sort of like The Hunger Games.

I have done this in various ways.  I have written each student’s name on a note card and picked.  I have taken even or odd numbered names.  I have considered many times running to the craft store to pick up a bag of popsicle sticks, but that hasn’t happened yet.

But one of the most efficient ways to create a random list of names is through the website Random.org.

Step One:  Go to the Website (Hey, we’re warming up here).


Step Two:  Scroll down to the section titled “List and Strings and Maps, Oh My!”


Step Three: Choose “List Randomizer”


ImageStep Four: Enter the List of Names in the Box. 

I will randomize a carefully chosen set of fruit names (This classroom tip brought to you by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”).


Step Five: Hit “Randomize” and View Your Random List


You can also randomize as many times as you like.  To create more drama in the classroom (always fun), before I randomize I might ask a student to choose a number of times to randomize.

Step Six:  Decide on a Portion of the List

This is also fun. I don’t always just take the first half of the list. Sometimes I take the bottom. Sometimes I take only the odd numbers.  Sometimes I let the students decide beforehand which portion of the list to take (more drama).

Don’t forget:  this works best if you make it as dramatic as possible. I kind of like to draw it out to see their reactions as they wonder who will be chosen.

“May the odds be ever in your favor.”


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