February 21, 2023
Have you ever asked a colleague for help doing something in your gradebook, only to get a 30-minute monologue about exactly how to set up the complete gradebook? Perhaps you were trying to learn how to fix the copier and when you looked it up online, you found the entire Owner’s Manual, but you didn't find how to pull out the toner box. When you get past the novice stage of most pursuits, a full reteach is typically not what you need when you want information. Oftentimes, when we need help with something, we just need a hint.
Hints can be more powerful than traditional scaffolding methods. Traditional scaffolding is often long: students need to read a longer paragraph, see ALL of the steps broken down, or work on a problem over five questions instead of just one prompt. This can lead to fatigue and strain: one study found that students with lower prior knowledge were significantly less likely to complete the assignment if they were completing an assignment with traditional scaffolding versus one with hints. Cognitive fatigue is a real struggle for students, especially in STEM. Hints can help keep your activities rigorous without making them unnecessarily long.
Educational hints are short snippets of information designed to address smaller gaps in understanding. Hints may be as simple as showing someone how to use a tool or giving them an equation or as specific as including a reminder about a common mistake made on a question.
Hints can help keep your activities rigorous without making them unnecessarily long.
For example, this could be something like “if you’re going to use the standard acceleration due to gravity, you must convert from centimeters to meters” for a physics problem. In Biology, a hint could be “remember that when you use the Hardy-Weinberg equation, the sum of all possible outcomes must equal 1!”
When appropriately used, hints should help a student with some understanding of a topic to complete a question. I like to think of these as “gap closers” -- hints fill in small gaps and cracks in a student’s understanding.
I like to think of these as “gap closers” -- hints fill in small gaps and cracks in a student’s understanding.
A given hint is a hint that you offer to the students from the outset. They’re clearly visible to all students, and the student doesn’t need to do anything to get these. These hints are best for general reminders or quick callouts.
In Pivot Interactives, we often add Given Hints as reminders for students. Check out this one from the Pivot Interactives Elastic Potential Energy activity:
This hint goes right above the multiple-choice options. And it explains the labeling the students see in the graph below. This type of hint is perfect for students that are new to energy diagrams. Students know how to read a bar graph, but they may not know what “K” represents. So, a given hint lets the class know exactly how to read the graph.
If you want to edit or add an additional Given Hint in a Pivot activity, you can edit the activity to fit your students needs!
To make a given hint, add a Hint to any question. (Remember: you have full edit access to the questions in a Pivot Interactives activity.) Then, leave the box labeled Make hint initially hidden? unchecked.
A hidden hint is a hint that is initially hidden, hence the name. These hints are accessible to every student, but are only shown when a student asks for it. Not every student needs these. These hints are best for longer explanations, images-based hints, or hints few students may not need all the time.
Check out this one from the Pivot Interactives Reactivity – Alkali/Alkaline activity:
See the text that reads “How do I select the Iris tool for Li?” in teal? That’s the hint. This is an example of a hint that not everyone will need. If a student has used the measurements tools in Pivot Interactives before, they may already know how to open the Iris tool. If they DO need help with this specific question, they can click to learn more, and get un-stuck.
Does every student need to use this hint? No – and that’s why it’s hidden. Students can choose to interact with this information if they need to. They can also click “Hide Hint” to make it go away when they’re done.
If you want to edit or add an additional Hidden Hint in a Pivot activity, you can edit the activity to fit your students needs!
To make a hidden hint, add a Hint to any question, just like before. But this time: put a check in the box labeled Make hint initially hidden?. You can also add a “Hint Prompt.” This is what the hint will say when the students see it. If you leave it blank, it will say, “I need a hint.”
A submission hint is a hint that is only available when a student turns in the hint as a submission to a question. These hints are accessible to every student, but at a cost: in order to get this hint, you have to give up a submission on a question. That means there is something at stake when the student accesses this information. They are losing a chance at the question in order to get more information. I like to think of these as “juicy hints.” These are the hints that, once you have this information, you’re almost certainly going to be able to answer the question. These tend to have information that I wouldn’t consider “given” information. I may include the first completed step to a problem. I may give the students key definitions again. I may point out parts of the prompt that would lead to the answer.
Check out this one from the Pivot Interactives Single Trait Crosses – Fruit Fly activity:
See the option that reads “I need a hint”? That’s the Pivot submission hint. Notice what happens when the student submits that hint:
This isn’t a coincidence. Submission hints generally include information that will generally lead to the right answer.
This is, again, an example of a hint that not everyone will need. If the student remembers the correlation between genotype and phenotype, they should have no issue answering this question. But, if the student feels unsure, they can choose to limit their submission opportunities in exchange for some more information.
To make a submission hint, add a Choice to any question and set the text as “I need a hint.” Then, include all of your noteworthy hint material in the response. Make sure you do not mark this as a correct answer! Also – this really only works when you have limited submissions on a question, so make sure that you have a number in the Submissions field above the choices.
Stylistic Notes: I don’t tend to “Randomize Choice Order” on questions that have hints. I like to have the hint on the last option in the list. When students are randomly selecting answers, they don’t tend to randomly select the last answer, so I put the hint there: this encourages the students to actually read the options before blindly picking. This isn’t a requirement, just a preference.
Also, when I’m using submission hints, I like to set my number of submissions equal to my number of non-hint options for introductory activities; for review activities, I do one less than that. This activity is usually the 3rd or 4th Genetics activity a student has done, so we use the N-1 rule here (hence, two submissions). But remember: you have full edit access, even on the submissions. Set it however you desire. The minimum number of submissions for the hint to be usable is 2: one for the hint and one for the post-hint attempt.
Hints can be a simple yet strong way to encourage students to give a question another go. In class, it can be hard to give out to every student in a way that is both effective for the students and efficient for your time. But, in Pivot Interactives, it’s as easy as checking a box!
Just one more way that Pivot Interactives and your classroom work #BetterTogether.