Are We There Yet? Timing a Pivot Interactives Activity

May 22, 2023

During a recent professional development, I got my most common question – and the question that I have the hardest time answering, despite the answer being two small words:

"How long does this activity take?"

I am reminded of that familiar question that road-tripping parents encounter, just as the pavement starts to stretch out before them, as it leads to the seemingly infinite horizon.

“Are we there yet?”

We all know the look—the response. The same is true for teaching.

So “How long does this activity take?”

It depends.

Task Completion Time involves a lot of factors, but here is an easy answer to start. Most activities in the Pivot Interactives library include an Estimated Time in the Instructor's Notes.

The user clicks the Show Answers & Notes button, revealing a greyed section titled Instructor Notes. The user then highlights the first line titled "Estimated Time."
When you click Show Answers and Notes, an Instructor Notes section appears. The first entry in this area is usually the Estimated Time.

So, let’s go over some of the key factors and see how you can get a closer time estimate for your own classes.  

Factor #1. Not all questions take the same amount of time.  

There are currently six answerable question types in Pivot Interactives. Each of these components and questions requires interaction time that is based on the steps it takes to gain or give the relevant information.

Some research and guidance exists to guide our planning, but in general:

  1. Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) take 1-1.5 minutes to complete.
  1. Drag and Drop (D&D) Questions take 1-1.5 minutes per subquestion to complete, with less time needed on each answer option as they narrow down their choices.
  1. Numerical Questions take anywhere from 2-20 minutes to complete. In general, I allocate 1-2 minutes per cognitive step in the question.  
  1. Open Ended Questions (OEQs) take 2+ minutes to complete. I try to give my students 1.5 minutes per sentence expected. So, if a question should be answered in 2 sentences – it should take about 3 minutes.
  1. Data Tables and Graphs take 0.5-2 minutes per cell of data captured. Gathering data from the content resources takes more time than simply filling in the table or setting up the graph. Copying down data takes the least amount of time in the activity. Recording observations that don’t require tools (e.g., object color, relative size, bounce per time frame) may take a little more time. Collecting data that requires a tool (e.g., length, volume, or time measurements) involves the most cognitive demand and will take the greatest amount time.  
  1. Student Instance Uploads are curve balls. While a video is only 30 – 60 seconds, capturing that video takes WAY longer. I estimate 5-10 minutes per upload.

Non-question components, such as written instructions or video instances, also require different interaction times.  

Let's look at an example:  

The Equilibrium and Temperature activity was designed for AP Chemistry students after they have started learning about equilibrium constants.

Depending on their reading styles and speeds, each one may spend different amounts of time with the text passages. Still, for longer activities I like to add 5 minutes per section for reading. This would add 15 minutes to this activity’s time, bringing us to 71.5-73.5 minutes.

Factor #2. Student engagement varies.  

The average attention span of a student is equal to twice their age in minutes. So, a 16-year-old sophomore can focus on a task for approximately 32 minutes. In my teaching experience, I anecdotally observed a little more:

  • If a student is disinterested in the task, their attention span is roughly 1 minute per year of age. So, a 16-year-old who is disinterested in the task can focus for about 16 minutes before they check out.  
  • A standard level of interest gains you the standard attention span: 2 minutes per year of age.
  • If the student is highly interested and engaged in the task, the attention span reaches an upper limit: 3 minutes per year of age. So, that same 16-year-old who loves biology can give an activity their all for 48 minutes.

I bet you have seen the same thing in your classroom as well. Your students that love STEM drink up your assignments and hang on to your every word. Phones? Tiktok? Snapchat? They've never heard of them in your class because they're too busy absorbing all of your knowledge.  

Meanwhile, you can probably picture the student who lost interest the moment you said, "today's lab will not involve fire." This same student engaged deeply with the hands-on activity that explored plate tectonics using a Snickers bar. Now it’s time to do a deeper analysis with the Plate Tectonics activity in Pivot Interactives, and you want to be sure they are checked in!

You can use Pivot Interactives to address diverse interests and needs.

  1. Break an activity into smaller, more manageable parts (chunking) to reduce anxiety while also giving students a clear break point. Create chunks for less than the average attention span in the classroom. If most of your students have an average attention span, make your chunks 15 minutes long. Check in with them every 7-8 minutes if average attention is lower.
  1. Brain breaks and reward time can re-engage your disconnected students. It may seem silly, but giving your students a 2-minute brain break – even at the high school age – is very effective. Give your students a break by allowing them to get up from their desks and walk around briefly, do a puzzle, or even listen to a new song. Just make sure to keep an eye on the time.

Factor #3. Set up is key.

Remember the time estimates at the top of the activity? We get those from testing the activities in real classrooms with real students. However, these test groups are very comfortable with Pivot Interactives. Many of these students have done five or more Pivot Interactives activities in the year. (Some even build the videos you see – so, they're VERY invested.) These students are Pivot Pros, unphased by technology or the platform. Here are some set-up considerations to help you and your students become Pivot Pros:

Using a New Tool: The first time you use a new tool, you should expect your time to be double that of a proficient user. So, if the activity says it takes 60 minutes to complete, go ahead and set your sights on 120 minutes.  

Class Schedules: If you're in a block class, you may be able to finish a 60-minute activity and still have time for other things. But in a 45-minute class, you may need 2 periods to complete the same activity. Also, consider the unscheduled schedule changes: A surprise fire drill can throw off the rhythm in your room and make your 3rd period's activity take 45 minutes when everyone else spent 20 minutes on it.

Working Class Time: Figure out your class's working time in each class period or block. This is the time remaining once you account for the "daily rituals." For example, I needed 5 minutes at the start of each class for attendance, work collection, and bell ringers, and 3 minutes at the end of each class to pack up, make announcements, and collect work. This left me with 45 minutes of working time in my 53-minute period.

Remember – Your students are not numbers.  

It's important to remember that all these numbers are great for estimates – but your students cannot be captured in an equation. Everything from the weather outside to the speed of your internet to the food they ate for breakfast make an impact. And those impacts add up.  

Some days, the activity may take 20 minutes instead of 30. On other days, that 30-minute activity may take three days. Everything and anything can impact the time it takes for your students to complete a task. Give grace. Don't be afraid to cut something shorter. And follow your gut instincts – you know when they need more time or when they're goofing off. Trust yourself and your professional judgment. It's there for a reason.