Using Kahoot! and others the way your brain craves

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Using Kahoot! and others the way your brain craves

We use tech tools like Kahoot! in the classroom all the time. When we pair them with brain science strategies, they can be even more powerful. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

Sure, you might think. I use Kahoot! and G Suite and others in the classroom all the time. They're great.

But are you using them the way your brain wants you to use them?

A growing body of research on brain science gives suggestions on how to teach and learn for maximum impact. But much of those findings don't make it to the classroom.

The result: We use teaching strategies and tech tools without optimizing their use for the brain.

So ... how can we do that? Can we use tech tools the way our brain craves to improve learning?

I brainstormed a list of brain-friendly ways to use various educational websites, digital tools and apps after an interview with Dr. Pooja Agarwal for the 2017 Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit.

As Pooja talked about how cognitive science findings could impact the classroom, I kept thinking, "There's a great tech tool for that!"

These are also the same ideas that The Learning Scientists discuss on their site, in their blog, in their podcasts, etc.

Here are some of those ideas with quick summaries of the brain science that inspired them:

Retrieval practice

I'm a huge fan of finding ways to incorporate retrieval into the classroom. I've written about how it can improve retention and help us to re-teach less. It made this list I made of research-based insights on how the brain learns.

The idea is this: If we want to be able to recall information, we should practice retrieving it from memory rather than by putting that information into the brain.

Putting information into the brain: re-reading chapters and notes over and over again. It's less effective, according to retrieval practice research.

Retrieving it from the brain is more like a dress rehearsal for a quiz or a test. Practice pulling that information from your memory.

How digital tools can help us with retrieval practice

Use flash cards efficiently. Digital flash cards like Quizlet have been around for a long time. Just because they're old hat doesn't mean that they aren't effective anymore. Flash cards help us do retrieval practice -- the digital version or index cards. They give us a prompt (a vocabulary word or a concept) so we can dig the answers out of our brains.

PRO TIP: Pooja says that, according to research, students often drop flash cards from their decks way too soon. It's ideal to answer a flash card correctly three times before dropping it. Many times, students do a "one and done" and don't get enough repetitions. One way to do this in Quizlet is to practice through the whole deck three times. Click the star if you get it wrong. After practicing the whole deck three times, go back and practice your starred cards.

Retrieve together. During our Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit discussion, Pooja and I talked about the importance of encouraging students to develop learning habits that would serve them in the future. We also talked about the importance of equipping teachers with formative assessment data so they can adjust instruction. So ... how can we gather formative assessment data and let students retrieve without fear of having ideas called right or wrong in front of the class? Here are a couple ways ...

  • Socrative (a quick polling and quizzing tool): Use a short answer quick question in Socrative. You set up the question. Students join your room with the student login. They answer questions and their answers go on the screen. (If you don't ask for student names, they'll be less inhibited and more likely to try honestly without fear of humiliation for a wrong answer.)
  • Formative (a digital assignment/assessment tool): Formative lets you set up multiple questions in a single assignment, adding text, video and more.
  • Google Forms (a survey tool): Similar to Formative in the G Suite.
  • TodaysMeet (a quick, easy chat room-style site): The same idea can be done similarly in TodaysMeet. Create a TodaysMeet room and invite students to join. You can make their responses anonymous by having them enter a letter, a number, a smiley face, etc. as their nickname. Ask questions. When they submit their answers to the room, you'll aggregate all of their answers in one place, giving you data for potentially altering instruction.

Wait just a second ...

I'm going to try to stop you ...

Right ...


I know how you read these articles.

You read them like I do.

You scan. And white space like this stops you in your tracks.

Don't scan this article trolling for new digital tools.

Don't just say, "I already use this tool."

This post is all about different ways to use tools you probably know.

Be sure you're reading it in that light.

OK, back to the post ...

Brain dumps

Brain dumps and retrieval practice are closely related. In cognitive science parlance, brain dumps are called "free recall." As Pooja outlined in this article, brain dumps work like this:

  1. Pause your lesson, lecture or activity.
  2. Ask students to write down everything they can remember.
  3. Continue your lesson, lecture and activity.

Pretty simple concept, right? It doesn't just mean recalling everything they've been taught in that lesson. It means recalling prior knowledge, too. "Free recall facilitates learning of past content, future content, and even students' organization of knowledge for a variety of subject areas, basic knowledge, and complex learning," Pooja writes.

Some keys to successful brain dumps: 

  • Students respond individually.
  • Don't grade them. Brain dumps are for learning, not for assessing.

How digital tools can help us with brain dumps

Store your lists in Google Docs or Google Keep. Jotting down brain dumps on paper is fine. In fact, there's research that taking notes by hand helps students better remember new material later on. But when you recall information you already know, typing your brain dumps out lets you find them easier later. Save them in Google Docs (organized into a folder) or in Google Keep (tagged with a label). When you're done, you can also search for terms in those documents and easily find everything that matches your search term. 

Pair brain dumps with images. I love sketchnotes -- written/drawn by hand and/or created digitally with typed text and images. Pairing visuals with images can make learning very sticky in the brain. Allan Paivio's dual coding theory claims that verbal information (words) and visual information (images) are two distinct channels in the brain. If you can code an idea with words and pictures, you're more likely to be able to recall it. Sketch out brain dumps with pictures -- with paper and pencil or an app like Paper by FiftyThree -- and you're using both of those channels.

Spacing (or "spaced repetition") (or "spaced retrieval")

Spacing touches on the idea that forgetting is part of learning. When we space learning out and don't do lots of it consecutively, it's more likely to stick than when done in a single cram session.

"Hundreds of studies in cognitive and educational psychology
have demonstrated that spacing out repeated encounters with the material over time produces superior long-term learning,
compared with repetitions that are massed together," writes Sean H.K. Kang of Dartmouth College. "Spaced review or practice enhances diverse forms of learning, including memory, problem solving, and generalization to new situations."

How digital tools can help us with spacing

Students and teachers can set up reminders to go back over material -- spacing it out to get more repetitions with it. Here are some suggestions for doing that:

  • Google Calendar (or whatever calendar program you use) (paper calendars are acceptable, too!): Writing simple calendar reminders to go back over material is easy. Google Calendar can even send you push notifications on your phone and/or emails to remind you, too.
  • Boomerang (a Gmail add-on): Boomerang lets you schedule when emails go out. But it also lets you "snooze" emails you've received to a later time. Email yourself with material you want to study again and, when you finish studying it, "snooze" it until the next time to study it.
  • Remind (a parent/student messaging app): The previous two suggestions put ownership on the learner. If you'd prefer to push out a gentle reminder as a teacher, Remind works great. Send messages (or schedule them to send later) to remind students to study. Include a link to a Google Doc or webpage with the info they need to study to make the barrier of entry even lower!

Feedback after retrieval

This is a way to get an extra jolt of learning with your Kahoot! games!

Want to give a quick boost of efficiency to learning and study sessions? When students retrieve information from memory, provide feedback with examples. This simple addition can have great results. 

In one study, students of psychology performed better on tests when given feedback with an example after answering a question. "Results demonstrated that presentation of examples during feedback bolstered performance across all test types and formats," the study's abstract stated.

How digital tools can help us with spacing

Add an example to your feedback in these digital tools to make learning stickier:

  • Kahoot! (quiz show-style formative assessment): Kahoot! was made for this! When students answer a Kahoot! question, the screen displays the answer and stops until the teacher moves forward. This is the perfect opportunity to provide feedback AND give students an example.
  • Google Forms (survey tool): We often use Google Forms to give students test, quizzes and graded assignments. Instead, create a Google Form as a learning tool. Provide feedback with each question -- and include an example -- to help students get the most out of it.

Want more ideas?

Here are a few resources you can access to get more great information:

Which of these strategies resonate most with you? How are you using these -- or other brain research-based activities -- in your classroom? Please tell us in a comment below!

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