Using Quizzes to Elicit Alternative Concepts

There isn’t a week that goes by that a student doesn’t ask me “Can we do a Kahoot today?”

Kahoot! is a lovely website where you can author or find multiple choice quizzes. In a lesson, you display the question on the board while your students answer using a handheld device (usually their own phone, sometimes a tablet or laptop). When they have all answered (or the time runs out), the correct answer is displayed and the top five are named.

I like to use Kahoot quizzes before and after I teach a topic. ‘Before’ because knowing you do not know something motivates you to find it out and ‘after’ because the more chances you get to refresh your memories, the more likely you are to make lasting connections.

This format is very motivating and it’s very simple to get set up. So simple that some of my lessons are “Make your own Kahoot quiz” and we go over what makes a good multiple choice question and how to ask questions that test more than “did you memorise the same wiki as I did?”

Even if students do come up with questions that are a bit pants, it leads into some interesting discussions afterwards about what objective criteria there are for the quality of questions. And it gets teenagers asking questions.

Pre-teens are all about the questions but as young people mature, they become more self-conscious and this can lead to a sort of curiosity paralysis. They may still be interested in knowing how the world works but they are scared to ask and the less they ask, the more that curiosity atrophies.

Getting adolescents to ask questions is a key goal of mine, so I love this website.

Recently, I used it for something a bit different. I was refreshing my memory of ionic bonds ahead of teaching a topic and read about alternative conceptions of chemical bonds. I have to admit, I had to read it a few times because some of the alternative conceptions were my conceptions. One of the resources was a test to elicit alternative conceptions and I copied it onto Kahoot.

Before I even taught anything about ions, I was able to test my students and find out where they were. Then at the end of the topic, I was able to re-test. Kahoot lets you download a spreadsheet of how students answered and allows you to run an analysis of areas students need more practice. I split my questions into broad groups to see how their conceptual  understanding developed during the unit. I was able to see areas that they ‘got’ and areas we need to go over in a different way.

I have done the same for the topic of heat but we have only just started that unit, so there is nothing to analyse yet.

One problem with testing for alternative conceptions is that students start to second guess all their common-sense ideas about the world and begin to overthink. It’s an unfortunate side effect that you learn that it can’t be right because it makes sense to you. So, I tried to put in a few no-brainers in the quiz too.

I think I will be using the tool a lot more in future.


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