80 Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms to Support Learning

I am pleased to relaunch this popular resource form the Interesting Ways series after a little bit of TLC.

If you are new to the idea behind the Interesting Ways series, they are open Google Presentations which teachers add their ideas to – one idea, one slide, one image. They have been running for years now and have proven massively helpful to teachers across the world as crowdsourced idea banks to share with colleagues.

I have checked through this one on Google Forms and updated the first and last slides – I hope you find the ideas useful and of course please feel free to follow the link below to add your own ideas (jump to the last slide for info on what to do) after all that is what they are here for!

Add your ideas by editing the document.

Thanks to everyone for helping to support these resources – I will continue to work through them all in the coming weeks and update and tend to them accordingly.

The Big Bang Breakthrough: a cosmological self-examination

“We are talking right now about a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang, so we see the face of the Big Bang. It is an image of the gravitational waves which are purely quantum gravity feature of what was produced in the Big Bang.”

This is footage of Professor Andrei Linde being told there is evidence that supports his life’s work. Along with Alan Guth he proposed a theory of cosmological inflation, the expansion of space in the early universe. The original ideas were proposed in 1980 by Guth and have now been supported by this latest discovery from a team of American physicists.

“Reaching back across 13.8 billion years to the first sliver of cosmic time with telescopes at the South Pole, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected ripples in the fabric of space-time — so-called gravitational waves — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. They are the long-sought smoking-gun evidence of inflation, proof, Kovac and his colleagues say, that Guth was correct.”

I don’t profess to understand the science behind what they were looking for or indeed how they could explore such evidence in the first place. What strikes me though about the film is how it signals the twilight of a period of time for those scientists involved. A prolonged time of theory, of uncertainty and exploration is, perhaps coming to an end. The evidence still needs to be corroborated, but the emotional moment when Linde was told of the emerging evidence is incredible.

There is much to admire in those people around us who choose to remain in a place of acute uncertainty, often in science, who become accustomed to working against orthodoxy or popular belief. Individuals who have the will and determination to stand by a theory and bide their time over decades are part of a select group of explorers.

It reminds me of the Higgs boson particle discovery from the work at CERN. This emerged from the theoretical work of François Englert and Peter Higgs fifty years ago. They proposed the mechanism that suggested the existence of the particle, leading to a forty year scientific search and of course the development of the Large Hadron Collider one of the largest and most complex experimental science facilities ever developed.

We can only wonder what it must be like to have wondered, theorised and developed ideas for such a protracted length of time. What must it have been like for Englert, Higgs, Guth, and Linde to have lived with unanswered questions for so long? How must it feel to be told that you were right all along? What defines the character of such a determined group of individuals? We owe a huge amount to these individuals who for many years wrestle and struggle with the unanswered questions of our world.

For Linde the emotion comes across clearly in the footage and his disbelief, even scepticism is apparent towards the end of the film. The dawn of certainty for Linde is captured beautifully on his doorstep – as monumental a discovery as it is for him and Guth, it is also a fascinating glimpse into our cosmological self-examination.

One blog commenter sums up the revelatory moment from the film perfectly: “the universe regarding itself, and being overwhelmed by what it learns.”

The DNA of an Explorer: How we are Hardwired to Question and Discover

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“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

When we moved to Australia from England at the beginning of 2013 the whole period was memorable and distinct for many reasons. But there is one emotion or memory that still strikes me, that of the feeling of being in limbo, between places and our lives being in transition, in flux. It was primarily on the plane journeys and the whole idea of having only bought one way tickets. The relief of getting to that point, after months or organisation, soon subsided and I wondered about the future.

It is a powerful memory because we rarely take such extreme decisions and as it immersed us, as a family, in the unknown. There were so many questions we all had. I recall meeting a few other families who had made the trip across from Europe at the same time and were also settling into life in Australia, it seemed we shared that experience and perhaps shared something in our characters to make the decision in the first place.

In learning more about the curiosity we recognise in our young children and how this continues to change throughout our lives, I have been particularly interested in the innateness of a curious mindset, an explorers disposition and how this grows and diminishes.

In a fascinating article, “Restless Genes“ David Dobbs outlines that this innate disposition to explore, discover and to be curious for the world around has been mapped to a specific part of the human genome.

“If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome. In fact there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions: a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness. Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”

A combination of DRD4, high dexterity from our hands (as tools), big brains for imagination and the greater levels of mobility we have from our limbs than most other mammals, compose a set of traits uniquely suited for creating explorers.

Dobbs refers to Alison Gopnik’s work, a child-development psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who says that humans have a longer childhood, a slower path to puberty in which “we can exercise our urge to explore while we’re still dependent on our parents” and have “an unmatched period of protected “play” in which to learn exploration’s rewards.”

Gopnik outlines that, “Yet while other animals play mainly by practicing basic skills such as fighting and hunting, human children play by creating hypothetical scenarios with artificial rules that test hypotheses. Can I build a tower of blocks as tall as I am? What’ll happen if we make the bike ramp go even higher? How will this schoolhouse game change if I’m the teacher and my big brother is the student? Such play effectively makes children explorers of landscapes filled with competing possibilities.”

Typically we see the play based disposition change as we get older and young adulthood often swamps our willingness to explore, often replaced by a desire for habit and familiarity.

In the classroom or at home there are many simple things that you can do to continue to encourage and protect this love of exploring:

  • Embrace a supportive approach to asking and sharing questions.
  • Change things – the classroom furniture, the displays, pictures on the fridge.
  • Try new things together – modelling a willingness to explore and discover together is a powerful motivator.
  • Give children time to think – space, time and the encouragement to think, ponder and mull over questions or new ideas is important.
  • Offer provocations – these could be images, quotes, films or artefacts that make us wonder and challenge our thinking.
  • Say it is OK not to know – let your children hear this from you, that sometimes wondering is more important than having all the answers

There are so many ways we can design the conditions for ongoing discovery and support children’s disposition towards exploring. What successful strategies have you tried at home or in the classroom?

(Tweaked a little, but originally posted on our NoTosh Facebook page.)

Image: almost may by paul bica

Encouraging Curiosity is Not Enough

My own son’s curiosity for the world around him was the inspiration for my book. In turn my own curiosity for the questions that he was asking, what these meant and why he was asking them in the first place encouraged me to put pen to paper.

Since publishing it and talking to hundreds of educators about the premise of encouraging curiosity in our children or the learners in our class, I have come to realise that perhaps that is not enough. From our earliest days we have a predisposition to explore a new world all around us – with our mouths, fingers and hands and of course through the language we develop and the questions that inevitably come.

Similarly Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychology professor, states that: “Each of us is born with two contradictory sets of instructions: a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and saving energy, and an expansive tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty and risk. We need both. But whereas the first tendency requires little encouragement, the second can wilt if it is not cultivated.“ [Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi]

I have since further recognised that when George, my son, asks those many (many) questions he is doing so as a direct result of the environment around him. He is able to focus on the tendency for exploring and risk because he is, ultimately, safe. Indeed it is this sense of safety that he uses as a base for the forays he makes into the unknown.

The majority of my teaching I worked with children who, for many, recognised school as being the safest aspect of their lives, they did not have the luxury of a solid, safe environment that allowed them to be curious because their self-preservation tendency was more important. Therefore, as Csikszentmihalyi suggests, their instincts for exploring “wilt”. Simply encouraging these youngsters to question the world and explore is simply not enough, in fact protecting the curiosity in our youngsters is also not quite enough. We need to be developing a broader understanding into our potential impact on children’s dormant curiosity and how we can affect this torpidity.

Perhaps the “wilt” that occurs, as Csikszentmihalyi suggests, is something that can of course be reversed. A tendency that lies dormant, ready for the conditions that are needed to become active once again, or indeed for the very first time.

An inherent feature of designing learning is the provision of a safe environment, and it is through this ongoing effort that we can help activate curiosity in young learners, encourage it in new ways. Ultimately we must protect and cosset this precious tendency.

(Tweaked a little, but originally posted on our NoTosh Facebook page.)

Creative Strategies for Thinking Obliquely

In “The Rules of Genius, Rule #9: Approach answers obliquely“, Marty Neumeier outlines a range of thinking strategies (italicised below) to explore a challenge in new ways. Such strategies are always great to have in your toolkit when exploring a period of enquiry with children or adults. In an effort to build on Neumeier’s thinking and develop something new, I have expanded on the various steps he has outlined with some additional thoughts and links to help you approach your own creative exploration in a holistic way and to think obliquely.

Think in metaphors. A metaphor is a link between two dissimilar things: “The world is a stage.” By equating the world with a stage, you can more easily imagine that we’re all actors playing a part an insight you might not have had without the metaphor.

There are some great further ideas on this post about metaphorical thinking: “When you use a metaphor to link two ideas together, you are combining elements that have little or no logical connection. By breaking the rules of logic in this way, metaphors can open up the creative side of the brain – the part that is stimulated by images, ideas, and concepts. So metaphorical thinking can help you with creative problem solving: To use another famous metaphor, it helps you “think outside the box”.”

Think in pictures. Visual thinking can strip a problem down to its essence, leading to profoundly simple connections that language by itself can’t make. The ability to draw stick figures, arrows, and talk balloons is all you need to think visually.

Visualising your ideas in a simple way is a strategy we regularly use when working with groups. We encourage them to draw their initial idea on a post-it note and share it quickly with a colleague. This quick sketch and share, precludes us from investing too deeply in a given idea and does force us to be open to hearing how to make it better from our peers – as we don’t have all the answers, and our idea is only roughly formed we are more likely to be open to advice. Take a look at this introduction to the “Basics of Visual Note-taking“ for some other info.

You could also follow the “5 Sketching Secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci“: Look for new combinations; Engage your imagination; Collaborate with others when you sketch; Use annotations in your sketches; Sketch your ideas out 4-5 times

Start from a different place. When you grab for the “correct” solution, brilliant solutions will elude you. You’ll get stuck in the tar pits of knowledge, unable to free your mind of what you already know. The easiest way to escape this trap is by rejecting the correct solution—at least temporarily—in favor of the “wrong” solution. While the worst idea can never be the best idea, it will take your imagination to a different starting place.

Typically when we are exploring new solutions we have an invisible filter that is usually marked “safe”. Even with encouragement it is very hard to break that safe set and come up with a new set of ideas beyond the realms of feasibility. We rarely spend time in this fanciful place and so find it very difficult. But coming up with your 5 Worst Ideas to solve a problem is a great way to let the pressures go a little, it often leads to lots of laughs and by inverting some of those negative elements there is often a kernel of something great there. Some nice little activity steps in this post about it.

Steal from other domains. If you steal an idea cleverly enough, the theft will go unnoticed. While stealing is not the same as pure imagination, it does take a mental leap to see how an idea from one industry or discipline could be adapted to another.

One of my favourite stories that illustrates this method is from the reform work that occurred at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London. “Recognising the similarities with the handover disciplines (in emergency care) visible in the pit of a Formula One racing team, they invited the McLaren and Ferrari racing teams to work with them to examine how their processes could be more structured and effective.  They went out to the pits of the British Grand Prix, met Ferrari’s technical managers at their base in Italy and invited some of them to come and observe their handovers at Great Ormond Street…The input of the Formula One pit technicians resulted in a major restructuring of their patient handover from theatre to the ICU.”

It is a fine example of a group being able to see beyond their own discipline in order to seek out innovative ways to solve existing challenges.

Arrange blind dates. Great ideas are often two ideas that haven’t previously been introduced. Using a technique called “combinatory play,” you can throw unrelated ideas together to see if the create a new idea. Look for combinations that have a natural fit.

Maria Popova shares a post on Brain Pickings about the elemental work of combinatory play in the creative process, of course referring to Einstein’s take on it: “Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” However Popova shares a lovely introduction to the concept herself:

“For as long as I can remember — and certainly long before I had the term for it — I’ve believed that creativity is combinatorial: Alive and awake to the world, we amass a collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other existing ideas — that we then combine and recombine, mostly unconsciously, into something “new.” From this vast and cross-disciplinary mental pool of resources beckons the infrastructure of what we call our “own” “original” ideas.”

Reverse the polarity. Write down as many assumptions about the problem as you can think of. Reverse them. Think about what it would take to make the reversed assumption true. Some of these may lead to new ideas.

Assumptions are often the baggage that we bring along on a journey of change. The way things have always been “done” has a powerful influence on the decisions we make and indeed the ambition we often hold for change. With too much room they can stultify organisational change. When I am working in education there are many assumptions being made because the challenges we face are often deeply complex and involve different people. We need to be open enough to Name them and Challenge them.

“Human nature is such that when we assume we know how to do something, we perform the act without much thought about the assumptions we make. History is replete with thousands of examples of what happens when people don’t challenge assumptions.” This is taken from What Monkeys Teach Us about the Assumptions We Make, by Michael Michalko the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques. Make sure you explore the post and read the great story of where assumptive practice can blindly lead us.

Ask simple questions. What else is this like? Who else believes this? What if I changed it slightly? What can I eliminate? What can I substitute? Is this the cause or the effect? What if I changed the timing? What if I made it bigger? What would happen if I did nothing?

No doubt this is linked with our ability to challenge those assumptions we hold, asking questions is, in my humble opinion, the pre-cursor to any creative process, rarely are they missing. We could look to people like Da Vinci for his insatiable curious mindset that set him apart from his peers. Also you should look at the work of Eleanor Duckworth and her work on “Critical Explorers“ which encourages us to use simple questioning to get out of the way of children’s thinking.

Additionally I would highly recommend reading Alex Quigley posts about questioning in the classroom, this popular post on strategies will help with the practical side of things. Furthermore his blog post: “‘Question Time’ and Asking ‘Why’” is an “exploration of one of the simplest, but most fundamental, aspects of how students learn and how students display their learning in lessons: higher order questioning. It is simply about getting students to ask ‘why‘ and an exploration of the crucial value of such deep questioning.”

Watch for accidents. You can sometimes make the best discoveries when you’re searching for something else. Pay attention to anomalies, surprises, or feedback that confounds your expectations. These can open up exciting new areas of inquiry.

In this lovely exploration of accidental discovery in science on Brain Pickings, Alan Gregg is quoted: “One wonders whether the rare ability to be completely attentive to, and to profit by, Nature’s slightest deviation from the conduct expected of her is not the secret of the best research minds and one that explains why some men turn to most remarkably good advantage seemingly trivial accidents. Behind such attention lies an unremitting sensitivity.”

Write things down. Not all your ideas will be worthwhile, but they might trigger new ideas. Make a list of your thoughts as you work through any problem. Keep a notebook, a sketchbook, a scrapbook, or an idea file. A pencil can be a crowbar for lifting ideas from your subconscious.

I like that description from Neumeier of the pencil being an idea-crowbar. In this particular field Da Vinci has set us some incredible precedent as explored earlier. Thomas Alva Edison has much to offer as well in this particular note-taking technique. In this post exploring Edison’s creative process in further detail it suggests that historians have discovered over 3500 detailed notebook belonging to him. In those books there is over four million pages of idea, sketches and notes he made.

“What is immediately apparent is that Edison’s mind wandered through a vast spectrum of unrelated projects in an apparent free flow of associations. This is a critical point to understand. The mind grows through the number of connections it can make. Genius finds relationships between the most diverse things….Frequently, one of Edison’s inventions would spawn another in an unrelated field, which in turn would give rise to another in a different area of interest. It’s as though by pushing, experimenting and thinking in one direction, Edison simultaneously benefitted in all the other projects that he was working on. This points to the concept of the holographic mind. Affect one part and you affect all the parts. Nothing is wasted.”

Whether we are exploring a period of curriculum enquiry with our class, tackling a challenge in our organisation or embarking upon a period of creative development, our thinking and the tools we use to do it, need to offer us as much breadth as possible. Typically we need to be able to see complex themes or challenges from as many different angles as we can.

Taking this type of multi faceted thinking strategy not only provides us a more comprehensive creative approach, it gives us all the best possible chance to break new ground and reveal opportunities that have yet to be discovered.

Image by DeeAshley