Questions at the Center

In science class I decided to jump right into the kind of thinking that is central to science inquiry; in particular, I wanted the children to develop questions based on observation.

Here is a re-blog from my classroom website of our first learning activity, which was designed to help children learn to ask questions. I’m indebted to my virtual colleague, Julieanne Harmatz, whose blog post last year helped me see the power of a question-asking protocol like that developed by The Right Question institute.

These are very fun baby steps.

*  *  * Reblogged *  *  *

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Oberazzi via Compfight

This week I read a fun short picture biography of Albert Einstein to the children.


The book helped me introduce the central place questions have in the study of science and, well, just about everything. (I talked about how scientists are like 2-year olds on steroids: they get to ask “Why?” over and over again.)

I’m afraid that we teachers sometimes ask students to answer way more questions than they get to create. This summer I did some reading about how to help children learn to ask more and better questions to guide their learning. One book I read was this:

More Beautiful Question

Thanks to Mary Lee Hahn (A Year of Reading blog) for helping me find this book.

I used the ideas from that book and some from The Right Question Institute website to design a lesson on how to ask good questions. We’ll practice these as the year goes along. In a nutshell, here is what happened. After we read about Albert Einstein, I gave the students a short list of rules about how to brainstorm questions. Then I gave them a thinking prompt in the form of an observation that I had made after a walk with my dogs around our prairie:

Dragonflies appeared in large numbers near my house yesterday.

Here are the children at work.

We collected the questions. Here is a sampling:

  • Where did the dragonflies come from?
  • How many were there?
  • Is there more than one kind?
  • What are they doing?
  • Are they eating anything?
  • When did the dragonflies come…exactly?
  • Are the dragonflies still there?

Then we talked about how I might be able to answer these questions. Suggestions like these came up:

  • You could sit and watch them for awhile to see what they were doing. Make sure you write down everything they are doing.
  • You could try to catch some and put them in the freezer so you can see what they look like. Maybe you could identify them that way.
  • You could take pictures or videos of them flying so you could see what they were doing.

These were awesome ideas. (In fact, I’m thinking of doing some of these on Sunday afternoon just to see if I can find out some of the answers.) And that is just  the kind of thinking (and activity) scientists get to do for a living.

Finally, here is a cool chart of the “scientific method” (described here) that we will use throughout the school year. I was pleased, though, how well our first attempt to think like a scientist went.

science flowchart

6 thoughts on “Questions at the Center

  1. I’m so glad you and your students tried the questioning. I haven’t read Warren Berger’s book, yet. Thanks for the reminder to push this one up to the top of my reading pile. I love the questions they came up with, but also the possible ways to answer them. Really powerful work and more importantly in my opinion, fun to explore.

    • The questions were great, but it took them awhile to get beyond one question each. I had given them some question “stems” that they turned to and that helped open the gates. Still, though, it was interesting to hear some say: “I already asked a question that starts with ‘what'” to which I replied, “maybe there are more!” But that seems like a symptom that needs to be treated with a good dose of more questions, eh?

      I loved their suggestions for how to answer these question (their eyes lit up as they imagined being out in the field) and there was a strange sense of excitement that came from me saying this: “I don’t know the answers to these questions. If I want to know, I’ll have to find out. What could I do to find out?” I think they really liked it that I didn’t (and couldn’t) answer them.

  2. Giving children permission to continue asking questions in the way that comes naturally to them is great. I love that you have said being a scientist is like being a 2 year old on steroids. It affirms the fact that children are born scientists, born asking questions, born with an innate desire to make sense of the world.
    As far as the dragonflies go, I would also love to know: Why did they appear yesterday? Why were they in large numbers? (I usually see only a small number at a time, and rarely together.) and What water source is near your place?
    You have given me two books to look out for – the picture book about Einstein and “A More Beautiful Question”. Thanks for the recommendation – both are right up my alley! 🙂

    • Hi, Norah!
      Yes, those additional questions are great! I had some questions that were sort of like those, too. Even though I’m a pretty active observer of what’s going on around me, I’m surprised by how stopping not just to notice but also to ask questions (and put them in writing) has spurred me on to do and ask more. I can feel another post bubbling up…

  3. Love the inquiry with your students! So engaging! What a wonderful year you and your class are in for. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks very much for reading, Dayna! This project has continued, with more research in the field and some reading about dragonflies.I hope to get another post up sometime when there is time to breathe!

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