BPQs in AST…

…or Using Back Pocket Questions in Ambitious Science Teaching

I was tasked this week, along with my peers, to come up with an “elevator pitch” for several foothold practices outlined by Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching. I focused on Back Pocket Questions (BPQ). My pitch is:

One of the foothold practices of ambitious science teaching is back pocket questions. These questions are designed to help students make connections between their thinking and larger science ideas. The questions consist of three steps. First, teachers should ask students a question about what they observed. Next, the teacher should ask students a question that requires them to think about how or why what they observed happened. Finally, the teacher should leave the students with a question that causes them to apply their reasoning to something unobservable.

The toughest aspect of BPQ for me to use in practice is leaving the students with a question. The video example of BPQ on the Ambitious Science Teaching Website showed 7th grade students working on a lab where they observed how a balloon placed over a flask containing mixture of yeast, warm water, and sugar inflated. Several students reasoned that the inflation was due to steam or warm air rising off of the mixture. The teacher challenged the students to think about why the balloon didn’t deflate when the air cooled off. She then asked them to think about other sources of the gas in the balloon…and she walked away. I had wondered about how to address student misconceptions in an earlier blog post. I am now acquiring several tools to do this*, but I still struggle to overcome my (very stereotypical) engineer tendency to have to be right and to let everyone to know I’m right.

I appreciated this exercise because it helped me address a misconception I had about BPQs. Somewhere along the line I got the impression that these questions should be fully fleshed-out questions to draw out student thought. I am learning how to anticipate student misconceptions in my lesson plans and prepare ways to address these misconceptions. BPQ are a different type of tool. These questions are more about revealing student thinking and helping students identify possible misconceptions for themselves.

*The footholds of AST are wonderful ways to work with student misconceptions. I’m a fan of making student thinking public, scaffolding debate, and the use of models in addition to BPQ.

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