How do we get students to investigate their own questions? I think the first step is to get students ASKING questions. Across different schools I have been at throughout student teaching, I have noticed that students can have trouble adapting to NGSS=style science learning. They get hung up on making sure their models are “right,” they are hesitant to write their own experiments, and they have trouble picking out evidence that supports their hypotheses. But the students I interact with are constantly asking questions. Every kid has a natural curiosity about the world around them, and that curiosity will come out if you give them the chance to let it.
For some students, its easy. A couple girls in my Living Environment class will turn around in their seats (while my CT is talking to the whole class!) to ask me question after question. They come in with even more questions at lunch. I have a pretty boisterous group of 8th graders right now, and most of them will take any opportunity to share what they’re thinking. Other students need more prompting. Some of my students are quiet and introverted, some are English language learners who get nervous about speaking up in class in their non-native language, and some think that their questions are “dumb questions.” For those students, spaces to ask their questions privately without worry about peers’ judgement is important.
Last week I asked students, “What do you want to learn about science? What science questions do you wonder about?” While there were of course some “idk”s, there were also some with potential to lead us somewhere:
As you can see, most of them are not phrased in a way that can be investigated, and some are not even phrased as questions. To get students to investigate one of these questions, we’ll first have to spend some time re-phrasing it to be investigable. Even when we start with a relatively more investigable question, we will still need to spend some time making it more specific. Take for example:
This question can be investigated, but first we need to know more about our question.
- What species does the bone come from?
- Which bone are we looking at? Humerus, tibia, fibula, skull?
Next we need to ask ourselves: does the answer to this question matter? Does it matter that we know how much one bone weighs? What context does this matter in? This is where I might bring in another question a student asked:
Can finding out how much different bones weigh help us figure out how scientists know where different bones fit into a dinosaur skeleton? This is where students’ questions can really become an investigation. In this case, students could:
- Compare the weight of corresponding bones in different animals
- Compare the weight of different bones within the same skeleton (ex. ratio of femur weight to humerus weight)
- Go beyond weight – look at qualitative data like bone shape
No matter which direction they end up going with their initial question, students will need teacher feedback to get from question to investigation. This is where I am still trying to work out a good balance. How much should I tell students and how much should I try to get them to figure out on their own? What is a reasonable expectation for them to figure out on their own based on their grade level? Let me know if you have any tips – what has worked for you?