Its all about the questions

by teachingcognitively

The most dramatic shift I noticed moving to high school from 5th and 6th grade was that the students struggled with asking questions.  Since we are teachers and “supposed to” (my yoga teacher says there are no shoulds), provide answers this was an odd conundrum.  By the end of the year I also noticed that the students who struggled to ask questions also struggled in science in general.  Then I did what teachers often do not have time to do, I Googled and I started to read.  Not shockingly because this always happens, I was not the first person to make this observation and think asking questions was really important.  I felt better and got really excited.  Then April, May and June came.  I tried a few things but didn’t get very far but in glorious summer it started to come together.

I found and their book Make Just One Change, Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.  I found Ewan McIntosh on Twitter and changed my entire planning method based on their lab at  They had lessons and ideas on Googleable and Nongoogleable questions and September has come and I am back (and better than ever I hope).  Simply just asking students to differentiate between Googleable and Nongoogleable questions has been invaluable already and we are only in week 2.  Googleable questions are lead to the background for our lab reports and students are eager to find the answers.  They love that a teacher is giving them permission to “Google it”.  Students who are developing self-directed projects in our “genius period” are using it to help them find essential questions to guide their project.  Nothing seems more valuable to me that a students struggling to identify what she is passionate about and then what she might want to know more about that topic.  Isn’t that what learning is all about.

Now before any assumes that this is smooth sailing, its not.  In my focus on student directed questions I have started from scratch on how I plan (7 years of UBD is hard to walk away from).  I am constantly struggling with the balance between being well prepared and open to student inquiry.  I still buy into Daniel Willingham’s (not his but he shared the cognitive science data in my favorite book Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answer Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom) notion that higher order thinking is not accessible without a base of factual knowledge and so I do not want to abandon that.  Having done project/product/design-based learning for a long time I know student-directed doesn’t mean free and demands scaffolding especially with those who it is new for (most of my students).  I am still struggling with this.  I think I am getting better by picking better immersion opportunities that lead where we want to go.

We made paper airplanes in 12th grade physics.  There are an endless list of sources of errors and maybe it will not reveal the best position over time graphs but we got some great questions about force, position and motion and its all about the questions, right?