Carolina Biological OSE - August 2023


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Life Science

Asking better Questions

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Harriet Smith Harriet Smith 3550 Points

I have recently been challenged by my administrative team to ask higher level and more authentic questions of my students. Basic questions do serve a purpose in my classroom, because my students do not do well on tests and I am trying to get them to a basic level of getting the material. Concrete suggestions of specific ways to increase the rigor or authenticity of science questioning would be great. Either specific questioning techniques on certain topics or more broadly applicable strategies would be most welcome.

Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11965 Points

Hello Harriet- I do some journaling with my students, starting each day with an "essential question" that relates either to the topic of that day's lesson (to access student prior learning) or that relates to a previous lesson (to assess retention). Then, after I have taken roll, we discuss the question as a class so I get a "snapshot" of where everyone is at. You can build on student's strengths in this discussion, and reinforce any weak areas. The questions are at a higher level, requiring some thinking, making connections, etc., and involve writing - something our administrators are having us do in all classes (part of common core). I still get some students writing "IDK" in their journal for many of these questions, but they do benefit from the discussions.

Dorothy Ginnett Dorothy Ginnett 28235 Points

Hi Harriet -

Great idea to start the day with basic questions/essential questions and to encourage student journaling as Cris suggested for formative evaluation and to adjust instruction.

I also start my classes with a 'Key Question'.
We discuss it at the beginning of class and I encourage students to share questions they have about the topic (or what they are curious about and want to learn) ..... then, most importantly, we take time to return to a discussion of the 'Key Question' at the end of class and sum up their learning for the day before they leave class.

Regarding higher level questions: Encourage students to apply what they just learned to a new scenario and make predictions. Have students take the new concepts they have learned and evaluate data sets, then draw conclusions and/or make predictions.


Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11965 Points

'..... then, most importantly, we return to a discussion of the 'Key Question' at the end of class and sum up their learning for the day before they leave class.'

Yep. This is a great idea. I do not return to a class discussion, but ask a related question as an exit ticket.

Dorothy Ginnett Dorothy Ginnett 28235 Points

Hi Cris - Love that idea of using an exit ticket. WIll try it on those days I need more class time for other activities. Dorothy

Dorothy Ginnett Dorothy Ginnett 28235 Points

Hi Harriet -

Check out this free NSTA Web Seminar (archive) about strategies for Asking Questions

Preparing for NGSS: Asking Questions and Defining Problems, September 11, 2012


Sue Garcia Sue Garcia 42675 Points

I teach 6th grade and am working on the same thing that you are talking about. My LA group and our History group has teamed together in developing this higher order thinking skill. History poses a topic and an article that La uses in their "Expository" lessons. They help train the students in the techniques used for that type of writing. next, they help the History ask the "deeper" questions and using the training from the LA lessons, the student write their answers. It is slowly starting to work. We have been working on this a couple of months steps...but with the integrations of different content topics and the use of the common core goals, we are slowly succeeding. I think it is almost as hard for the teachers to "teach" as it is for the students to "learn & think".

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37108 Points

Questioning is a difficult skill to build. Good productive questions do not come easily. They take work. Practice is so necessary.

One of my favorite resources around questioning is 'Primary Science: Taking the Plunge' by Wynne Harlen. She has a chapter called the Right Question at the Right Time.

Osamu Ono Osamu Ono 220 Points

Hello, Questioning is a very important and yet difficult skill to develop. During my student teaching time, questioning was one of the hardest thing to do during discussions. So below are few things I've tried to do. A). Forget that you are a teacher and pretend that you are a student who is really interested in what is being taught from you. If you were that student, what kind of questions would I ask? B). Ask general questions first to see if they understand the general and the essentials. Then, ask questions that will require students to tie those information together. For example, we've just started on Biotechnology. Since we've mentioned during class about Recombinant DNA in previous units, I asked the students a situational question which went something like this... "The Taro plant in Hawaii is a very important plant for the Hawaiians. Recently, a new disease emerged and it's killing the Taro population. There are no chemicals or natural defense that can be used against this disease. What do you think is the best solution" When they come up with the solution, we talked about it, but then many of the students did realize that most Hawaiians would not like the process of Genetic Engineering since Taro is a culturally important specie. In that short discussion, we were able to tie a lot between Biotechnology and ethics. C). Look carefully through your lesson or unit, and develop ahead of time what kind of higher level thinking questions you can ask. D). Put reminder signs around your room that says things such as "how does it work?" or "prove it." It'll serve as a reminder for you (as well as the students) to think about higher level thinking questions.

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I've also taught in low performing schools (more than 90% free and reduced lunches) and managed to get my students performing very well on standardized tests. Here's my main secret:

Teach to the highest kid in the class.

When you're facing a class of students who don't test well, it's instinctual to break things down the simplest terms possible. And you do need to do that, but only within the context of the big picture. Will all of your students perform at the same level as your highest students? Of course not. But they'll come along as far as they can. This way, everyone grows.

Don't be afraid to develop those high level questions. NSTA's resources will give you the creative methods you need to teach the concepts they need so that they're interesting, engaging, and accessible for all students. Differentiate, of course, but push them as hard as you can.

You've absolutely found the best resource and group of science educators that will help you along the way. Kudos to you!


Erin Jasso Erin Jasso 380 Points

I've never thought about teaching to the highest kid. I've always thought breaking it down to the simpler terms was better so that the lower kids could keep up and understand as well. But teaching to the highest kid makes sense because it is playing to your strengths. They can help explain it in terms the other students will understand. Teaching to the lower kids holds back the higher kids. This is a good strategy and I'm glad I came across it. I'm definitely going to try this in my classoom!

Harriet Smith Harriet Smith 3550 Points

Such good suggestions thank you all so much. I am learning so much reading your replies. I have been teaching 5 years and can't believe how much I still have to learn. I had a little epiphany last year after showing my kids a picture of a family, both parents little people and 3 kids, 2 not little people and one a little person. We discussed this picture before studying genetics. My class had a 20 minute discussion about this picture alone. I was struck by the power of a picture to stimulate discussion and am wondering where I might get other pictures equally stimulating.

Marissa LaMar Marissa LaMar 380 Points

Making predictions, applying concepts to a specific situation, or attempting to draw conclusions before the concept is given to them are all ways to ask the students higher level questions. 

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