Which is denser, concentrated detergent or regular strength? Which fish swim more quickly, those with plants in their tank or a mechanical aerator? Which cleaner kills more bacteria on cafeteria tables? What would happen if we poured milk instead of water on bean plants?
These are just a few of the questions from my elementary teaching days past.
Of all the disciplines, the ones in which questioning may be most obvious may be the sciences. Traditional teaching of the scientific method starts with a question, but usually these questions are posed by writers of texts or curricula. Less often do we actually teach students how to ask the questions themselves. Here’s one short video to help us get started.
When I taught problem finding to students, I taught about three basic types of questions scientists might ask:
Descriptive questions (What is there? What is happening?)
Comparison questions (Which is stronger, longer, faster, etc.?)
What if questions (What if I changed something? What if something changed naturally?
If you are beginning to teach students what scientists do, those basics are a reasonable place to start, but they are just the beginning. I’m not sure of the original source, but this presentation on forming scientific questions goes into a bit more depth, with lesson suggestions for teaching students about different types of scientific questions. Or if you teach young children you might want to explore this lesson (and resources), featuring scientific questioning about ice balloons.
The National Science Teachers Association breaks questions down in much more detail, which expectations of the types of questions students should be able to ask at different grade levels. This handy chart can be used to set goals and plan lessons on different types of questions. While a goal for primary grade children might be “Ask and/or identify questions that can be answered by an investigation,” middle school students might be challenged to “Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.”
Of course, it also helps to tell the stories of questions that spurred investigations. From the class story of Alexander Fleming’s bacteria-killing mold to children’s books about Darwin chasing bees or Jane Goodall observing chimps. Envisioning scientists as full of curiosity (and not fountains of facts) will make scientific questioning come to life. And that’s where the fun lies. Do you have favorite resources for scientific questioning? We’d love to hear about them.