Yesterday during morning assembly with the elementary students, we had after-school clubs leaders give short presentations. We are offering a new science club this fall, and the leaders asked the students “what do you think you might do in a science club?” The answers (primarily given by 1st-4th graders) were “test hypotheses,” “ask questions,” “explore new worlds,” “do experiments,” “investigate,” “find answers to problems,” etc. The club leaders were very surprised at the high level of knowledge and one commented to me “your students are really smart!” When the students were queried whether they had any questions for the leaders, they asked about the types of experiments they would do, how many students could be in the club, and what day the club would be held.
Later that day, I was talking with preschool students about our first fire drill in order to help them to know what to expect. I asked if there were any questions. Predictably, many hands were raised and students began to tell stories about seeing fire trucks, when they heard a fire alarm, a story about their mom, etc. These two sets of responses made me think about the process of teaching children how to ask and answer questions.
While many of our beginning-of-the-year preschoolers responded to my query with stories rather than questions, throughout this year they will learn how to ask meaningful, relevant questions. We teach, model, practice and practice some more the art of questioning. Our older students demonstrated their understanding that much of science is the process of asking questions, and were also able to ask appropriate questions.
The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program promotes student inquiry. This is a process by which adults facilitate learning opportunities where students can construct meaning of relevant material by asking and answering their own and others’ questions. The skills of knowing how and when to ask questions, as well as what types of questions produce the most meaningful responses, are vital in producing knowledgeable thinkers who can do more than just reiterate facts. We therefore focus more on how to ask good questions rather than merely how to give the right answer.
We are proud of our student inquirers and are confident in our ability to support even our youngest children as they learn to ask great questions!