Do Your Students Know How to Ask Good Questions?

Craig Gastauer

Craig Gastauer is currently Internal Director of Pedagogy at Vista High School in Vista, CA. He is proud to be working with great teachers and students to create a more learner-centered public high school experience.

ask good questionsThe focus of this school year has been to personalize the learning experience for each of my students. And in all honesty, I have felt like a new teacher again, striving to gain the foundation necessary to help students build a questioning nature.

But during the last unit focused on building an understanding of how DNA’s code affects the proteins and traits of organisms, I and my students experienced success.  A process of questioning led to multiple pathways of learning for my students.

After an examination of the basics of DNA structure and function, I wanted to “shock” their thoughts. I wanted them to gain a sense of wonder and awe. I wanted to peak their interest and stimulate them to question what was possible in order to develop their own path of study.

I began the questioning by asking whether genes from any species could be expressed if placed in another. Based on the initial understandings students had built, they began to hypothesize and figure out if it could be done. Then pictures of organisms expressing a glowing protein that came from jellyfish opened their eyes. Gasps and open eyes filled the classroom space.

Questions began to accumulate and be voiced:

  • How was that done?
  • What other animals have been genetically engineered?
  • How easy is it to make this happen?
  • Does it hurt the animals?
  • Why would scientists make animals glow? Is there a purpose?

From these questions I posed the Essential or Guiding Question to focus the remainder of the unit:

To what extent should scientists utilize biotechnology to alter organisms and with what organisms should science limit this practice?

At this point students began researching what organisms were genetically modified, how organisms could be modified, and for what purposes they were modified. Additional questions led students along different pathways to examine agricultural and medical applications while others became interested in cloning and its potential applications.

The setup of the unit and the Essential Question allowed my students to wonder about the science they were learning. Their wonder led to meaningful questions focusing their learning around their interests while deepening their understanding of the effects DNA has on living things. Finally, students learned from one another by examining differing perspectives and developing insights not realized before in my classes from previous years.

One last insight from this experience: I now realize that I have not appropriately taught my students the skill of asking questions. I was thrilled with what was accomplished, but was hoping that student questions would open up more avenues for exploration.

Please add your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comment section. I hope to address how to help students question in future blogs.


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