March 2011

The Aha Moment about Asking Science Questions

Today we had a very interesting discussion in my elementary science methods class. We discussed how conceptual multiple choice questions can be used in an elementary classroom (K-8).  Initially, the students were vehemently opposed to multiple choice questions. Most of them cited the idea that multiple choice questions do not allow students to be creative and these are not effective questions for teaching. We had lots of interesting discussions today. Interestingly, during the discussion I noticed a shift in their thinking. Sometimes in the middle of the class a few started having “aha” moments. They realized how difficult it is to come up with a good conceptual question, they also realized that the purpose was not to make students answer correctly right away but to generate meaningful discussion. It was also very interesting how at one point they were asked a conceptual question that the answers split between two choices. Then I asked the students to discuss them in small groups such as every group had to come up with a common answer. After that they voted again. Believe it or not on the second vote everybody figured out the right answer – 100% was correct and we didn’t give away the correct answer. I hope the students will remember this experience. While we modeled different conceptual questions (and discussed why they were good or not so good) and the students debated them, more of them started taking a closer look at them. Interestingly, when I looked at their assignment, where they were supposed to come with their conceptual questions, I realized that some of them were able to generate very sophisticated questions. Not only that, they mentioned why they asked these questions, what they were trying to get out of these questions. On the other hand other students, were just asking relatively superficial questions without having a bigger picture. Interestingly, many of them have an idea that while asking open ended questions, a teacher does not need to have a clear idea of what they expect to see. Thus the questions were sometimes so vague that it wasn’t clear what their purpose was. I hope this entire experience will make the students think more about using conceptual questions in their science lessons.

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