Questions are CENTRAL!

5 12 2013

Inquiry_ProcessThe new Social Studies Curriculum illustrates the inquiry process with five elements linked together and shaped as cogs in a machine.  Central to the process is “Formulating Questions“.  It is literally at the centre of the diagram.  If we imagine any of these gears in motion, they would not move in isolation, but when one is turning, then they are all turning.

As I have worked my way through teaching and learning through inquiry, I had many questions about where to begin in a process with no clear beginning.  Now, I understand that Formulating Questions is not only illustrated as the centre point of the process… but it is literally central to the process.

Here’s how my understanding has evolved:

In our Grade 6 Social Studies unit (Canada and its Global Partners), my students have identified a rather extensive list of global issues.  They have each selected an issue that they are interested in finding out more about and have begun to formulate questions.  At this time, I introduced my students to three of the Disciplines of Thinking (Perspectives, Cause and Consequence and Interrelationships).  We discussed at length what each meant, and I asked students to formulate at least one question for each of these disciplines.  Their thinking was brilliant!  The things they wanted to learn was jaw-dropping!  Here are some of the questions that stand out:

  • Climate Change:
  • How do large companies/factories that produce pollution feel about climate change? (Perspectives)
  • What causes climate change? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Drug Trafficking:
  • Why do people get involved in trafficking drugs (Perspectives)
  • What will happen to the global economy if people stop selling drugs? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Weapon Trafficking:
  • How are governments trying to stop trafficking? (Perspectives)
  • How do different governments view the trafficking of weapons? (Perspectives)
  • What is the consequence if someone is caught trafficking weapons? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Nuclear Waste:
  • How do the workers who work with radioactive materials feel? (Perspectives)
  • How do different countries handle nuclear waste? (Perspectives)
  • What will happen if they keep burying nuclear waste? (Cause and Consequence)
  • What would happen if governments banned the use of nuclear materials? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Wars:
  • Why does Canada get involved in wars that are not their own? (Interrelatedness)
  • What are the causes of wars? (Cause and Consequence)
  • What are the effects on soldiers who return from wars? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Environment (Destruction of Coral Reefs):
  • What happens to fish when the coral reefs die? (Cause and Consequence)
  • How do the fishermen feel about coral reefs dying? (Perspectives)
  • What causes reefs to die? (Cause and Consequence)
  • How have people impacted coral reefs and their existence? (Interrelatedness)
  • Education:
  • How do parents in developing nations feel if their children can not go to school? (Perspectives)
  • What are the futures like for kids who don’t go to school? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Why can’t kids go to school? (Cause and Consequence)
  • Girl’s Rights
  • Why do some governments feel that girls should have less rights than boys? (Perspectives)
  • How would their lives be different if they had more rights? (Cause and Consequence)photo 1photo 2

I know!!! Jaw-dropping, right!  But this has only been a small part of my learning.  This week, we talked about how we can begin to find the answers to some of our questions.  We talked about the importance of using sources that are reliable, relevant, current and appropriate.  We talked about how to use key words to search for information and how to determine which ideas were the most important.  But here’s the part I didn’t expect to learn.  To you, it will of course seem obvious, but for me it was a huge ah-ha!  One of my students, who is inquiring about weapon trafficking, wanted to know if there were any nations whose governments were in favour of trafficking.  As he was searching, he was frustrated to discover that he could only find the preventative measures that governments take against the trafficking of weapons.  That’s when I said “Well, it’s an illegal activity.  It’s not like governments are going to advertise that they think it is okay.”.  We both had a giggle, and then I said, “Maybe you need to revisit your question so that it can better address the issue”.  AH-HA!!! THERE IT IS!! The reason that Formulating Questions is central to the inquiry process, is because it IS CENTRAL to the process!  As students begin by formulating questions, they can gather and organize information, analyze information, think critically about their findings and if necessary refine their question.  The learning depends on the questions, but the questions need to be directed by the learning.  As their understandings evolve, so will their understanding around what they actually want to find out.  The question is not a static thing, it is a cog in the machine of understanding.  As their thinking changes, so will the questions they ask.

So now, I feel like I understand the symbolism of the gears in the image… and the importance of the central cog of Formulating Questions!




6 responses

5 12 2013

Lisa, you’ve just proven yet again, that teachers have as many A-HA moments as the students do. Well written and dead on!

5 12 2013
Lisa Donohue

Thanks for the comment! I’m loving this process. We are learning together – and my students seem thrilled to see that I am learning right along side of them. I do not hold the knowledge in my classroom… we are discovering it together.

5 12 2013
Jocelyn Schmidt (@MsSchmidt_YR)

This is absolutely fantastic Lisa!!! I got goosebumps when reading haha thank you for being so candid in your learning journey and highlighting the process of learning you’re undergoing with your students! Truly incredible and I love following and seeing where you’ll go next!

5 12 2013
Lisa Donohue

Thanks! I’m excited to see where we will go next. To be honest, I’m wondering how we will ever begin to answer these questions. #ComplexInquiries 🙂

13 02 2014
Inquiry Reflections | Lisa Donohue

[…] one of my blog posts, Questions Are Central, I thought about the central role of questioning in the Inquiry Process.  As we got into our unit, […]

17 07 2015
Posing Thought-Provoking Questions |

[…] students with a framework for their questions: Lisa Donahue suggests, in this post, using disciplines of thinking from the social studies curriculum document to frame student […]

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