Using A Question Board
What is a Question Board?
According to teacher Charlie Pearce (from Pearce, C.R. Nurturing Inquiry: Real Science for the Elementary Classroom.
Heinemann, 1999) a question board can be as simple as a piece of laminated poster board with washable markers. Its purpose is to be available for students to write any questions they have as they participate in class discussion, do independent or assigned reading, write, or accomplish class activities.
The Question Board is posted in an easily accessible location (usually on a wall) of the room. When the teacher doesn’t have the time or the desire to be the “all knowing” source of information, or just plain doesn't know the answer, students can write their question (along with their name) on the Question Board. During free moments of the day, students read each other’s questions and add their own. After 3-4 weeks, the teacher or student volunteers will type the questions for distribution to the class. Using this list, the class will analyze and discuss the questions. Questions become the spark to ignite inquiry-based science activities.
What questions lead to inquiry?
For our purposes we will categorize questions in two ways:
- The most common kind asked in school
- Sources other than the student are necessary to find the answer
- Require the use of a secondary resource (encyclopedia, information books, computer)
- Example: How hot is the surface of the sun?
- Students can find answers on their own through observation or manipulation of experimental variables
- Lay the foundation for scientific discovery
- Do not require other resources for answers (however, they often lead to an increased interest in locating appropriate background information)
- Example: Which evaporates faster – hot water or cold water?
The questions from the Question Board can be analyzed and categorized on the basis of these two types. When the class decides which questions are testable and which are not, it develops a common classroom language (and higher level thinking skills).
How do I develop quality questioning skills?
Charlie Pearce’s Question Search activity (p. 12-16 in Pearce,1999) can be used early in the school year or as an introductory activity:
- Distribute baskets of unusual items on small table groups of students. Anything unfamiliar will do – odd-looking shells, electrical components, seeds, interesting rocks, pieces of disassembled appliances, tools – use your imagination.
- Have students write the name of the object or make up a name
- Record a written description and sketch of the object
- Below the sketch draw two columns. In one write as many questions about the object as possible. In the second column list ways it might be possible to find answers for the questions.
- Open a class discussion with students displaying their item and sharing their questions and sources. Sources usually suggested include books, computers, teachers, parents, perhaps experts. Be ready for the student who suggests doing something to answer their question – this is now a testable question.
- Now the class can decide which questions are testable. They can extend their understanding by thinking what kinds of experiments or investigations could be designed to answer those questions.
- Guide students from the “Can I…?” questions (“Can I blow big bubbles?” OR “Can I build a tall tower?”) to phrasing more meaningful questions. For example “How big a bubble?” OR “How tall a tower?”
Developing quantifiable questions will lead to more meaningful investigations. Move away from yes and no questions to richer questions like, “When comparing bubble solution A to bubble solution B, which will make the biggest bubbles?”
- Develop other testable phrasing for questions. For example, “Is it possible to…[grow plants in salt water]?” OR “What if…[we poured oil into a model ocean]?” OR “How can we …[prevent erosion on our model mountain]?”
While reading a book aloud, pause and model the ways readers process what they are reading by verbalizing your questions. You might even go over to the Question Board and record your own questions while the class watches. (See also Read Alouds-Think Alouds) For example, Charlie Pearce reads to his class A Snake-Lover’s Diary, by Barbara Brenner, which is a story about a boy who convinces his parents to let him keep a snake he has captured. His little brother thinks the snake is lonely and puts his own pet frog in the new cage to keep the snake company. The frog disappears. As Charlie reads, he wonders aloud about snakes and frogs and what they might eat. “Do snakes eat frogs? If so, how do snakes capture frogs? How fast are frogs? How far can they jump?” The students tell Charlie to write his questions on the board, which he promptly does. By modeling his own questions and use of the Question Board, Charlie Pearce is encouraging his students to read, think, and to develop and record their questions.
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.