Friday, October 12, 2012

Personalized Inquiry: Help your students classify, generate, and answer questions based on their own interests or common materials

Simpson, P. (2010). Personalized Inquiry: Help your students classify, generate, and answer questions based on their own interests or common materials. Science and Children, 48(4), 36-40.


This article on personalized inquiry provides a model for supporting students in the development of researchable questions based on their own interests.  It begins by asking students to create sketches of something familiar, like an ant.  Then by asking students to carefully observe real ants they discover the many features they did not notice/include in the sketches.  This leads to the establishment of criteria for careful observation.  After sharing and critiquing observations, students are asked to generate lists of questions about ants (~5 questions each).  Students share out their questions and create a class list of diverse questions.  

The questions can then be categorized by the class based on the type question and how it could be answered (experiment, literature-based research, observation, question not answered in science).  This process supports students in understanding the many ways that questions can be answered and the many strategies used to gather data.  Next, students create researchable questions for experiment.  

In the final activity, students work through a series of stations to support them in fine-tuning their ability to pose questions for research.  Each station contains a familiar item (packing peanuts, paper plate, gobstopper, etc) and a list of materials available in the classroom that can be used for experimentation (water, salt, light, ruler, scale, etc).  Students spend 20-30 min at each station generating lists of questions for research.

This article seems to be a practical way to use inquiry in the classroom and could be customized to any subject.  It is similar to the idea of critical exploration popularized by Eleanor Duckworth.  It’s also a student-centered way to develop the ideals of scientific thinking and experimental design.  It could be a great way to start the year and create an awareness of the possibilities that exist for scientific research.  The skills could later be applied to larger research projects.    

Relevant Quotes/Concepts

“Familiarity with the topic is key”

“It seems to work equally well with students of all abilities as long as the students are initially familiar with the object or phenomenon they are working with.”

This is similar to work Eleanor Duckworth did with graduate students.  She asked them to observe common phenomena such as the moon.  Through the observations, over time, new insights develop that deepen the understanding of the phenomenon. 

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