Instead of going through class procedures and syllabi on Day 1, I practice everyone’s names, then have all the students do labs. I set up about 5-7 stations with short discrepant-event-type things to do. Each small group of kids gets about 7 minutes to perform the experiment, then write three observations and two questions they honestly can’t answer (other than cop-outs like “how does it work?”) on a piece of paper. I’ve used this set up every year, and I love it. But what I’ve changed is what I take from the sheets of paper.
When I taught at the high-ELL population school, I used it to gauge written English skills, vocabulary, and creativity. Other years, I’ve looked for retention of biology ideas or other science courses. This year, I looked for vocabulary, comfort with few clear answers, creativity in the questions, following directions, and general engagement with the experiments and with group work.
Most of the questions they generate dance just outside of “how does it work”. But I love it when students already know the trick, and find it hard to think of questions they can’t answer. If they really get stuck, I ask them to think of something to change, and this is where some crazy ideas usually start (and often continue into subsequent stations).
I don’t know if this is a good entry for this questioning blog. I don’t ask many questions of the kids, and I often get pretty repetitive student-generated questions, even year to year, for particular experiments. What if like to figure out is how to switch the kids from completing the assignment (with standard and common questions) to thinking outside the box (with outside situations and new ideas of their own). I think it would also create more buy-in and ownership of their work.