Like many of my New Haven Public Schools colleagues in the seminar, "
Asking Questions in Biology
" I encounter a lack of inquisitiveness from my students. There is a very strong effect at the high school level, and a very strong effect in the mathematics classroom. Math is most clearly associated with black and white, right and wrong answers. While creativity may be prized in writing, and strong opinions in social studies, science and math are cast as factual, not open to interpretation and nuances in methodology. I believe that the lack of questions comes in part from the students' lack of confidence in solving problems.
Curiosity is innate to us all. I do not think that the lack of inquisitiveness means that my students are not curious. Rather, the lack of verbalized questions may reveal a discomfort in public speaking or making oneself vulnerable by the admission of not knowing. Even in a classroom where inquiry-based learning is the norm, the underlying fear of "not being smart enough" pervades much of my students' behaviors. Many will not participate rather than risk failure. Others will act inappropriately as a distraction. Guided questioning and modeled inquiry immersed in subject content has a vital role in teaching students. Instruction needs to be geared not only to tapping students' interests but in teaching them to trust their thought processes, refine their questions, and seek their own answers whether through research or experimentation.
Many math teachers (and standardized tests) reinforce the one-right-answer thinking. This may be a result of a system too focused on memorized content. In order to emphasize process as well as content, the newly adopted "Common Core State Standards for Mathematics" have created explicit practice standards alongside content standards. These practice standards are emphasized in the document by applying to every grade level. The first practice standard is to "1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."
Students really do need practice in becoming the drivers of this process. Too often they believe that there is one correct way to look at a problem and so they distrust their ability to make sense of the problem.
I teach Statistics at Hill Regional Career High School, which is an inter-district, urban high school with a magnet theme in health-science and business careers. Many of our students wish to pursue careers in health related fields. Biology, general science, and statistics are important subjects for these students. Helping my students succeed in these subjects has much to do with their comfort in asking questions and crafting problem-solving methods that will lead them to productive answers.
This unit will examine theories of why and how people inquire, and how teachers can cultivate question asking. I will discuss the way that questions can turn into plans to find answers. I will examine this process in the math classroom, and the way that asking questions and seeking answers has changed for students who have constant access to looking up information. I will relate this to the way that asking questions through data has changed in the era of online data collection and so-called "Big Data". This unit will also outline strategies to use in the classroom to create a culture of asking questions in order to "make sense of problems" and to encourage students to "persevere in solving them".