Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What if? A simple question to engage students.

I am often asked by teachers how do I engage my students? What questions can I ask? Questioning is a skill that many teachers struggle with, as we are often prone to ask simple yes/no questions or one-word response questions (i.e. what's the answer?).  It takes effort and practice to ask questions that help students think, analyze their thoughts, make conjectures, etc. But, as I often tell teachers, if there a few questions that you can ask that force students away from the simple responses or the yes/no answers. Questions such as Why? of Is that always true? or, my favorite's What if? or What do you wonder?

Annie Fetter, of Math Forum fame, did an incredible Ignite Talk at NCTM one year entitled "What Do You Notice or Wonder" and it really opened my eyes to the power of observation & wondering. I share it here as a here as inspiration to help you ask the questions that will invoke wonder, inquiry and thinking in students.

Additionally, Randall Munroe did a great TedTalk on the question "What If..." that explores a wonderful math/physics problem.  Again, to demonstrate the power of a simple question to help engage students in thinking.

These are both examples of how a simple question can open up the math ideas that students have and encourages them to explore to find the answers. Ask a simple question and open up the door!


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Brigit Culligan said...

The videos are wonderful examples of how to simply change the teaching from lecture to questions and hear what the students are thinking. Although I will be teaching English, asking What do you notice? and What are you wondering? are great discussion questions when reading any text. I will be using all three questions.

Karen Greenhaus said...

Bright, You are so right - these questions work in every subject, and are a really simple way to get students engaged and thinking, no matter what you are teaching! Love that you are going to use them!! Let me know how it goes. Karen