USING STUDENT QUESTIONS TO GUIDE EARTH SCIENCE INQUIRY IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
We evaluated the questions to explore the topical areas of greatest interest and record the depth of student thought (http://tinyurl.com/tessedissemination). While the majority of questions centered on definitions and low-level factual recall, the most frequently-asked questions were divided equally between “remembering” and “understanding”. Some questions that appeared simple were in fact very difficult to answer (e.g., why is there gravity, do rocks freeze). A small fraction of the questions provoked unexpectedly thoughtful discussions. These questions generally began “What would happen if …” (e.g., there were no sun, there were no convection currents, the Earth’s orbit changed), and provided opportunity for students to employ critical thinking skills. These questions remind us that while students often need assistance with the many terms and facts they encounter in Earth Science, they also express keen interest in achieving deeper understanding. While it is important to address questions of terminology, we cannot lose sight of their hunger for fundamental understanding of Earth processes. Overall, the project enhanced the Earth Science unit because the students took ownership of the material. This activity took very little time, yet provided the teacher with excellent insights into the level and direction of students’ thinking that improved both delivery and conceptual development of the course material. Students enjoyed reading each other’s questions and hearing their names and questions in class. Anonymous postings allowed shy students to become involved in a non-threatening way. The teacher had a new way to match lessons with student interests. In future years, students will be given more guidance at the outset, will be encouraged to find answers to some of their own questions, and will be required to make a poster answering one approved question.