40,000. From why the sky is blue to what’s for dinner. 40,000 is how many questions a child typically asks during the toddler years, and sadly it’s all downhill after that…
Why? Why aren’t students asking questions in school, in life? Berger (2014) points out that this is in part a result of an education system that asks students to sit still in class, be receptacles of information, then recite it back in due time. In implementing Industrial Age learning strategies we have groomed students to file into place, sit in stiff uncomfortable chairs, and look to us for facts that supposedly answer some life question that was never asked of or by them. In light of this, Berger (2014, p.49) then raises two questions of importance:
“What kind of preparation does the modern workplace and society demand of its citizens – i.e. what kind of skills, knowledge, and capabilities are needed to be productive and thrive?”
“What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners?”
While these are most certainly wicked questions with only best answers, rather than right answers, it seems logical that fact delivery in an age of Google is not the key to becoming a productive 21st century citizen. So how do we break the mold of sit still.listen.repeat and get students questioning again? A wicked question that Deborah Meier took head on in her design of the Central Park East schools, but what if we aren’t in the position to restructure a school from the ground up?
Start small and keep it simple. It’s natural to look to the person at the front of a room for answers, so get rid of the front of the room. Embrace technology. And then get rid of those static desks.
I have found that Node chairs and mobile whiteboards have gone a long way in transforming my classroom into one of collaboration, inquiry, and questioning. Mobile desks and whiteboards allow for a fluid class dynamic and eliminate the ‘front’ of the room. (Mobile furniture not in your future? At least get rid of the rows.) When students are arranged in small groups, they face each other rather than the teacher, giving a natural instinct to direct discussion to their classmates. The teacher is then free to move between groups, quickly key in to the students’ thought processes by surveying their whiteboard, and facilitate their learning. Ready to review key concepts or have a student present their work? Simply roll the chairs into a new configuration. Voila! It’s a facilitated collaboration, not a dictatorship.
Furthermore, not only are physical spaces important (Barret, Zhang, Moffat & Kobbacy, 2013), but also, the atmosphere for questioning is set by letting and even encouraging students to use the resources that are available – even if they want to use Google, they have to know what to search for and then apply the found facts to the problem at hand – not unlike knowing what word to find in the index of a textbook. Undoubtedly, their first search will simply yield more questions and they realize that the answer to a singular question is not the most important takeaway.
The next step? Learn to ask better questions…
Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.