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There are questions that are directly connected to big ideas and your standards, questions that just come up in class and questions that arise from another question. All are valuable but we tend to not pay as much attention to the most important questions that come from our students’ creativity.
Creativity is a skill to be developed and nurtured. In fact there are economists who believe that it is one of the strengths of our educational system that kept us ahead of the curve in innovation. We are not in the lead anymore. Some believe that the lead was lost when we began to move to a curriculum based on standards used by other countries that scored higher on standardized assessments. That move led us to less flexible time in our curriculum and less time to integrate innovative lessons. Some of the lessons we may have lost were based on those creative and interesting questions the students bring to the classroom.
A few years back one of my students came to class after seeing some butterflies on the way to school. His question was, “where do butterflies go in the winter?” That is an interesting question and while I knew that they migrate I had no idea the distances or timeline. The entire class wanted to chat about butterflies and the interest was high. I decided to scrap the day’s lesson and pursue the student question. We were working on food webs and that ties to what the butterflies eat in transit. I knew I could connect it later but I did not want to lose the momentum.
Giving time to pursue questions that student’s bring to class comes with a bonus. The students, since they have ownership, have to do some of the creative problem solving work of how to find answers. I do not advocate spending loads of time on the questions. However, one creative “I wonder why or how moment” may lead to a walk outside the current unit will come up again throughout the year and the creative process will continue. These questions have the power to prompt kids to search for connections within the current lessons to what they asked earlier in the year.
The inquiry cycle includes students modifying their raw questions into testable questions. There are a few good web sites that can guide you through that process. The best comes from Science Fair Central.
There is a book titled “Does Anything Eat Wasps”. There are some really interesting questions in the book. I archive any why or how’s from my students each year and use those questions to seed new lessons. Some will lead to active investigations and creativity in finding answers and some are dead ends. There is no easy way to tell which question will pay dividends. Likewise, some questions will work with one class and others will not.
Back in the 60’s Madeline Hunter called these bird walks. I say they are valuable extensions in a crowded day as they are often the only time that kids really are asked to flex their creativity.