Questioning Facts

Questioning is a skill.  Asking lots of questions helps paint a more complete picture.   There are no stupid questions, as such, but what you ask determines the answer you get.  I know these because I worked as a data analyst developing systems including Business Intelligence software –  all that stuff about Data Warehousing and Data Mining, drilling down, blah blah.  BI is all about asking questions.  If I were to define what BI is about, it is actually as a question, “What do you want to know?”.  That is, BI answers what you want to know.

It is important to highlight, too, that questioning means a line of inquiry.   It is not just one question.  You go deeper or broader.  Still on BI, for example, just asking about sales volume may not reveal loss in profit due to heavy discounting.

So what does this have to do with education?  It boils down to encouraging and teaching questioning skills.  If you’re reading this blog at all I am sure you already believe inquiry is important.  This blog is rich with relevant ideas.  Naini’s post on using key words and PYP is an excellent example.  Rather than re-hash ideas, I propose another  (apologies if this has been suggested already; to be honest, I haven’t read all posts in this blog).

Give students facts.  That’s right, give the facts to them. However, rather than facts being the ‘ends’, they will be the ‘starts’ and questioning will be the ‘means’ to gather more facts (in my mind, there’s no point asking questions without the intent to pursue answers – whether or not these exist at all or yet).

What questions can you think of given these facts?

  • at the time of dinosaurs, the day was only 23 hours long
  • black holes are not holes; they are the densest concentration of mass in the universe
  • In 2005 the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy was given to a Rwandan prison that used the methane from human feces to fuel cooking stoves
  • Pencils can write in zero gravity (as an aside, if you haven’t yet, drop by the #pencilchat on Twitter and this is how it began)
  • The trigger of death, in all cases, is lack of oxygen

I’m tempted to add “1 + 1 = 2” and if your line of inquiry does not include “when is that not true?”,  then you do not have a complete picture which, by the way, gives relevance to some higher mathematics and credence to post-modernism …..but I digress perhaps.

There is no shortage of facts around; curriculum content is full of them.  All of the above, apart form the 1+1, are from Discover Magazine – 20 Things you didn’t know about….

Facts can inspire questioning.  And if you’re stuck for ideas on how to teach questioning, try the Visible Thinking; Question Starts is a good one recommended by @whatedsaid.

About @malynmawby

a learner called to teach
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6 Responses to Questioning Facts

  1. whatedsaid says:

    Hi Malyn… I like your cheeky style.

    I think the best questions are generated when there is an authentic context, when curiosity has been provoked, when kids really care about the answers. Let me think about whether random facts fall into that category…



  2. @malynmawby says:

    Hi Edna.

    Who said anything about random? Perhaps i wasn’t very clear about that bit, though.

    Three sides to the idea. (1) present the facts as relevant to whatever topic is being studied – unless just for play to hone questioning skills; (2) promote the mindset that facts can be questioned – not to be taken at face value as most people are inclined to do; (3) questioning facts may or may not lead to more facts and the questioning iteration carries on.

    Should i pop all that back up the post as an update?


  3. Greg Perry says:

    Hi Malyn. I do something similar to this. I also use definitions as a starting point for many of my questions. Eg What is a dog? I use the Socratic Method to let students know how difficult it is to define a dog, although it sounds easy. Here’s what I mean:

    I then take examples of things that are easier to define, like freezing for example. Most kids (and bigger people!) know what this is but invariably do not spent much time defining it.

    It doesn’t take many questions for them to find a definition. The chat goes something like this but I’ve shortened it a little:

    Teacher: What is freezing?
    Student: It’s when water becomes ice.
    T: Does it have to be water?
    S: No it’s any liquid.
    T: Does it always become ice?
    S: No it just becomes a solid.
    T: So liquid egg becoming solid, or cake mix becoming solid, that’s freezing is it? (These are counter-examples.)
    S: No.
    T: Why?
    …in the end…
    S: Freezing is the change from a liquid to a solid when we lower the temperature.

    Telling the difference between “facts” that are easy to define and those that are hard to define is a great skill. Also it doesn’t take long before other students are asking the style of questions above, to each other.


  4. Thanks Greg. I like Broccoli Man and the ‘do not touch’ button (yes, of course I touched the button).

    I use Socratic method at home and it drives my kids nuts! What they fail to realise is that they used to be like that until it somehow stopped at school. It’s not so much that schooling beats it out of them but I think they have less time to do it, especially in terms of social learning and inquiry.

    Another question I ask a lot, especially in my maths classroom: “How do you know or How do you know you’re right?”


  5. Pingback: How do you analyse student questions? | Inquire Within

  6. Bon Crowder says:

    I was reading this from a math perspective. Then I re-read from a general ed perspective.

    Strange… I just got the proof copy of my book Guided Creativity for the Busy Thinker. It’s a set of exercises that include similar questions to the Question Starts you linked.

    Regarding random facts. I think it’s great to take a random fact and question the heck out of it. The key is to grow children that wonder about random facts. My Ma did this. I hope I’m doing this with my K8.


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