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Creating Essential Questions

May 17, 2013

“You went to school because that’s where the knowledge was stored. That was yesterday. Think how different today’s world is. Today’s young people need guidance in sifting through the flood of information and turning it into knowledge. They need to be able to formulate good questions — because computers have all the answers.”
Valerie Strauss (Washington Post)

In our May issue of Bits and Bytes (paper version), we explored the importance of creating essential questions in classrooms.

Right after that issue was published, Amy Lafontaine, a Science teacher in Kenaston School, shared how she started her unit in Grade 9 Science on Earth and Space by providing an opportunity for students to ask questions about their learning.

With the safe return of Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first commander of the International Space Station, and crew, it seemed only fitting to begin the unit with this historical event. Amy opened up her lesson by showing some of the video interviews that Chris conduted during his time in space.  Chris Hadfield Health Test

It was soon clear that the kids were hooked!

Next, Amy challenged her students to come up with questions that they had about earth and space, or questions that they would like to explore during the unit.

“Once these are connected to the outcomes in the Science curriculum, these questions will direct our learning in this unit,” explained Amy.

And while you can imagine that the questions ranged in their complexity, at the heart of this opening lesson is the desire to activate students’ sense of wonder. And wonder, they did. Some student questions centred on the “what” and “how” of earth and space, while others looked deeper, thinking about the connections in the universe and the how man will continue to learn more. Here is a sample of the questions posted by the students:

1. How do you brush your teeth in space?
2. What does being in space do to the human body?
3. Can I go to space?
4. How many galaxies do we know there are and can we travel to other galaxies?
5. What do they mean by a “light year” and how long is it?
6. How come planets move in a set orbit and other things can move wherever? Can we change these patterns?
7. How big is the universe?
8. Is this really one universe or many?

As Amy shared the students questions with me, what became clear is that she was excited to see the kinds of topics that kids want to learn more about. Even in Grade 9, when perceptions about student engagement and motivation may lead us to believe these kids aren’t interested in learning, these students were definitely making connections and thinking about earth and space, perhaps in a new way.

To learn more about questioning, check out the following resources:


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One Comment
  1. Robert LeBlanc permalink

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to look up some interviews for our space unit too

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