3 Ways to Turn Questions Into Learning

01 March 2016 / Leave a Comment

Are you ready to get your students engaged in some authentic research? Here are 3 tips for turning questions into learning.

Kids ask so many questions! An Australian retail store did a study and found that kids were asking close to 300 questions a day.

As a teacher, you probably don't find this too surprising. How can we channel those questions into learning and is it possible that the kids could curate their own answers through research?

Do you have one of those students? One who has a plethora of questions? I have one this year and I absolutely love it! He keeps me on my toes. A few of the questions: Are poison dart frogs poisonous when they're tadpoles? Do you know the flag of Saudi Arabia? I do. Why do I keep saying ándale? What is the Illuminati? Truly. And this is a 3rd grade student.

I thought I was being an excellent teacher by telling him that it was a great question and he should find the answer and let us know. Or, sometimes I would even research it for him or offer a resource that answered the question. I thought I knew the answer to the tadpole question and told him my guess and why. I was so pleased when I decided to play a short YouTube video of a non-fiction book about frogs and the question was answered. He turned around and gave me a look - that was my question!

Of course, when I told him he should research the question, I never heard anything more about it. That made me wonder. Is there a way that questions could help elementary students learn how to research?

I decided to try to combine student questions with technology -- two things that kids love!

I started out by having the students write a question on a sticky note (printed!) and put it on the white board. They had to write at least one question, but they were free to write even more.

Then, I had students choose a question and look it up on the iPad. I knew I didn't want them researching all over the internet. So, I found a few kid-friendly search engines. A few of them were able to find the answer fairly quickly.
I used a few of the ones that were having difficulty to model the process for the class. They put their iPad under the document camera and we went through it together.
The kids had fun doing this. I think one of the most difficult parts was for them to think of questions! They asked if they could look at a book to come up with questions. I just gave them some prompts instead -- do you have any questions about animals (predators, life cycles, etc.), countries, government, history... A few of them had a lot of questions!

We also did some trivia research. I found trivia type questions that were at an approximate grade level and wrote the question on an acrylic display board. At the end of this post, I've listed a few resources to help you find questions.

The students scanned a QR code with a link to a kid-friendly search engine. They typed in the question or key words. When they found an answer, they wrote it on a small piece of paper along with their initials.

I would then answer the question for them by modeling how to type in the question and what to do with the search results. We would see who had the right answers.

They really enjoyed this. My "questioning student" was so excited to "research" about what the center of an atom is called. He probably already knew the answer! He wanted to talk about quarks after that!

For this activity, I had the students work in pairs.

The question was "What is unusual about Lake Vanda?" For this one, I gave the students specific instructions. I wanted them to use a particular search engine (safesearchkids.com) and go to the 2nd result which is the NASA visible earth site. I told them I wanted them to each read the article and then talk to each other about what was unusual about the lake.
This was a hard one! The first difficulty was the search engine issues. This search engine was much harder to use and they wanted to go back to sweetsearch. I helped them work through that. Then, after reading the short article, they did not have an answer. So, I gave them a couple of clue words (I think they were cold & opposite). This time, several of them knew the answer so I had them start explaining it to their partner and I gave additional help to anyone who was still having trouble.

I stressed that they needed to give the answer in their own words. I demonstrated just reading an article or a section of an article vs. re-telling the information. I have a few students who really need to strengthen their comprehension skills - especially with nonfiction. This was challenging, but I think it was very helpful for them. I will definitely try this one again!

BTW, in case you're curious you can read the short Lake Vanda article here. I found it fascinating!

A few tips that I learned from this process:

*Use a kid-friendly search engine
1. A note on this: "Kid-friendly" does not mean benign. This article highlights some issues with a newly released search engine - kiddle. Nothing replaces teacher supervision. This is a great time for the teacher to be walking around the room. You can offer help when needed AND keep a close eye on content.
2. We used sweetsearch.com and safesearchkids.com. For each of these, I created a QR code by typing a link to the web address into goqr.me and generating a QR code which I then printed. Students just scanned the code and then typed in their search terms. We used SweetSearch first. It was easy to use. The search results weren't the best and I thought that something with a google search engine might perform better. We then tried SafeSearchKids and the kids begged to
go back to SweetSearch. They thought it was much easier to use. So, experiment with a few kid search engines and find the one that your class likes best. I'm sure they will let you know! :)

*Ask compelling questions from a variety of topics (see resource list at the end of this post).

*Try to ask questions that are not obvious (most know the answer without even searching) or too difficult.

*Avoid multiple choice type questions - i.e. - Is an Oriole a bird, flower or tree? That is going to be difficult - especially when you factor in the baseball team!

*Type in the question to check the results and make sure that it is possible to find a good answer

*iPad: Show the students how to start typing and use the quicktype suggestions that pop up above the keyboard

*Teach the students to look for an answer in the first page of search results and if they can't find the answer or need more information then they will click on a link

*If you don't get an answer, check your spelling (there is a difference between planet and plant!) and then try to ask the question a different way

We know that kids like to ask questions and that they love technology. My goal is to teach them to use that technology in a way that will benefit their future learning. I want to start, even at 3rd grade, teaching them how to be discerning and to look for sites that have accurate information. I want them to learn how to be honest in their work and not copy the work of others. Most of all, I want to encourage those questions to continue and fan that spark of curiosity into enthusiastic learning.

Thanks for reading! I'd love for you to follow my blog, Teacher Treasure Hunter and subscribe to my newsletter. The newsletter has good information and there is even a chance to win a $25 TPT gift certificate each month. Here is a link to the February newsletter and information on signing up for your free copy.
*Kids Quiz
*History Quiz
*Science Quiz
*Elementary Quiz Bowl Questions - this is just 1 result. Google "elementary quiz bowl questions" for many more.
*Highlights Kids Science Questions - some of these would be good for discussion questions. Research - share with a team - tell the class.
*How Come? book - If you look at the preview on Amazon, you will see some good questions for researching. If you want the answer before your kids research, you will need to
buy the book or borrow it from the library.
*KnowALot History Quiz

I have other research and writing resources in my TPT store. My animal research packs are very popular. I love to see kids engaged with nonfiction reading and research!

I hope that your students enjoy these research ideas! Happy March!


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