Learning through Questions

We often think of learning as a journey. In this metaphor, questions are the vehicles that learners travel in. Purposeful questions drive science experiences and design questions. We want to equip the youth in our programs to ask powerful questions to drive their own learning. And we want to equip staff to use questions like a tool in their back pocket so they can quickly gets learners back on their journey.

Questions Drive the Learning

A well-placed question can help learners understand what they should focus on, and where they should go next. What do you think would happen if you made that change to your design? What did you notice about the water? We call this skill asking purposeful questions

Sometimes a question gets a conversation going in a small group. Sometimes it gets youth unstuck and spurs them to action. Take time to think about where your question leads, but be open to learners going in an unexpected direction. In out-of-school time (OST), the journey is more important than the destination. If you let youth choose their own path, they will have more fun on the journey and maybe travel much further than you expected.

Questions Help Learners Think Deeply

When was the last time you asked your learners a question you didn’t know the answer to? In a typical lesson, that may not happen very often, but as you get better at using questions mindfully, you’ll be more comfortable in not knowing. You’ll be free to let the learners guide you in unexpected directions, you’ll ask sincere questions you don’t know the answer to – trusting that the answer can be found together. You’ll see youth thinking deeply and setting their own direction in this journey.

Questions Get Everyone Excited

Focusing on questions can be much more fun than focusing on answers. Sometimes this can even spill over into other parts of the OST program. What could we do to make cleanup after snack easier? What’s the best way to hold a box hockey stick? How could we find out? This is a sign that asking questions, solving problems, and learning is becoming a way of life for the youth in your program. Would you be open to youth helping make their whole afterschool program better? What do you think that would look like?

The experiential learning model is a great resource to help our staff think about what questions to ask at different points in the learning experience. At each point in the model, questions can be used to guide learners in sharing what they have done, processing the experience and applying it to different situations. As learners share their experience, use questions that focus on what happened, what they observed, or what solutions they tested. As learners reflect and process the experience, focus on why this experience was important and use your questions to focus in on the particular skills or knowledge you want then to develop. As you generalize and apply this experience, focus on how these skills can benefit youth in the future and how what they have learned can be used to solve other problems.

Experiential Learning Model

This model is based on the work of David Kolb in defining the Experiential Learning Cycle. Image from  http://www.four-h.purdue.edu

Rutgers Cooperative Extension has an easy-to-use resource that describes Learning by Doing. Your local 4-H office or museum may have other resources for experiential learning. The Exploratorium, a museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco, has many online activities you can use in OST to provide experiential learning opportunities for the youth in your program. Learn, play and ask questions together – and don’t forget to enjoy the journey! Click2SciencePD has easy to use resources for staff development that focuses on asking purposeful questions