Science - The right questions

16th December 2011 at 00:00

What the lesson is about

Devising good scientific questions does not come easily to pupils. Start by identifying questions that are scientific and those that are not, writes James Williams. For example, if we wanted to investigate carrots:

- Does light affect the growth rate of a carrot?

- Do different soils produce different colours of carrot?

- Does the age of a carrot affect its taste?

Each question is testable. We can grow carrots and eatcompare them. The problem arises when we try to measure taste.

Taking it further

Good scientific questions have certain characteristics. First, they can be answered through research or experimentation. "Do heavier things fall faster than lighter things?" is a good scientific question because you can make a prediction and devise a way of testing it. But remember air resistance, because science has to deal with variables.

Second, they build on what is already known. Pupils usually devise questions on topics they have already researched.

Third, they can be tested by experiment - observing, measuring or obtaining data in a real situation. A good scientific question enables data to be collected that can be synthesised, analysed, described and presented graphically or as a written narrative.

Finally, they prompt other good scientific questions. Even simple investigations, such as pollution of a pond, can lead to questions such as "What is the source of the pollution?"

And another thing

Good questions result in improved understanding. The aim is to encourage pupils to know a good scientific question when they see one.

How Science Works: Teaching and Learning in the Science Classroom by James Williams (Continuum, pound;19.99).

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