1 Questioning and thinking

One of the important factors in helping the students link theory and their own experience together and so develop a deeper understanding about forces is to ask questions that they can investigate and hopefully solve. To do this, you need to be able use your questioning skills in creative and dynamic ways so that students are encouraged to think.

Case Study 1: Two teachers and forces

Mrs Nair is questioning her class about what she is doing. Here, she describes what she did.

At the start of my lesson I asked the students to watch me push a book across my desk and asked the class, ‘What am I doing?’ One of the class replied, ‘Pushing the book.’

‘Good,’ I say, ‘and that is what a force is. Say after me, “A force is a push.”’ The class said what I asked, and I asked them to say it again. I asked again what a force was, and they repeated it over and over until I thought they knew it.

Next, I pulled the book across my desk towards myself and ask the pupils, ‘What am I doing?’ They replied that I was pulling the book and I said that that was correct. I next asked them to repeat, ‘A pull is a force.’ I tell them to repeat the statement several times before we return to the textbook and the next section.

Mrs Sharma is working with her class on forces. She explains how she started her lesson and then continued it.

First I asked my class, in their groups, to list as many things as they could think of that move. As they wrote, I went round and gave each group a set of objects – a mixture of all kinds of things, from a stone to a picture of a rickshaw bike [Figure 2] taken from the newspaper. The collection included small and large, heavy and light objects.

Figure 2 A rickshaw: an example of an object that moves.

I then asked them the question, ‘How can you make these objects move?’ I gave them several minutes to discuss and try out some of their ideas before asking each group to list their responses on a sheet of paper for all to see. They displayed these on the wall and together the students and I picked out the common ideas and words or terms they had used, such as ‘push’, ‘pull’, ‘lift’, ‘drop’, ‘strong’, ‘weak’, ‘gentle’, ‘friction’, ‘heavy’, ‘light’ and ‘movement’. Next I asked them, ‘Can you write a sentence or two to describe what you think causes things to move?’

Pause for thought

  • Which of these two teachers do you think is encouraging their students to think more deeply and develop their understanding about movement and forces most?
  • How is that teacher doing this? What teaching strategies is she using?
  • How is her teaching and use of questions different from the other?

It is easy to see that the second teacher, Mrs Sharma, is helping her students explore their own ideas in a more practical way by asking them higher-order types of questions, as well as also asking them to share their ideas with each other. The students in the first lesson are not being challenged intellectually as much as those in the second.

Mrs Sharma is giving them time to respond to the questions and follows up some of their questions with probing supplementary questions. By being able to feel the difference between the force that is needed to push, say, a brick across the mat on the floor of the classroom, and how much easier it is to push a smooth round stone or ball across the same surface, the students will be able to build up ideas in their head that fit in with what they have felt happening. It helps them to relate theory with their observations better.

As a teacher, your role is to help your students gradually build up their understanding of the science of forces. To do this, you need to probe their ideas. Activity 1 asks you to think about the kind of questions that you use in your classroom and explore ways of extending your skills.

Activity 1: The questions you use

Think of a science lesson you taught during the week and go through what you did and said to your students. If you can, list all the questions that you asked. Do not change them at all. Now look at your list, however short it is, and think about how much these questions helped your students in their learning about what you were doing and talking about during the lesson.

  • How many of your questions involved yes or no answers? How many involved students spending time thinking about possible answers and/or problem solving? (These are often called ‘ open-ended’ questions.)
  • Can you remember how the students responded to the different types of questions? Who responded? Is it always the same students? Why do you think this happens?
  • Did you give students time to think before asking a student to reply?

Make a few notes about your use of questioning in your classes in response to the questions above. Look through your notes and assess your own questioning skills. Decide where your strengths lie and think about what skills you could and would like to improve and extend before you read on. Remember that your role as a teacher is to help students to understand and learn about forces. To do this, you need to challenge their current ideas and explore how well-formed they are.

Video: Using questioning to promote thinking

Why this approach is important

2 Ways of handling questions