Questions? Questions? Anyone have any questions??

We introduced Guided inquiry to our biology students using the DNA unit. DNA was the perfect choice because it offered different avenues to explore: from DNA analysis to the Ethics of Genetic Engineering.

Since Guided Inquiry motivates students to develop their interest into a research topic, it only made sense that we start with teaching students how to write upper level questions.

First, we watched a video on how to write Level 1, 2, and 3 questions. Then we practiced bringing level 1 questions up to level 3 questions in groups of three using carousel writing style. For example, a student may write the level 1  question: “What is the function of DNA?”. The next person changes it to the level 2 question: “How is the function of DNA similar or different to the function RNA?”. The next person has the most difficult task, changing the question to level 3: “How would exposure to radiation (UV, gamma, x-rays) affect the way DNA function?”  We did this twice on separate days to get them used to the different types of questions and to learn how to increase the rigor of their question.

Second, to get them ready for the Identify phase, I had students practice taking level 3 questions and breaking them down into level 2 and level 1 questions. I gave each group a large piece of paper with a thinking web containing a level 3 question in the center. I then asked the groups to think about questions that would help answer the level 3 question. Students took a moment to think, but began to branch off simpler questions (“What is DNA?”) and questions that could be answered by looking in their notes or simple web searches (“How do DNA mutations affect proteins?”). By breaking down their question into simpler questions, they had formed a starting point for their research.

Third, once students had identified their research question, I set up a “question verification process”. In this verification process students needed to receive four signatures and comments: 2 signatures from other students, 1 signature from a different teacher, and 1 signature from me. After each signature, students reviewed the comments and made edits to their question. Why did I love this process?? Well for one thing it got students talking to each other and practicing identification of level 3 questions. Also, it cut down on edits that I would have needed to make on each student’s question. By having them review their comments and make edits, all I had to check for was the subject content.

DNA analysis and Genetic Engineering can be difficult topics for adults to undertake, so it was important that we did not make it too hard for our students to understand. Since this was our first Guided Inquiry Unit and they are not used to writing questions (many of them explained to me how much harder that was compared to just answering questions), I knew that structure and scaffolding would be key to their success!

Rachelle Johnson

Norman High School – Science Teacher