So, What Good Question Have You Asked Today?

My theme these days is that knowledge is not driven by answers but by questions. (See my post on The Answer-Driven Culture.) Last Thursday, I gave a keynote speech at the Pace University School of Education at their STEM-D Conference (Science, Technology, Education, and Design) entitled, "It's Not About Answers: It's the Questions that Count."

I started my speech by asking the audience how many had experienced "magic" in their classroom. By "magic" I meant the kind of intense shared concentration by everyone present on what was happening such that all sense of time and external events disappeared. It's what psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of "flow." I have asked this question before to other groups of educators and usually only a few hands went up. But these people were teaching STEM courses and the majority raised their hands. It seems that science teachers have more fun. Part of the reason may be due to the fact that they are not yet being evaluated by their students' test scores--a key issue for the push-back to the CCSS.

I ended my speech by recounting a story of Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898-1988) who won the Nobel Prize in Physics (1944) for his discovery of magnetic resonance, the phenomenon that allows us to see soft tissue in the body through MRIs. Rabi attributed his success in science to his mother. Every day, when he came home from school she would ask him, "So what good question did you ask today?"

When I was finished, instead of Q&A, I asked the audience to brainstorm with a neighbor and come up with some good questions to share publicly. This was an experiment; I have never done this before. I was surprised to see how shy and inhibited they were about sharing questions. It seems that the answer-driven culture in schools, which has been conditioned by endless test-prep, has rubbed off on science teachers where the content should be approached by inquiry.

Is creative question-asking becoming a lost art? That question got my juices flowing. Here are a few for you to ponder:

How comfortable are you living with not knowing the answer to the question? If you're not comfortable, what's behind that? Can you name some people who had to live a long time with not-knowing? How about Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi? What unknowns did they live with?

If you're a teacher, how do you respond to a student's question? Do you give the answer automatically if you know it? Are you able to admit when you don't know an answer? If not, what's behind that? Do you question people who make categorical statements when you know they are wrong? If not, why not? Are you aware of when politicians give non-responsive answers to tough questions? If so, can you think of ways to make others aware of this? What would it take for you to be (name something) you always wanted to be?

Is standardized testing interfering with the learning of students? If not, how do you know? If so, how and why? What can be done to change this?

So, what good questions are on your mind? Please share below in the comments.