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Asking questions

Wednesday 31 August 2016

One of the most important skills that we can help our students to develop is the skill of "asking questions."  This is fundamental to the inquiry process. When students ask good questions, they demonstrate how they are applying past learning to understanding a new situation.  By interacting with students as they form questions and challenging them to define their terms, explain what they really want to know and justify why their question is important, we are not only preparing them for extended essay, but we are also developing curiosity and honing their research skills.

Asking students to "think like a psychologist" about current events is a safe way to get them to start generating questions.  Using "visible thinking techniques," students should "wonder" aloud, but in the framework of psychology. It is also a way to promote international mindedness. 

Last week most of us were stunned by the images coming out of Amatrice, Italy.  The earthquake that struck at 3 am left a trail of destruction which was difficult to comprehend.  Over 250 people died in this earthquake.

I asked my students to pretend that they were part of a psychological team that has heard that the Italian government is awarding grants to psychologists to study anything related to the Amatrice earthquake. Students were put into pairs to come up with research proposals.  They then had to state their research question to the class.  Below is a sample of the type of questions they came up with.

Sample research questions

1. To what extent did the aid workers develop PTSD?  Was there any trend as to who got it? Could we protect future aid workers from getting PTSD?

2. Why do people feel "imaginary" aftershocks?  What is going on inside the brain?

3. Do men or wormen experience more "survivor's guilt?"

4. Will this earthquake increase anxiety in people liiving in other areas of Italy that have earthquakes? Or will it instead increase rationalization that their home is safe?

5. How will the survivors explain what happened? Will they blame themselves?  The government?  God?  Does it matter to their mental health whom they blame?

6. Do jounralists have nightmares after covering such stories? If not, why not?

7.  To what extent will people remember this news story compared to other news stories?  Does the personal nature of the news story make it easier to remember details, or are the memories less accurate?

As you can see, these second year students were able to generate some interesting questions based on their understanding of psychology. Although we did not go any further with this activity than presenting questions and and speculating as a class what the answers could be, students could also then rate the questions and then choose the one that they would choose to "fund."  A good exercise in critical thinking while also keeping students aware of the world around them.

Tags: current events, critical thinking, earthquake

11 Feb 2016


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