Tips For Asking A Good Question

Inter-Active for subscribing classrooms for the 2001-2002 school year

   The following provides guidelines and procedures (primarily to inform teachers) designed to make the Q&A process productive and practical for all concerned.

   Each and every expert is excited about connecting with you and your students. But it is important to remember that the time and energy of these researchers is extremely valuable. If possible, please review the materials available online, at this site or those linked to it, to gain an overall understanding of their research, and the places where they work. It would be best to ask questions that are not easily answered elsewhere.

   We recognize that this creates a gray area about whether or not a question is appropriate. Use your best judgment. For example, a question that led to one of the liveliest and most memorable interactions during LIVE FROM ANTARCTICA might easily have been rejected by those following our advice too slavishly: "Do penguins have knees?" Since the main idea of P2K's PASSPORT TO ANTARCTICA project is to excite students about the wonders of science and research, please err on the side of having students participate. If you are not sure whether or not to send a question, send it.

   Some teachers have used class discussion to refine questions before they submit them to the experts. For example, after first studying PASSPORT TO ANTARCTICA materials and doing some Activities, students can divide up into groups and create several questions per group. All of the questions can then be shared with the whole class, and students can be challenged to find answers to their classmates' questions from local resources. Those questions which remain unanswered or seem particularly interesting can then be sent along to the PASSPORT TO ANTARCTICA team.

   Ideally, the act of formulating and then posing questions is itself a learning experience. It may help to think back to an early stage of a child's development when 3 year-olds learn that simply repeating the word "why?" can get parents to do most of the work in a conversation. The wise parent will try to get their child involved (and break the WHY train!) by asking, "And WHY do YOU want to know?" The same is true in the classroom. Teachers might use the incentive of making contact with real world researchers to motivate students to learn to ask good questions.

   Here are three things students might ask themselves as they prepare their questions:

  1. What do I want to know?
  2. Can this information be found in a resource that I could easily check (such as a school encyclopedia, whether print or CD-ROM)?
  3. Why do I want to know it? (What will I do with the information? How will I use what I learn?)

The last question is the most interesting. Student reflection on why they want to know something is a very valuable learning experience. Have students record their questions in their ANTARCTICALogs and enter answers received from any component of PTANT answers from experts, the videos, or from hands-on Activities suggested in the Teacher's Guide.

Some additional procedures to make things run smoothly:

One question per message:
We ask that you please send each unrelated question in a separate message rather than as one message with many different questions. While this may be inconvenient, it is important because it will help us make sure your question goes to the correct researcher and--we hope--that no question remains unanswered.

25 question limit:
Any individual teacher will be limited to submitting a total of 25 questions per class. We hope this will encourage more discussions about what students really want to know and will lead to research being done before asking questions.

Searching question/answer pairs:
Please check the RESEARCHER Q&A and ON-AIR archives to make sure your question has not already been answered.