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"I don't ask questions any more . . .

. . .  because  I don't like the answers I get."  That is what a woman of a certain age said to the receptionist at the doctor's office today while I was waiting in the waiting room.

I got to thinking about what causes us "not to ask questions." 

The most common reason I suspect is I do not have time to consider the answers, whether I like them or not. I just have to keep on moving. Another reason is that the answers quite often contain too many options and open up too many other questions.

When we teach mathematics classes and have so much to cover or it is crunch time at end of semester and we have not done Chapter 8 material, but know the follow-on course will require this material, we find ourselves inpatient with students who ask questions. I tried not to get into the latter situation so I could "cruise" into the final exam with lots of times for students to ask questions which would lead to connections in the course material, student driven review by inquiry, if you will.

The most enjoyable course I have ever taught is Mathematical Modeling, namely because it is all about asking questions of a situation, of the model, of the mathematics, of oneself, of a result, and of much more. Moreover, there is no Mathematical Modeling II course breathing down your neck. I have taken a whole day on one possible term in a model as the class wrestles with possibilities for representing the phenomena we are trying to model. Often students get restless, “Just tell us and let’s get on with it.”  That is what some say. Years later student write to me and say they remember THAT class, THAT model, THAT battle. Thy do now tell me about a technique, a formula, an algorithm. They speak of the struggle in creation of a model and point to its value in their career.

I hope that by getting students to ask questions when they are mathematically young this will get them to see the value of questioning, of just asking questions, and that they will continue doing so, whether or not they like the answer!

 

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