Learning how to ask questions - a valuable skill

Under the story title, “The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What If?’” Warren Berger writes in The New York Times #NYTimes on 2 July 2016 about the importance of asking questions. In talking to a senior manager she told him, “They were smart, experienced, competent.  So what was the problem? `They’re not asking enough questions,’ she said.”

While the article is about getting employees to ask good questions this view of doing things applies to education as well. He goes on to say, “One might assume that people can easily ask such questions, given that children do it so well. But research shows that question-asking peaks at age 4 or 5 and then steadily drops off, as children pass through school (where answers are often more valued than questions) and mature into adults. By the time we’re in the workplace, many of us have gotten out of the habit of asking fundamental questions about what’s going on around us. And some people worry that asking questions at work reveals ignorance or may be seen as slowing things down.”

So between early childhood and the workplace comes formal education and we have a chance to make a difference in getting our students to ask questions. There is an exceptional opportunity offered in any modeling context.  We at SIMIODE are about using modeling to motivate the study of mathematics, specifically, differential equations.

Modeling requires asking questions, What are the notions involved? Identify variables. Inquire as to the relationships between these variables? How will I test my theory? My model? They go on and on. Some questions are quite nuanced and some are very broad, but all are questions which need to be asked and addressed.

Berger writes, “Steve Quatrano, a member of the Right Question Institute, a nonprofit research group, explains that the act of formulating questions enables us `to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.’ This makes questioning a good skill to hone in dynamic times.”

Think about that, “formulating questions enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know.” How often have you heard that studying mathematics helps on reason better? So using modeling in the study of mathematics does an even better job of just that, namely organizing our thinking, seeing what we do not know, and determining how to proceed in the face of uncertainty and lack of knowledge.

The article says, “There are simple ways to train people to become more comfortable and proficient at it. For example, question formulation exercises can be used as a substitute for conventional brainstorming sessions. The idea is to put a problem or challenge in front of a group of people and instead of asking for ideas, instruct participants to generate as many relevant questions as they can.”  So all we have to do is structure our activities for our students and we reintroduce them to the skill they lost in the years since their early years and which will make them more valuable to employers in the future. It is a win-win situation and as with modeling scenarios and experiencing modeling activities students will remember the joy of asking questions and come out of our courses better thinkers, better organizers, and better problem solvers.

So continue to teach questioning; something that is not too hard for college professors! Question authority, question reality, question our results. Question on!





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