Central Tool for Student Learning
Questions and Assessment
As students move through the year of study, they build knowledge
about the changing seasons and how these changes affect the entire
web of life. Student responses to Challenge Questions help you assess
their thinking, gains, and gaps, and their ability to draw from
past knowledge as they build new understandings.
Plaehn, a 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin and member of Journey North's
Teacher-Advisory Board, shares these tips
for using Challenge Questions as a tool for assessment.
provides a series of Challenge Questions throughout all of the migrations
and seasonal events that are tracked. These questions are posed as part
of Journey North News updates. Students are invited to respond online and
share their thoughts with the entire Journey North community. In subsequent
updates, they learn how peers and scientists answered the questions.
Questions are based on authentic observations and data, and are posed
at key points throughout each season. Because of this, the questions are
very relevant to the students' work and learning. Challenge Questions
ask students to:
- dig into
and try to make sense of data
out math, science, or mapping challenges
on Journey North experiences
creatively or make personal connections to material
which are often open-ended, model good inquiry-based science because they
spark the kind of thinking and reasoning that scientists use in their
work. They offer students examples of the types of questions they should
be asking themselves.
Questions and Science Journals
There are many ways to address Journey North Challenge Questions, and journaling
is an excellent way for students to begin the process. Many teachers use
journals as a tool for ongoing assessment of student progress. (See Science
Inquiry Journals in our Assessment
also provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to function as facilitators
of student learning. Here are some tips:
students time to explore the question in their science journals before
before discussing their answers with one another. Encourage them to
write about or be prepared to explain the thinking behind their responses
- Use journals
as a way to communicate with students as they try to "think through"
challenge questions and related concepts. You might, for instance, routinely
collect journals and write questions and comments directly on pages,
or share these during a discussion with each student.
as Facilitators of Student Learning
Challenge Questions provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to function
as coaches or facilitators of student learning. Holly Cerrulo, a 7th Grade
teacher in Massachusetts explains:
single Challenge Question will get your students thinking in ways they
rarely do during the entire school year. If you did just one Challenge
Question — and nothing else — you'd experience what I mean.
Our entire class enjoyed the question about why owls nest in February,
when it's so cold outside. As a class, we all shared our ideas for possible
reasons. Now remember, I didn't know the answer even though I'm 'the
teacher.' But this is what I love, this is where Journey North comes
through. The discussion of the question comes the next week, so you
don't have to know the answer — you learn right along with the
students. And what's so great is that we could see that each of us had
part of the answer in our thinking. As a class, we'd put our minds together
and come up with ideas none of us — including the teacher —
could have alone. Throughout the year, the students' understanding of
nature grows, so you can as the thinking they exhibit in answering questions
builds, they're making connections."
With "Wrong" Answers
It is important to allow students the freedom to make mistakes.
Some of the greatest scientific discoveries were the result of experiments
that "failed." Encourage students to critically review
their investigations and conclusions. Suggest activities or investigations
that challenge them to further explore their ideas and test hypotheses.
How do you address student answers, theories, explanations, or conclusions
that are "incorrect"? How do you deal with student misconceptions?
Think about the strategies you use when you encounter these situations.
You might want to discuss this challenge with other teachers and share your
successful techniques. Try to find alternatives to simply correcting students;
instead, use strategies
that encourage critical thinking:
or clarify a question.
- Ask a
student to explain the process he/she used to find the answer.
- Have the
student provide data that supports the answer.
- Give students
a chance to revisit data and check what they think against what they
a group discussion in which classmates explore, challenge, and build
on one another's ideas.
students to conduct hands-on research to explore and test their theories
Share Your Thoughts!
We hope you'll find ways
to incorporate Journey North Challenge Questions into your own teaching
this spring. As always, if you have ideas or suggestions you'd like to share
please contact us: Feedback