What kinds of questions do future elementary teachers ask in a university science course? Results from an online question-ranking tool

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Matthew A. d'Alessio


Asking questions is one of the key external indicators of curiosity and a cornerstone of scientific inquiry. To understand the types of questions students ask in an introductory college science class for preservice elementary teachers, students used an online question-ranking tool (Google Moderator) as part of the daily routine. This study compiled 2,494 student questions from 128 students in four sections of the same course taught by the same instructor. After grouping questions into nine categories based on cognitive level, two independent regimes of questioning emerged – knowledge-rich and exploration-rich. When students had more specific knowledge about a topic, they asked a greater percentage of questions that demonstrate knowledge, fewer testable scientific questions, and fewer questions about course logistics. This knowledge-rich regime is more active in students with high quiz scores. Lower scoring students tended to be more active in an exploration-rich regime. They asked more scientifically testable questions that reflect a desire to explore cause-and-effect relationships. During an online question-ranking process, students decided which questions they would like to discuss in class by voting for their preferred questions. They submitted 13,301 student votes on the questions in this study. Despite differences in question-asking, students at all performance levels voted for similar questions in this voting process. Voting patterns revealed that students slightly preferred higher order questions that demonstrate knowledge. Questions that are both scientifically testable and demonstrate knowledge received, on average, the highest number of votes per question (about 30% higher than logistical questions about course expectations).

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Research / Empirical
Author Biography

Matthew A. d'Alessio, California State University Northridge

Matthew d'Alessio is an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at California State University Northridge. He is a former high school science teacher and teaches most of his classes to future teachers.