Thursday, December 23, 2010

Asking Answerable Questions

As stated previously, I've been working with my kids on their Google search skills, including searching with keywords, and using reliable websites (which does not include They are working on a project in which they chose a topic, created a plan in Inspiration, found answers to their questions on Google, wrote a script (which we're just now finishing), and will make it into a short documentary in iMovie after Christmas. However, the sticking point for many has come not when they use complete questions to search (partially because Google "suggests" it for them) or when they use unreliable sources, but when they want to find out questions that just aren't there.

I am a firm believer in the fact that just about anything you want to find out is on Google. However, through this project, it has become clear to me that there is an art to asking a question that has an answer on Google. In discussing this with some friends the other day, one of whom is a doctor, he brought up that in medical school, they teach students to ask answerable questions. As soon as he said that phrase, I knew that was the exact problem my students were having. They are asking unanswerable questions. In reality, most of the things do have answers, they are just things that basically no one wants/needs to know. You may beg to differ, but I ask you, why do there need to be answers to questions such as the following:
  • how many kinds of doctors are there in the world?
  • what's the best car?
  • why do penguins eat fish?
  • why did Martin Luther King call his speech "I have a dream"
  • were Batman and Robin friends?
Now that I have a name for the problem my students are having, I have to find a way to address it. Part of the issue is realizing when they're asking silly questions that they essentially know the answer to (Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" because he had a dream!) Another issue that I need to address with all my classes is the fact that if you search for a question that's about an opinion, at best, all you'll get are other people's opinions. Hence, if you ask who's the best player in the NBA, you'll get a lot of people's opinions. In addition to that, they need to be as specific as possible in what they're searching for. I don't know how many times I've told classes that searching for "cars" is going to bring WAY more information than you need and that using several keywords is essential. But still, I find people searching "dogs."

I may also have fed into this issue to a certain degree, because I had them all come up with questions they wanted answered, when in reality, I probably should have just had them identify categories they wanted more information on. Hence, I end up with questions like, "Do tigers like to run?" as opposed to categories like "how tigers hunt."

Wow! There, I think I'm actually a few steps closer to putting into words what makes a good, answerable, useful question! Hope it helps you too!

[PS: The picture is totally irrelevant, but it's what you see when you get to school before 7 AM!]