Use what if questions to help generate promising ideas to solve problems.
In this activity, students use what if questions to generate promising ideas to solve a problem. While this activity uses examples related to solving the problem of an oil spill, other examples could be used to help nurture the competency of applying and innovating.
Share with your students that asking what if questions is known as a ‘thought experiment’ in science – to deepen understanding of phenomena, scientists may pose what if questions and explore the potential results by thinking about the results rather than performing an experiment in a lab.
3. Pick one of the what if questions and as a class discuss the possible consequences of that idea. Remind your students that consequences can be positive or negative. Write the consequences on chart paper or the board. Invite students to reflect on any new insights they gained based on these consequences and to suggest changes or refinements to the idea.
4. Finally, review the criteria for a promising idea and have students suggest ways to make the idea more promising. Promising ideas are:
5. Explain to your students that they are now going to practice using the thinking strategy to develop promising ideas for the following problem: A large oil spill has occurred in a local body of water (for example, a nearby lake, ocean, river, stream, or pond) and the community is looking for the most promising ideas to clean it up and prevent future water contamination. Provide each student with a copy of the “Using what if questions” worksheet. This worksheet can be used by students in other contexts as well.
6. Organize students into groups and invite them to work collaboratively as they consider what they already know about the problem and what other related ideas might be useful in addressing this problem.
7. Instruct groups to suggest at least five ideas in the form of what if questions. Inform your students that while some ideas should consider known scientific applications, other ideas can be out of the ordinary or unconventional ideas that have never been tried before. Encourage them to approach the task with an open mind as they generate new ideas.
8. Next, ask students to consider both the positive and negative consequences for each what if questions and record any new insights they gained based on these consequences. Instruct each group to revise or combine their ideas as needed.
9. Encourage groups to use the criteria for a promising idea to determine the most promising idea to clean up the oil spill. Ask each group to share their ideas and thinking with the class.
10. Conclude the activity by inviting your students to think about how posing their ideas as what if questions altered or deepened their understanding of the problem. Ask your students to suggest other conservation and sustainability related contexts where asking what if questions might be helpful for introducing new and refined ideas.
Throughout the activity consider how well students:
Guide students in using the “Assessing my ability to use what if questions to develop promising ideas” rubric during the activity.
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