Want to know the secret to using the KIDS Afterschool curriculum? It’s all in the questions you ask. KIDS Afterschool is not so much about the answers (though answers can be important), but it’s about the questions you ask to arrive at those answers. So don’t worry about doing an activity when you are not an expert in the topic—all you really need is enthusiasm, a set of materials and your students. And of course, the right questions.
“Why” questions can often be pretty hard. They can immediately tell a student “There is a correct answer, you should know it and you’re being tested to see if you do.” Plus, the answers to “Why” questions can be really complex. In the Raceways and Roller Coasters activities for example, children build mini roller coasters out of simple materials. If a team is building a roller coaster and the ball falls off, you might be tempted to ask them “Why did that happen?” The answer to this question could have kids wading through definitions of friction, gravity, acceleration and other concepts that graduate students in physics even struggle with. Unless you are using this activity to teach a physics lesson, a “Why” question is off the mark. “Why” questions have a place, for sure, but kids get asked “Why” a whole lot already. What they do NOT get asked nearly enough is questions that really make them think, reflect and problem-solve.
Instead of “Why” questions, focus on “What” questions, like “What happened there?” or, “What did you try? What happened after you tried that?” “What” questions are based in things that are directly observable, things that your students just did and are instant experts on. By focusing your questions on what your students observed and noticed, not only are you helping them develop their observation, communication and sense-making skills, you are also giving them questions that they can answer. And these are the questions that will lead them to solutions, and often to the answers you might have sought with a “Why” question. Starting out with “Why” questions can often just lead students to a dead end.
As the facilitator of the KIDS Afterschool activities, there are a few questions you should have in your tool belt. When students get stuck, ask them some of these questions as you observe the teams working on the activities:
This last question is great for helping kids who are struggling with what they are making or with an experiment. This question requires that you (the teacher) observe what the students are working on and that you determine why it is not working. Rather than telling them how to fix it, you can ask them to focus on something that will lead them toward discovering the answer. For example, if a team is creating a roller coaster and the ball is falling off at a point where the track is twisted, ask them “What do you notice about what is happening right at the part where the ball falls off?” By focusing their attention on the point of the problem, you will not only be helping children learn how to focus on details, but you will also lead them toward answering their own questions and solving their own problems—which is much more empowering than being told the answer!