Tisel researches power of questions in the science classroom

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Dianne Caravela

Jim Tisel stands by a pendulum, the apparatus Tisel used to study the power of questions in the classroom.. “A driving motivation for me as an educator has been ‘what motivates students to ask questions’,” Tisel said.

Lucas Johnson, Sports Editor

In order to be more informed on the concept and strategy of effective teaching, some faculty attend conferences or workshops to hone their craft. But Upper School Physics Teacher Dr. Jim Tisel dedicated his sabbatical to finishing his Ph.D. to bring the best classroom experience he could to St. Paul Academy and Summit School.

“It was a long process where, for me as an educator, the front priority was teaching and coaching at SPA,” Tisel said on finishing his Ph.D. During his well deserved sabbatical from teaching math and science at SPA’s middle school, Tisel investigated the power of questioning amongst a class of fifth grade students.

“A driving question or a driving motivation for me as an educator has been, what motivates students to ask questions, and what role do their questions play in their learning,” Tisel said. Questioning can be an extremely powerful tool for students interested in achieving a deeper understanding of their material. In order to research this phenomenon, Tisel observed a group of elementary school students to see how prevalent questioning was in their class time.

I cataloged all the questions that they asked while doing an open investigation of pendulum motion. It was really interesting to see that 24 fifth graders asked 351 questions in forty minutes.”

— Upper School Physics Teacher Jim Tisel

“I was able to research that directly by looking at a group of 24 students. I  cataloged all the questions that they asked while doing an open investigation of pendulum motion. It was really interesting to see that 24 fifth graders asked 351 questions in forty minutes.” Although this form of questioning occurred amongst students much younger than high school students, Tisel says he still sees the concept of organized questioning play out consistently among high school students.

“I would say that any time students are working independently on any laboratory activity, I see components of this play out or be applicable,” Tisel said. For Tisel, questions bring about a social aspect to a rigidly academic environment through three main categories of questioning; competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

“Competence means that your questions are helping you learn how to do something. Autonomy means that students are taking ownership of their material; they’re making it theirs. Relatedness means that students are causing the material to be relevant or relating to each other through the questions in a social [relatedness] way,” Tisel explained. To Tisel, in order for a class experience to reach its full potential, questioning between students and teachers is the key to reach a deep understanding of the material.