Unlocking scientific thinking by introducing students to exploration, marker words, and open-ended questioning.

by Michael Fryda

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


Scientific thinking examines the dimensions of a problem and what sort of steps it would take to solve it.

With my students, I start to develop this disposition toward scientific problem solving by giving them opportunities to explore. This exploration is designed to push students slightly out of their comforts zones. I follow this by introducing some new vocabulary and context and encourage them make connections to their everyday lives.

If you came into my class, you would see students constructing models in response to a real life problems. Students test their solutions with other students, get feedback, and incorporate that feedback into new iterations. Rather than setting a goal of simply finishing, my students focus on crafting their thinking skills and turning them into action.

My goal is to get students to think like scientists so I ask questions like:

-What makes this a tough problem?

-What are the dimensions of this problem? and

-What matters? What doesn’t matter?

My job is not to illicit yes or no answers. It is to carefully craft questions that cause students to further their thinking about a problem in a way that is going to make sense to them.


What I did well…

I think that I did a good job of giving other teachers a fun problem to investigate that allowed them to make decisions.  It allowed us to not only model decision making, but also bring marker words in that were able to better delineate the dimensions of getting tacos.  I also think I do a good job of adding specific examples of exploration, marker words and open-ended questions.  Those specific examples can be concrete takeaways for both experienced and novice educators.  I also think it is important that I challenge conventions of thought that are common in both the profession and our society.  Scientific thinking is taught in schools because it teachers people to become better problem solvers by considering multiple possible variables.  Thinking in shades of grey helps people to avoid mistakes and pitfalls, or at least mitigate their impact.

What I would do more of, better, differently…

Thinking about thinking can be difficult to put words to.  I think my biggest area of improvement is in the beginning of my introduction video.  I speak about the styles of scientific thinking in very broad terms that may be challenging for non-veteran educators to make actionable plans from.  I want our shared professional knowledge to be usable at any level of experience.  In this regard, my future goals include finding the right balance between rich explanations of questioning skills for veterans and easy to consider examples for new teachers.

I still want to grow this practice by…

Asking questions is an art and a science that is unique to every individual learner, teacher and situation.  I am always challenging myself to find new ways to incorporate the best questions possible that will also efficiently help the learner progress.  The beauty of such a challenge is that it will never be finished.  Ten years from now I will still be working towards one of the most challenging aspects of education.


About Michael Fryda

Michael Fryda teaches science at Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Passionate about educational innovation, he has been developing creative ...

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