The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Learning Through Questioning

Today was a day full of questions in my fourth grade classroom. We started the morning off with questions about why European explorers did what they did. I asked the class to think about what they learned about the explorers. They told me information about who, what, where, when, and how, but we hadn’t spent much time discussing why.

In discussing this, the boys and girls talked about exploring to find gold, spices, and wealth. They also listed ideas such as knowing what was “out there”, going on adventures, seeking power, spreading religion, and learning about the world around them. One student also mentioned that the explorers were xenophiles, and we discussed what that meant. I also told them that my wife had mentioned to me that the explorers were not lovers of foreign people.

This led to a discussion about the dichotomy of explorers learning and discovering new places in the world while also doing horrible, terrible things, especially robbing, murdering, and enslaving. I wanted my students to especially understand that the explorers came from a society that said that those who did not look, dress, talk, or act like them were not really “people” by their understanding, but we know better, and can learn from their mistakes.

Then we moved on to the next question: what next? What happened after the explorers did what they did? We didn’t really get into this, although we got started on the idea of colonisation (or colonization, as I kept reminding myself to spell it when teaching). Someone wanted to know what colonization meant, so I led them through a breaking-down and repiecing-together of the word, as I call it. The students identified the root word, colony, and the two suffixes, -ize and -ation. Using other words they were familiar with, they were able to come up with a definition of colonization as “the process of making a settlement.” We wrapped up the lesson with a quick exploration of other words, and then, because they asked, I showed them how, by knowing the parts, they can figure out what any word means, even really big words like antidisestablishmentarianism. Some of them thought that was really cool. Others were quite lost. But I like planting seeds of ideas that I am sure will come back to them at another time.

Other questions we explored during the day took us away from social studies and into a new science unit: meteorology (which is not, despite what it sounds like, the study of meteors, unless you are using the broader definition of a meteor as “a thing high up”). I’m excited to get started on a new science unit, since we haven’t done much work with science this year! I won’t spend every day asking as many questions as I did today, but I felt like today was a good day to learn through questions. Other days will see different methods, different strategies. But today was a good day, full of good questions.

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