Let’s say you teach a unit on Inuit lifestyles, for instance. Students love to investigate with two feet and stoke discovery through talents that go hidden or unused in many classes. They’ll come to expect a dynamic sense of wonder when two-webbed-queries are used to stoke motivation at your starting gates.
Before Lessons – Two-Footed Questions Build Curiosity
For a class titled, A Day in the Life of Inuit Students, ask for example, What do Inuit students see when they first awaken, that you’d likely not see from your bedroom window?
You might also ask: Which part of an Inuit school day would most interest you and your friends?
Display scenes embedded in this Inuit Inuksuk art created by my daughter, Tanya Weber DeRoo, and challenge students to create their own two-footed questions.
Ask, What image etched into this Inuksuk would you like to learn more about? Students also enjoy concreting their own questions from visuals, and will come up with queries that pique their unique interests.
You might define the Inuktitut word inuksuk (which means “like a human”) and have students recreate an inuksuk rock pile as Inuit do to mark locations or to adorn a significant scene.
Guide students to step one foot into Inuit facts, and the other foot into their own interests. They may investigate, for instance:
- What would it be like to be a seal in the high arctic?
- How would you and your friends stay warm in an igloo?
- How would you prevent permafrost from freezing your house on Baffin?
- What would it be like to travel in an Inuit amauti or hood?
- How would you raise a winning dog team on Baffin Island?
- How would you plan ahead if you knew only one supply ship arrived yearly?
- How would you teach a younger peer to hunt at the arctic flow edge?
Questions above use students’ left brain’s verbal abilities to articulate ideas, while nudging right brain’s visual abilities to imagine or wonder about Inuit students’ high arctic surroundings.
In response to these questions, students might sketch scenery outside their window compared to an Inuit’s view in Igloolik. They’d likely discuss why no trees or cars exist and explain how dog teams pull siblings to school. Or perhaps they’d create a children’s book to teach a younger friend about favorite Inuit stories. In either case they draw on several intelligences to respond.
Let’s say another lesson goal for your arctic unit targets Inuit hunting practices that support isolated communities. Students may research a narwhal hunt for instance, and then make decisions about the dangers young hunters face. Perhaps they’ll illustrate how to navigate Baffin’s frigid waters that rush and rock in unpredictable rhythms against fifteen foot ice chunks.
Use this two-footed question to keep learners engaged: What preparations would you make to hunt at dangerous arctic floe edges where polar sea adventures take place on Baffin Island?
Students respond with their left brain’s logical abilities as they sequence arctic hunters’ skills. They also awaken right brain story-telling abilities when they capture and share Inuit hunting tales as they see or might experience them.
Do your students enjoy ocean life? If so, challenge them to compare arctic narwhal sounds to familiar whale communications, by asking: How would you compare narwhal sounds to beluga sounds and what do these sounds tell you?
Answers will vary but may include the fact that belugas make more human like sounds and mimic vocals in heavily populated areas, while narwhals’ clicks, squeals, trills and whistles help in navigation and hunting adventures.
It’s a bit like splashing radiant colors onto canvass so that both sides of your own brain leaps into life. Two-footed questions convert ordinary minds into expert problem solvers, by engaging both sides of the brain. Simply stated they unleash beauty within art and unpack discovery within science.
Your students will challenge both intellect and emotions, as they interweave differences across their brains in ways that rock both science and art into action. The two-footed questions simply set the stage for problem-solving, invite ambiguity and elicit discovery, as illustrated below:
One foot asks: What are the main points, functions or problems? – which invite students to consider, compare or analyze content. The answers to one-footed questions provide facts to engage, but fail to engage the learner’s interest to apply innovations that draw on these facts.
Would you agree that’s why significant change rarely occurs from some typical lessons learned?
Foot two asks: … how will these facts jumpstart your own actions? You could say that the second foot jump starts adventure. How so?
Check out the questions in this post to see action is generated from new facts or concepts. It’s quite straightforward, yet it requires a two – pronged design to draw from both sides of the brain.
To design two-footed questions for any unit or lesson, ask yourself:
- Will the question lead to investigation and original applications?
- Will challenges lead to novel actions that can be evidenced?
- Will responses integrate arts and sciences, much as inventors do?
- Will students find good motivation to sustain future investigations?
- Did the question motivate personal involvement to answer?
- Will students care enough to invest curiosity and enthusiasm?
- Will responses include and engage opposing views?
- Will the query lead to further reflections, such as “where to from here?”
- Was there opportunity to play with, What if possibilities?
- What parts of an Inuit community could unlock new adventures in yours?
- What dreams might an Inuit student share with you and your friends?
- What climate concerns do you share with Inuit leaders?
- How would you prepare a typical Inuit meal for your friends?
- What music would you and Inuit students most enjoy together?
- What do you share in common with Inuit students and how do you differ?
- What would you want to learn first before moving into an Inuit community?
What will you ask to spark wonder in your next class?
Two-Footed Questions are also illustrated in Dr. Ellen Weber’s book, Mita Strategies in the Classroom and Beyond: Using Roundtable Learning, originally published (2005) with Pearson Education Inc., New York: NY.