Teacher Roadmaps - Research Question

Good Questions Come from Examining the Ideas Closely

Careful observations of interesting phenomena can be a powerful generating force for questions. What typically limits students from asking "good" questions is depth of background knowledge and context to connect ideas. You can help students begin to organize their experiences around big themes by how you sequencing your guiding questions about their potential research questions.

Encourage students to use the evidence from their initial classroom experiences, life experiences, and background research to formulate questions. Even if their questions are expansive, have them write them down. Have them think them through in team or class discussions what makes a question scientifically meaningful.

What's wrong with pouring soda on plants?

OK. So we all know we water plants. And pouring sodas on plants might seem like a clever idea. But is it scientifically sound? Is there a model for soda and plant growth? Would farmers be interested in watering their fields with soda? Although you, your students, and their online mentors could spend some time turning this into scientifically sound model (and it might be useful to think about how to make this scientifically sound by discussing confounding variables), it's not a bad idea to take that option off the table for now.

This is a critical time to call on the online scientist mentors to help guide students.

  • Have students vet a set of possible research questions together with their mentor. Vetting several possible questions rather than having students suggest one question they would like to study is an effective strategy. Students may be reluctant to alter their initial idea even if the question is not scientifically sound.
  • Let the mentors know when your students will need to finalize their research questions so this time-sensitive online communication works efficiently.
  • Ask the scientists to focus on specific concepts in reviewing the question and prediction if students are struggling with particular aspects.


However, the scientists should NOT choose a research question or plan for your students! Ownership plays a significant role as a motivator for students to intellectually invest in a learning activity.

Through these discussions student ideas may be refined, as large questions are broken down to smaller manageable ones and multiple and confounding variables become evident.

Non-testable questions can also sometimes be turned into testable questions, although this can be difficult.

See also the Research Questions Resources for Students and Mentors.


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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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