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Implications of Feminist Critique of Science Teaching

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Sandy Hook and the ‘Abandoned Gunman’

Sandy Hook and the ‘Abandoned Gunman’ … by Kru Dhon

After shooting his mother at home, Adam Lanza, 20, passed through the gate of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 Grade 1 students and six teachers, including the Principal, and before taking his own life.  Who is he?

According to news reports, Adam Lanza was a top-of-the-class student in middle school.  He might have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, which affects social skills.  His school counselor recommended a psychologist.  His mother, who took care of his homeschooling, was in the process of choosing a college for him, while trying to get him serious mental care.

As a teacher, I have been focusing on understanding who Adam Lanza was.  The massacre was not the result of just his argument with Sandy Hook teachers the day before.  The process had started many years earlier. This included his physical and mental state, as well as his family situation.  Adam’s parents were divorced when he was 14, the early phase of a teenager.  He had lived with, and was homeschooled by, his mother, who was reportedly anxious about obtaining guns to protect her property in the time of economic instability.  Nothing was said about his homeschooling activities, except that he was always in his room playing computer games.  Is this good for student with special needs, especially with poor social skills?

After the massacre, President Obama came to Newtown to meet with the survivors and the families of the victims.  He vowed to “take a meaningful action” to prevent another such tragedy.  As we can see, debates for and against gun control have been following in the ensuing weeks.  Questions have also been raised about healing the survivors.  Nothing much has been said in the public forum about how the education system could help students like Adam Lanza and prevent such tragedies.

Luckily, Thailand has not experienced this kind of outrageous mass killing.  As we are entering a new phase of development with the ASEAN Community and unanticipated changes coming along with the 21st Century, are our school and education systems ready to support students?  Are schools and families aware that students with Autism, Asperger’s, learning disorders (LDs), or psychological needs (such as low-self esteem, trauma, depression, school refusal, Schizophrenia, etc.) exist, and at what percentages in the school system?  And how are they cared for?  Are these statistics even available in Thailand?

Although some forms of disorders cannot be cured, most students can be trained to live happily with other people and successfully contribute to society.  In many schools, however, these students are called “the last row students”, and teachers do not bother to do anything with them (usually after punishing them violently and making them hate school). Many students who fall into this category are expelled in order to end the trouble for the school.

My mentor, Ajarn Sasithorn Paiteekul, once told me that if we did not take care of these students and properly deal with violence in schools, expelling them will eventually victimize the society, just as in the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School (as well as Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and others — see links

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Concept Mapping in a Child Centred Classroom

Concept Mapping in a Child Centred Classroom

By Dr Don W Jordan and Ms Ellen Cornish

Dr Don Jordan and MS Ellen Cornish are regular contributors to Their fourth article provides ideas for teachers who improve or add to their skills in student centred learning.

Don taught in primary schools in Tasmania. His perspective has been enriched by his work with disaffected students in the United Kingdom and with Bachelor of Education students in the Gaza Strip and working with curriculum developers and teachers on behalf of UNICEF in the Maldives.

In March 2011, Don was invited by the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation, to evaluate the leadership, curriculum, resources and teacher training and experience, at the Mechai Pattana Secondary School in north eastern Thailand, in preparation for it to become a demonstration school for the proposed Teacher Training Institute.

Don has a strong interest in the philosophical and theoretical place of computers in primary classrooms in Tasmania, and their effect on students’ learning, behaviour and social development.


_________________________ ________________________________________________

Ellen Cornish has had 33 years’ experience teaching in Tasmanian schools. She has taught in both primary and district high schools during that time. She has spent time in senior management roles within the school setting. Ellen has also held the positions of treasurer and president of the Early Childhood Educators of Tasmania Association. She has led many professional learning sessions for her colleagues and is skilled in the mentoring and training of pre-qualification teacher trainees, newly qualified teachers and teachers who experience difficulties and those re-entering the profession. Teaching in Korea helped to enrich her experience as an educator.

In March 2011the Mechai Viravaidya Foundation invited her to evaluate the leadership, curriculum, resources and teacher training and experience, at the Mechai Pattana Secondary School in north eastern Thailand. She was also asked to make recommendations for improvements to help bring the school up to the standard required to support the development of a teacher training institute.

She is skilled in providing a creative and challenging program where her students are encouraged to develop their own strengths as well as to take on board responsibility for their own learning and behaviour. She strongly believes that all children can reach their full potential by being given the appropriate guidance within an environment that is non-threatening and one which fosters self-belief. She has expertise in the education of children with disabilities as well as those with challenging behaviour and their ability to function within the mainstream school. One of her passions is to foster creativity in children. In order to facilitate this successfully she has regularly updated her skills by enrolling in professional learning courses. An example of this was a drawing course with the Art School, University of Tasmania.

Concept Mapping in a Child Centred Classroom

Concepts maps (graphic organizers) are powerful classroom strategies that can be used in all phases of learning from brainstorming ideas to presenting findings.

Mind mapping is one of the many powerful graphic organising strategies that can assist teachers with their planning towards a Child Centred Learning classroom, as well as assisting their students to develop creative and critical thinking skills.

Brain storming is central to mind mapping, giving students the opportunity to put forward their ideas. The basis of brainstorming is generating new ideas in a group situation, based on the principle of suspending judgment, where students are encouraged and supported to confidently offer their thoughts and suggestions. Critical thinking skills are essential in helping to evaluate how successful these new ideas are.

The creative and critical thinking potential of a mind map is central to effective brainstorming sessions. Starting with the basic idea as the centre, associations and ideas are generated from it in order to arrive at a large number of different possible approaches. By presenting thoughts and perceptions in a spatial manner and by using colour and pictures, a better overview is gained and new connections can be easily seen.

Writing is an extension of thinking; the brain thinks centrally then branches out, so the way thoughts are organised on paper is significant. To fold a piece of paper in concertina fashion to create a crease for writing is very limiting as information is only presented in a linear way.  The human brain does not work only in a linear way, but works associatively as well as linearly – comparing, integrating and synthesizing as it goes. Association plays a dominant role in nearly every mental function, and words themselves are no exception. Every single word and idea has numerous links attaching it to other ideas and concepts. Mind mapping can allow students to develop other strategies, instead of a strict predetermined linear pathway.

These strategies help students of all ages to better manage learning objectives and achieve academic success. Students are required to evaluate and interpret information from a variety of sources, incorporate new knowledge with what they have learned already, and improve writing and critical thinking skills. Paired with the brain’s capacity for images, visual learning strategies help students better understand and retain information.

Mind maps can be used individually or in large groups. For example, in our classrooms, we found it productive to create a class concept map as a large group both at the beginning of a unit of work and then again at the end, as part of our assessment process. It also proved a useful way to develop a character map while reading a book aloud to the class. These concept maps are particularly useful in activities that require critical thinking skills.

We found in our classrooms that mind mapping helped our students in the following ways;

  • Helps students brainstorm and explore any idea, concept, or problem.
  • Facilitates better understanding of relationships and connections between ideas and concepts.
  • Makes it easier to communicate new ideas and thought processes.
  • Allows students to easily recall information.
  • Helps students take notes and plan tasks for more detailed investigation.
  • Makes it easier to organize ideas and concepts.

It is not enough just to develop a mind map, which is an integral part, but it is only the beginning of the journey, a plan. A mind map does not demonstrate the depth of understanding that students need to develop in order to help them make connections within the topic. Mind maps are used as a beginning strategy to help students navigate their way through their journey on the way to developing a deeper understanding of the topic.

The graphic organiser entitled “Food” included with this article demonstrates the integrating and synthesizing potential of a mind map. This article can be linked to our previous article “Feel Good Feel Great”[1]



Tony Buzan.


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Learning In The Market

Learning in the Market   by Professor Jurgen Zimmer

Learning in the market means learning amidst insecurity. In every business decision, a risk is inherent. With a wrong decision, economic sanctions will sooner or later come into effect. Good decisions lead ultimately to higher takings. Entrepreneurship is a serious game.

The market is like a school without a schoolhouse, which sometimes manifests itself as an obstacle course, a complex labyrinth, sometimes as a place for lightening-quick decisions, a workshop for tinkerers and inventors, an Ashram for the reception of otherworldly inspiration, an office for unusual measures, a stock exchange of ideas, a show-ground; it allows input from school-less teachers in various roles: as competing entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, managers, business partners, inventors, customers, enemies and friends. The teaching and learning materials stem from reality and are often home-made. This school, having next to nothing in common with the institution of the same name run by educators, finances itself.

Oh yes, and neither are there grades – the customers express their approval or displeasure in Euros and Cents. Exams are no longer short-term events with dubiously little long-term value: the consumers continue to spread their praise or their aspersion. The consumers force entrepreneurs to keep on learning, to constantly gain new competences in their field and produce new ideas. If they take the first early warning signals seriously enough, producers usually have enough time to readjust to the increased or changed demands of their customers before failing to meet the class target – ending with a balanced account sheet. Repeating the grade does happen when entrepreneurs pay too little attention to the market or get out of their depths, but there are no permanent expulsions from this school – new beginnings are also possible. And no one who’s there as an entrepreneur needs to be motivated because they’re motivated already, and the more fascinated they are by the game, the less they worry about timetables and vacation, they want to be there day and night.

Click here to read full article (.pdf)…
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Melvin Freestone .

Melvin Freestone

B.A., B.A.(Mod), M.A., H.Dip.Ed., M.Sc.

Consultant for Educational and Community Development


Educated at University of Dublin, Trinity College, Melvin Freestone has extensive experience in teaching as well as in school and curriculum development in primary and secondary schools. He has held Senior Teaching positions in Ireland and Tasmania.  Until recently he was Principal of Montagu Bay Primary School in Tasmania.

Melvin was Project Leader for the development of the National Statement and Curriculum Profile in Technology Education for the Commonwealth Government of Australia. He has been responsible for numerous curriculum projects in primary and secondary education, science and technology, and personal development. He has played a major role in the development and implementation of ICT for learning in Tasmanian schools. He has also been deeply involved in the Essential Learnings Project and the New Tasmanian Curriculum.

As well as being an experienced educator, he is a molecular biologist who has carried out research into the hospital pathogen Staphylococcus aureus.  He is also a keen sportsperson and has a love of classical music.

Melvin carried out a review of Technology Education in Pacific Rim countries for the OECD’s Pacific Circle Consortium. He has conducted residential programs for primary and secondary teachers in Thailand in association with the University of Tasmania. He is currently working with teachers in Nepal, India, and Thailand.

He has played a leadership role in many community development projects including being a founding member and President of Project Hahn Inc., a member of the Port Arthur Recovery Committee [Tasmania] and has facilitated the development and work of many community organizations.  He has a special interest in the development and provision of wilderness therapy for young people.

Melvin focuses on empowerment of the people with whom he works.  He works collaboratively – ‘at the shoulder’ – with educational leaders, senior staff, teachers, parents and members of school and local communities.  His experience and expertise enhance dialogue and action.

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Questions….Questions….Questions – Part 3

Part 3

Questions and Teaching

By Melvin Freestone, September 2012.

The role of teachers in ‘learner led’ education shifts to one of facilitator, coach, critical friend, manager, and where appropriate expert. In so doing they help learners to-

  • Connect with the subject matters deemed important for living and working in the twenty first century, including those set out by various curriculum authorities
  • Deepen their thinking and understanding within existing areas of experience as well as engage with new fields inquiry and endeavour
  • Make diverse connections within and between different ideas and practices, and thereby become more innovative and resourceful
  • Become independent and control their own learning without overlooking important issues, ideas, values and skills they need to explore and develop, and
  • Ground their learning in ‘real-life’ contexts and challenges related to their everyday lives.

The challenge for teachers is one of flexibility and agility in facilitating and managing learners to work individually and in groups of varying sizes, and to use available learning spaces well.  Directing learners to different sources, providing input and where appropriate direct teaching are just as important in ‘learner led’ education as they have been at any time in the past.

Focus questions can be used in increasingly sophisticated ways as learning proceeds.  A pattern of progressive development is outlined in the table.


Focus question

Progressive Development


Making simple connections around factual material and observations from investigations
Searching for explanations and discovering different combinations Exploring interrelationships, consequences, impacts and interventions as well as potential actions Extrapolating explanations, actions, interrelationships and consequences to different contexts
How is it changing? Change can be observed, examined and recorded Change in particular situations has causes and effects Change has consequences that can be predicted and impacts modified

Consequences and impacts of change can vary and be varied in different contexts

What is our responsibility? Actions by individuals and groups affect other people Choices can have positive and negative effects people and systems Informed choices require reliable information, balanced judgements and actions Principles for making balanced judgements and taking action vary in different contexts
What is it like? The features of ‘things’ can be observed and recorded Different aspects of ‘things’ and how they fit together can be explained Relationships between different aspects of ‘things’ can be explained and effects predicted Generalisations about form, structure and design can be applied in different contexts
How does it work? How different aspects of ‘things’ work together can be investigated How different ‘things’ interact with each other can be explained Interactions, sequences and mechanisms within ‘things’ can be explained and predicted Generalisations about the functioning of systems can be applied in different contexts
Why is it like it is? The consequences of ideas and actions can be observed and recorded Causes and effects can be explained and consequences predicted Analysis of causes and effects identifies the value of ideas, actions and means to intervene Generalisations about ‘cause and effect’ can be applied in different contexts and systems
How is it connected to other things? The connections between ‘things’ can be observed, mapped and recorded The way ‘things’ are connected explains their significance, impact and value Interactions within and between ‘things’ can be understood and appropriate action taken Generalisations about interrelationships between systems apply in many contexts
How is it ethical? The worth of things and the values and beliefs behind them can be described Values, cultures, and backgrounds affect how people think and act Values, beliefs and views on the worth of things can change with time and circumstance Generalisations around values-beliefs-worth help in understanding different communities

The range of explorative questions that can be applied in pursuit of focus questions is diverse.  Careful consideration needs to be given to where they might fit into different stages in inquiry processes with the precise language determined by what learners are doing, want to do, can do and need to do.  Consequently, the actual questions posed may be quite distant from the samples of ‘starters’ that follow.

Spotlight on querying samples only

  • What are you assuming?
  • What is ____ assuming?
  • Is there something we could assume instead?
  • You seem to be assuming ____ why?
  • Do I/we understand you correctly?
  • Why are you confident ____ it is right and works?
  • In what ways does your thinking depend on ____?
  • Why have you based you reasoning on ____?
  • Could you explain and justify your reasoning for ____?
  • Is ____ always the case or likely to be the case?
  • Why do you think this ____ holds here?
  • Why should people make this ____ assumption?
  • What are the contradictions in ____?

Spotlight on clarifying samples only

  • What do you mean by ____?
  • Could you use an example to explain ____?
  • What are the main points in ____?
  • Is your basic point ____?
  • Would ____be an example that works for you?
  • In what ways does this ____ relate to ____?
  • Could you explain ____further?
  • Could ____ be put another way?
  • Do you mean ____ or ____ or something different?
  • How does ____relate to what we are trying to do?
  • Would you summarise ____ for us?
  • Could you explain what we should take that to mean?
  • What is the range of issues or things involved in ____?

Spotlight on reasoning samples only

  • What would be an example of ____?
  • How did you come to know and understand ____?
  • Can you explain the evidence for ____?
  • What difference does ____ make to the idea ____?
  • What are your reasons for saying ____?
  • Could you explain your reasons to us?
  • Is there any reason to doubt ____ evidence?
  • Is there any other evidence that could be gathered?
  • Can you explain the thinking in coming to the idea __?
  • How could you find out if __ is right, wrong or just OK?
  • What might to improve our reasoning around ____?
  • Do you think these ____ reasons are adequate?
  • Why do you hold the viewpoint that ____?
  • What led you to believe ____?
  • How does ____ apply in this case?
  • Would more information about ____ help and why?
  • Who is or might be in position to know ____?

Spotlight on viewpoints samples only

  • Which perspective are you coming from on this issue?
  • Why have you chosen ____ perspective?
  • How might others respond to the idea that ____?
  • Why do people hold ____ idea, view or opinion?
  • What is influencing ____ ?
  • How could you respond to the objection that ____?
  • What would someone who believed ____ think?
  • Does everyone see ____ the same way?
  • What would be alternatives ways of looking at ____?
  • Where do the ideas or beliefs that ____ come from?
  • In whose interests is ____?
  • Could any conflicts arise from different viewpoints?
  • In what ways might conflict between ___ be resolved?
  • What strategies are useful resolving these __ conflicts?
  • Who holds ____ views and why?
  • Are there other views and opinions involved in __?
  • What might happen if we combined these ____ views?

Spotlight on consequence samples only

  • What are you implying by ____ ?
  • If ____ happened what else might happen as a result?
  • Why do you think ____ might happen?
  • What effect might ____ have?
  • What is the probability that ____ will happen?
  • What are some alternative possibilities?
  • If ____ were the case then what else must be right?
  • When people say ____ what might they be implying?
  • Can you describe the viewpoints affecting ____ ?
  • How are these ____values and beliefs affecting ____?
  • What is the likely impact of ____?
  • Do you think what might happen from __ is desirable?
  • In what ways is ____ affecting the environment?
  • Could ____ feelings and emotions be involved in ____?
  • How might personal feelings and emotions affect ____
  • If we ___ what do you think is likely outcome or result?

Spotlight on speculation samples only

  • What might happen if ____?
  • Could it be that ____?
  • Could ____ hypothesis explain what is happening?
  • What do you think is likely to happen next?
  • In what ways could ____ be improved?
  • What if we were to redesign it this way ____?
  • Do you think we can modify ____ in some way?
  • Are their better ideas to guide what we should do?
  • Could you come up with a better theory for ____?
  • Do you think ____ might achieve our goals?
  • Are there some ‘stepping stones’ to help our thinking?
  • How might we remake ____ to improve how it works?
  • Can you put forward an argument to dispute ____?
  • Do we need to consider other issues and viewpoints?
  • Could you redesign your ideas and concepts for ____?
  • How might people’s feelings be involved in ____?

Spotlight on ethical issues samples only

  • What do you think the values are behind ____?
  • Is ____ an appropriate way to act or behave?
  • In what ways are values and beliefs involved in ____?
  • How are ____ cultural issues influencing ____?
  • If we say ____ is ethical, is this ____ ethical too?
  • Is it right for people to ____?
  • What is the ethical reasoning behind ____?
  • In what circumstances are ____ ethical reasons OK?
  • Why do you think ____ is not such a good idea
  • Who are the main ‘players’ or groups in ____?
  • In who’s interests is ____ being proposed or promoted?
  • What ethical issues are connected with ____?
  • Why do you think ____ is important?
  • What is the value of ____ idea or ____ action?
  • Do you think it is fair and reasonable to ____?
  • Why do you think ____ is causing so much argument?
  • What would you like to happen in ____ situation?
  • How might personal preferences be involved in ____?

Spotlight on alternatives samples only

  • What are all the questions you can ask about ____?
  • In what ways might we think of ____ of doing it differently?
  • In what ways could ____ be improved?
  • Do other people think the same way about ____?
  • Could you give different explanations for ____?
  • Can you think of new ways for combining ____ ?
  • What if we looked ____ from a different point of view?
  • If ____ is not available what else could we use or do?
  • Could more than one theory explain ____ and why?
  • Why do you think ____ idea is better than ____ idea ?
  • Why is ____ preferable over other ways of doing ____?
  • Do you think this ____ might work better if ____ ?
  • Could you think of a different idea or way to do ____ ?
  • Could ____ or ____ be done in another way?
  • In what ways might personal preferences affect ____?
  • What is the range of emotions involved in ____?
  • How might emotions and feelings be affecting ____?
  • Are there a different ways of handling ____ emotions?

The artistry involved in combining generative questions, focus questions and explorative questions is demanding.  The extract from a teacher’s planning for an inquiry entitled Our Country illustrates how different types of question can be incorporated into an inquiry in a carefully sequenced combination.

Our Country

Introductory performances

  • Pose the generative questionwhat has happened, what is happening, what will happen in the future?.
  • Display issues that emerge as a simple web or mind map on the thinking wall.
  • Negotiate focus questions to shape studies – namely, How is it changing? and Why is it like it is?
  • Have learners gather information and memorabilia or artifacts from home about a historical event.
  • Identify explorative questions from discussion of the generative question and focus questions.
  • Have learners select a topic from our history and define issues – past, present and future – in relation to it.
  • Ask learners to identify sources of information related to the explorative questions they have identified.

Guided performances

  • Have whole class discuss significant events in our history around the focus questions.
  • Require learners choose a significant historical event for detailed investigation.
  • Refine direction for study based on explorative questions, learners’ interests and prior knowledge.
  • Have learners source resources like the Internet, books, newspapers, photos, artefacts, memorabilia…   .
  • Require learners to select and use graphic organisers for displaying information and ‘writing up’ projects.
  • Direct learners to examine causes and effects and predict possibilities in relation to the focus questions.
  • Have learners draw conclusions on how historical events shape the way we act and the way we think.
  • Tease out issues like identity, systems, sustainability and diversity to explain how our country is evolving.

Culminating performances

Require learners to-

  • Create their own fictitious ‘event’ in our country which will become a historical event over time
  • Produce a ‘viewmaster’ display of snippets of history they have researched
  • Present an analytical report in relation to past, present and future possibilities.

Give learners the following ‘instruction’ to guide the presentations of their work.

Using the knowledge you have gained indicate ‘what is happening now’ and make some reasonable assumptions about ‘what might happen’ in the next 50 years.  Your presentation must be about the specific area you researched and you should acknowledge all resources used or referred to in your presentation.  Presentations may be in the form of reports, multimedia productions, slide shows, dramatic role plays, posters, models…, or whatever, and combinations of these.

The pursuit of answers to questions opens up opportunities for working collaboratively with others.  The shared action that results exposes different perceptions of experience, different interpretations, different understandings and different ways of making sense of experience.  Rich learning accrues from appreciation and exploration of these differences.

Collaborative communities of learners generate all kinds of leadership opportunities.  Provided the environment is appreciative and supportive what learners can achieve should be no surprise just a rewarding manifestation of their capabilities.  ‘Natural leaders’, previously hidden, often emerge through shared action, personal recognition and community celebration.

When the burgeoning of computer based resources, often referred to as ICT, is added into the equation some learners may be more up-to-date in a given area than teachers.  Hence the power of knowledge is more evenly shared than when rote learning and didactic teaching dominate.  Yet the need for guidance and expertise from teachers to enable learners to move from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ remains unchanged.

Building learners’ capacity to ask effective questions is essential for life-long learning.  The personal empowerment gained is huge.

To go to part 1 or 2 of the series, click here.
Part 1 Question and Learning
Part 2 Question and Direction
About the author – Melvin Freestone
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Questions….Questions….Questions – Part 1

Part 1

Questions and Learning

By Melvin Freestone, September 2012.

Generative questions are gateways to inquiry, focus questions shape learning and explorative questions direct learning.  Each type of question has a particular value, role and function in learning.  When they are used in combination, they become powerful and empowering beyond words.

By way of analogy – generative questions paint the big picture, focus questions provide the colour and texture, and explorative questions give the detail.  An artist looking at or creating a work of art sees the overall picture at the same time as the detail and nuance.

What are generative questions like?

Generative questions are open-ended and challenging with multiple answers and lines of inquiry.  Theybuild on previous experience and interests, identify relevant prior knowledge and understanding, open up areas for exploration and investigation, focus thinking without cutting off possibilities, promote diverse ways of learning, and integrate learning across different fields.

Generative questions can be applied in all fields of learning as the examples illustrate.

  • Who cares about air and why?
  • What’s the strongest bridge we can make from the pages of a newspaper?
  • In how many different ways can we make up the number 144, 14.4 and 1.44?
  • In what ways could we use the idea of ‘pattern’ to create Art works?
  • How might computer graphics best be incorporated into our multimedia production?
  • What metaphors could we use to help us design a city?
  • In what ways could we reconstruct the fable, the fairy story, the fanciful happening…  ?
  • How might we produce literature that would encourage people to act on ‘climate change’?
  • In what ways are cultures and ethical issues affecting research activity in agriculture?

Questions like these open up learning and as such act as gateways for inquiry.

What are focus questions like?

Focus questions shape learning.  They represent loci around which connections can be made and understandings of the world can be constructed.  Each focus question in the set that follows has been labeled with a key word.  Which one is, or ones are, appropriate for a particular inquiry depends on the subject matter, the purposes behind the inquiry and the learning needs of learners.

  • How is it changing?

Change is the process of movement from one state to another.  It is universal and inevitable.  The key word is Change.

  • What is our responsibility?

People are not passive observers.  They must make choices and in so doing can make a difference.  The key word is Responsibility.

  • What is it like?

Everything has a form with recognisable features which can be observed, identified, described and categorised.  The key word is Form.

  • How does it work?

Everything has a purpose, a role or a way of behaving which can be investigated.  The key word is Function.

  • Why is it like it is?

Things do not just happen.  There are causal relationships at work and actions have consequences.  The key word is Causation.

  • How is it connected to other things?

We live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others.  The key word is Connection.

  • How is it ethical?

Ethical reasoning focus attention on the worth of values, ideas and actions and their implications in particular situations.  The key word is Ethical.

 Focus questions are ‘through-lines’ for learning and going on learning throughout life.  Change, responsibility, form, function, causation, connection and ethical – are so fundamental as to be ‘building blocks’ around which learners can cluster the connections they make and thereby construct their understandings.  In this way they can build dynamic networks of connections in their minds: networks that are continually changing with emerging experience and as different patterns and relationships become apparent.

How do explorative questions work?

Explorative questions direct action.  They make it easy for learners to see the kind of thinking required and what they need to do.  A sample of explorative questions addressed by learners at different stages in pursuing the generative question – Who cares about air and why? – follow.

  • Defining Issues

> What are the critical elements involved in maintaining and improving of air quality?

> Why is air quality important?

  • Gathering Information

> What are the most relevant Internet sites we can research to find out about air quality?

> How could we design experiments to test air quality?

  • Devising Alternatives

> In what ways could air quality be improved in outdoor and indoor environments?

> What options for looking after our air quality would be most effective and why?

  • Drawing Conclusions

> Are there any patterns or trends in the information we have collected?

> What is the best explanation of and solution for different problems affecting air quality?

  • Making Judgements

> Can we prioritise actions and their consequences to improve air quality?

> How might we include the steps in our thinking in the PowerPoint or brochure on preventing air pollution?

  • Being fair-minded

> What steps should we take to determine bias and detect false information?

> Were the procedures we used balanced and reasonable?

In ’learner led’ education the questions that really count are those that asked by students.  Avalanches of teacher questions, which have been so prevalent in past practices, followed almost in the same breath by teachers providing the answers needs to be confined to the annals of history.

Wouldn’t it be terrific if learning programs were transformed around questions that resonate with learners and at the same time are derived from the values, understandings, concepts, and skills needed for life and work in modern societies?  Given the current state of the art of education, such an outcome would seem to many people to be just another pipe-dream.  May be one day it might be a different story.

To go to part 2 of the series, click here.
Part 2 Questions and Direction
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Questions….Questions….Questions – Part 2

Part 2

Questions and Direction

By Melvin Freestone, September 2012.

The world is full of talk about where education needs to be going in the twenty first century.  To many this conversation appears light on realistic ways of acting.  Perhaps consideration of questions as drivers might help to bridge talk and action.

Two fundamental issues underpin the conversation.  The first centers on the much discussed need to promote ‘thinking’ among learners and what that means for learning environments.  The second is the shift towards ‘student centered’ learning.

Thinking is instigated by asking questions around which learners can make connections within and between different aspects of their experience.  At times the thinking may be critical or analytical where pulling thoughts together is in the ‘frame’, and at other times it may be creative or imaginative where searching for innovative ideas and practices is in the ‘frame’.

For a moment in time being critical or being creative may predominate, but over time both will be in full voice.  A ferment or argument between the two is created in learners’ minds from which possibilities, ideas and actions are generated.  The overall ‘flow’ from asking questions to making connections is illustrated in the diagram.


 Intelligent thinking is a dynamic multi-layered process of intention, strategy and process.

  • Is the intention primarily focused on – innovation, originality, novelty and inventiveness, or on deduction, analysis, synthesis and decision?
  • In what ways can strategies or broad courses of action aid pursuit of questions emanating from the intentions that have identified?
  • Which processes are best for – defining Issues, gathering Information, devising alternatives, drawing conclusions, making judgements, and being fair-minded – as questions are explored and answers generated?

Growing appreciation that learners make unique connections within and between different aspects of their experience is fuelling a shift towards more ‘student centered’ learning.  Even if they ask the same questions and have identical experiences learners formulate their own connections.  They may come to similar understandings but they get there by different routes.

The metaphor of ‘student centered’ often tends to polarize conversations into an ‘either/or’ trap.  Instead, ‘learner led’ might be more insightful as gives strong direction yet implies partnerships between learners and teachers in the construction of learning.  Key features in a shift to ‘learner led’ include.

‘Learner led’ education is more likely to become a reality if learners generate the questions.  But questions posed by teachers can be just as valuable provided they are clearly understood by the learners.  Either way the questions being addressed need to be in the learners’ minds.

Asking questions and pursuing answers to them begets exploration and inquiry.  To be truly powerful the discourse needs to be deliberate, systematic and structured.  As a consequence learning is deeper than it might otherwise be with answers continually opening up more of the unknown.  In stark contrast, the mediocrity emanating from repetitive rote learning does little to stimulate learners especially when the agenda is solely owned by teachers.

Questions are thus means and ends to learning.  Asking them and seeking answers to them is a shared enterprise between learners and teachers, parents and other people in the community.  Their effective use goes a long way in creating learning communities that encourage-

  • Being curious and questioning generated through inquiring, wondering, posing problems, probing further and looking beyond what is given or immediately apparent
  • Thinking broadly and adventurously predicated on exploring alternative points of view, being open minded, being flexible, trying new things and ideas, and being playful
  • Reasoning clearly and carefully promoted through seeking clarity, gaining understanding, being precise and thorough, and remaining alert to possible error
  • Constructing inquiries built around being orderly and logical, being strategic, thinking ahead, approaching things in a calculated and methodical fashion, and
  • Giving thinking time provided by devoting time and effort to critical and creative thinking around a diverse range of challenges in many different situations and contexts.

Deep thinking and deep understanding result with the unknown becoming progressively more visible, if not mysterious.  As Einstein observed – The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true Art and Science.

Questions explode the mysterious!!!

To go to part 1 or 3 of the series, click here.
Part 1 Question and Learning
Part 3 Question and Teaching
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What Should be Taught to Our Children in the 21st Century: A Student Centered Learning Approach. By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D.

To paraphrase U.S. President Bill Clinton’s famous election mantra “it’s the economy, stupid”, my answer to what should be taught to students in the 21st century is:  it’s the three R’s, stupid.

I don’t mean this in the tradition of conservative educators who periodically rise up in the middle of a progressive education moment and declare that the education system must get back to basics, that kids need to learn to read and to do their numbers. Still, I am strong in the belief that children should  learn to read at an early age. And this means being read to before attending primary school. I am painfully aware of the “Matthew Effect” where students who have not mastered reading in the early primary years are unlikely to ever catch up. Nevertheless, the bye- gone days of “See Dick run” and See Jane run”  of the traditional children’s readers do not fulfill the demands of the 21th century where problems like climate change, the  threat of nuclear disaster, and air and water pollution must be solved through collective ingenuity and collective agreement.

So I am not in favor of just teaching Johnny to read “See Jane run”,  or in mathematics  class for Johnny to learn simply by rote. My position is that children must be coached in asking questions and then seeking answers both individually and collectively.  So, Johnny needs to be coached to ask:  “Where is Jane  running and why is she going there?  Why isn’t Jane walking? What is the condition of the path she is running on? Is it safe?  What does Jane look like?  Is she happy?  After wondering about these questions  a child should be able to consult her or his peers to find out what they are wondering about.  Similarly, in math class practical problems  involving a student’s daily life need to be the norm.

I realize that these arguments have  been raging for  centuries with the volume being turned up considerably  at this dawn of the 21st century.  What is different now is that with the benefit of cognitive science we know more about how to go about coaching students on how to go about problem solving.

We know more about how the mind makes associations and more about how students reach a deep understanding  of a subject and the problems associated with that subject. As teachers, we learn to help our students improve  meta-cognition, that is how they go about thinking about subject or problem. In sum, students should be helped to develop strategies on how to think in order to solve a problem.  In reading, for example, we have a group of strategies that can be taught to dramatically increase reading comprehension.

I am deliberately using the word coaching instead of teaching simply because we sometimes understand the word teaching to mean lecturing, a one way communication from teacher to student. I am of the school that this method is highly ineffective for many, perhaps most, learning.  Much more effective, is the teacher learning with the student and helping the student teach themselves or each other.  This goes  back to what Socrates believed: we learn best when we discover the answers ourselves.

This approach to learning  translates into the 21st classroom looking and feeling much different from  the traditional classroom that has the teacher in front of the class and the student  lined up in a rows waiting to be taught.  A more congenial configuration for the 21st century is a flexible seating arrangement where students can quickly work in pairs or groups  or go to separate tables where they can work on projects.  The teacher is much more a participant in the learning process, not the fountain of all knowledge. Learning and questions are shared by everyone in the class.  One label used to identify this type of learning and classroom is called student centered learning. Part of this process is broken into other rubrics called project based learning, inquiry based learning,  peer based learning and activity based learning just to mention a few.  In all these types of learning a common feature  is what some refer to as the scientific method approach.  Put in another way, using deductive reasoning. The process starts with framing the question or problem to be solved; making observations; forming a hypotheses; making logical deductions and then testing these deductions or conducting an experiment.  In short, while it is important what is taught (the curriculum) it is equally important how we coach (teach) students in the 21 century, that is, how students go about learning.

So, let’s get to the heart of the matter:  what should be the core, universal learning competencies we want future generations to have.

You know from my opening salvo, that common sense tells us that knowing how to read, I mean really read, is the essential skill to be mastered and should be mastered thoroughly in primary education.  And I have touched on what real reading means: i.e. deep understanding.  Perhaps you can think of this as the floor to one’s education. We build from there.

By dwelling on reading, I did not mean to ignore the other essential skills needed in the 21st century. If we continue to use the analogy of building a house, we can think of working together as the skill needed to actually plan and put together the house along with the scientific and math skills to make sure all is plumb and well-fitting.

Thus, of  particular importance are what some call life skills and what I call social skills—being able to get along and cooperate with peers and superiors to solve problems and accomplish tasks.  I include in this skill set leadership.  How do we teach leadership?  The partial answer is we provide opportunities for practice starting at an early age. Previously, I mentioned a classroom that is student centered and in that context, the teacher uses project based learning.  Groups that take on complicated projects need to put personal skills to work and these groups must have leadership the group can rely on to successfully complete the project.

This is the information and digital age, yet  I deliberately mentioned first and foremost  gaining the basic skills of reading and writing in the 21st century and acquiring  social skills.

Digital learning follows and has a high place in learning competencies future generations of learners must have.  I continue to believe it is worthwhile to introduce primary school children to computers and computer programs; however, it is in the post primary school years that I think digital learning is critical.  This is the time in a young person’s life when he or she must search for information outside their immediate experience and those people and learning materials students have immediate access to..  It is on the world wide web and many other digital tools where many of these answers can be found.

The International Baccalaureate  three programmes of international education for students aged 3 to 19  represents to date one of the best summations of what international learning standards in the 21st century should look like.  It is a system that should be studied carefully before entering in a newer paradigm.

What I have attempted in this short space it to give the reader an introduction to some of my basic thinking  about what the most important learning competencies for the 21 century are and how those competencies should be learned.

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What can this student say, write, or create to show me they understand what they have been learning?

Assessing Student Learning

This article by two of our regular contributors, Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don Jordan, contributes to the discussion about Child Centred learning as it provides a practical example of how assessment is about more than testing rote learning. The article looks assessment of learning, assessment  for learning and assessment as learning. A comprehensive assessment matrix is provided to support assessment on a unit of work related to the Olympic Games.

Ellen Cornish is a very experienced Early Childhood and Primary School teacher from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Dr Don Jordan had an extensive career in Tasmanian schools and completed his doctorate at Curtin University.

Both Don and Ellen have had experience in other countries, either as visiting teachers or consultants. They have contributed several articles to SCLT.

What can this student say, write, or create to show me they understand what they have been learning?

Ms Ellen Cornish and Dr Don W Jordan

Student assessment is central to effective teaching and learning in a Child Centred classroom, to assist teachers to teach for understanding, and to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. There are many ways to assess student learning, ranging from summative standardized and teacher created tests, to more formative student focussed activities. It is not our intention in this article to summarize the different assessment possibilities, but to discuss the student assessment strategies used in our primary classroom in Tasmania, Australia.

Effective assessment can be in many forms including text based, visual presentations, group discussions, teacher and student initiated rubrics, or some other. We found one useful strategy was to imagine a successful student demonstrating in their chosen way, the thinking and learning we hoped to see from them. A powerful way, best described by Anne Reeves (2011), was to visualize successful learners and ask. “What can this student say, write, or create to demonstrate an understanding of the work that was undertaken? What questions can he answer? What tasks can he perform?”

It was important for us to establish classroom strategies and routines that provided opportunities for our students to demonstrate their learning, in their chosen ways. Depending on the interests and talents of the student, this included text based or art and drama activities or conversations with teachers or classmates. To help us take account of the different talents and abilities demonstrated by our students, we drew on Howard Gardner’s (1983) Multiple Intelligences (MI), to inform our assessment strategies and to provide a useful framework to help us understand that our students have different strengths, learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.

Gardner extends the traditional academic intelligences of linguistic and logical mathematical intelligences (IQ test), to include spatial, visual, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligences. This implies that students generally may engage higher order thinking and problem solving in an area of intellectual strength.

For example, a student gifted in linguistic intelligence may produce a creative and original piece of writing but may struggle with a task that demands high-level spatial awareness. We gave our students the opportunity to foster their intellectual strength and curiosity through a collection of guided choices e.g. art/craft drama, music etc. and teacher directed activities.

This was a powerful way for us to engage our students in learning, whilst giving them opportunities to develop their multiple intelligences. We always ensured that any such choices were under our supervision, thus ensuring students were engaged in activities that fostered a deeper understanding.

We furthered ensured that our students were able to engage in activities at a deeper level by drawing on strategies identified by Benjamin Bloom.

Bloom (1956), identified six levels of understanding, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation and creating. Bloom’s six levels include:

Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory through labelling, listing, memorizing, naming, ordering, recognizing, relating recalling, repeating, reproducing .

Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining.

Applying: choosing, demonstrating, dramatizing, illustrating, interpreting, practicing, scheduling, sketching, solving, using, and writing.

Analysing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing, calculating, comparing, examining.

Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing through arguing assessing, choosing defending, predicting, selecting.

Creating: Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole through reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing, appraising, arguing, assessing, attaching, choosing comparing, defending estimating, judging, predicting, (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001, pp. 67-68)

To enable our students demonstrate their undrstanding, we organised our classroom activities using the Bloom / Gardner matrix, as attached.


Bloom, Benjamin S. & David R. Krathwohl. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York, Longmans.

Gardner, Howard (1983) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.

Anne R Reeves. Where Great Teaching Begins, Planning for Student Thinking and Learning. ASCD 2011.

We have modified the Olympic Games, Gardner / Bloom matrix, created by Miguel Aguilera (St Joseph’s, Bulli – 2004)

Click picture to view table