Ask questions

Isidore Isaac Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize for physics, when asked why he became a scientist, replied, “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.”

Here we are using an Engineering Design Challenge to show how to design a challenge. Sounds a bit weird but it works. It is all about being smart about asking questions.

What is one essential skill that can facilitate all learning? What can we do in order to learn more, produce new ideas and generate creative solutions? We should ask questions. more…

What Makes an Inquisitive Engineer?
In order be successful, engineers must ask their clients, coworkers, and bosses questions. Asking questions can improve work quality and make the asker appear smarter.

  • question-asking self-efficacy (how confident students are in their ability to ask a lot of questions)
  • social outcome expectations around asking questions (whether students believe if they ask a lot of questions, they will earn the respect of their colleagues)
  • career outcome expectations (whether they believe asking a lot of questions will hurt their chances for getting ahead at work).

Asking Questions & Defining Problems (video 8:22) – asking questions is the first step in both science and engineering. Questions allow scientists to direct inquiry with a goal of understanding the phenomena in the Universe. Questions allow engineers to define problems that require solutions.

Learning by asking questions, using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a great addition to the Engineering Design Process. The Question Formulation Technique TM has just 3 steps.

  1. PRODUCE Your Own Questions
  2. IMPROVE Your Questions
  3. PRIORITIZE Your Questions

The folks at the Right Question Institute use the Question Formulation Technique to help people all over the world solve problems in education, healthcare, voter education to come up with innovative workable solutions.

Formulate the questions first

By starting with a Question Focus statement and some basic rules for generating questions, you can learn a lot about the problem by asking questions. Any questions! The more questions, the better. Now, roll that into the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process], and look at your questions. What would be better questions? Which are the most important questions? What action can be taken to answer some of the important priority questions? What did you learn in this process?

  • ASK (What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem)
    The Question Focus (QFocus) is a statement about the challenge. The Rules for Producing Questions are part of this strategy for learning and problem solving. Ask as many questions as you can. Do not stop to discuss, judge or answer the questions. Write down every question exactly as it is stated. Change any statement into a question. This process will take some practice.
  • IMAGINE (So What? Imagine, brainstorm, explore)
    1. PRODUCE Your Own Questions. Following the Rules for Producing Questions, ask questions, lots of them. Just write them down without discussion or solutions. Everything you record should be a question, so change any statements into questions.
  • PLAN (Now what? Plan, design)
    2. IMPROVE Your Questions. Categorize questions listed as closed-ended (Yes or No answer), or open-ended. Discuss the questions and switch some from one type to the other.
  • CREATE (Do It. Create, try it out)
    3. PRIORITIZE Your Questions. Some questions need to be answered to get going toward your solution. Start by picking 3. Think about how you picked the highest priority questions. If you can, discuss your questions and choices with others.
    Based on your questions and your priorities, these are your next steps. This will get you started.
  • IMPROVE (If this then what?Improve, make it better)
    Reflection – think about your questions. What did you learn from this?

Engineering vocabulary, concepts

  • Question Formulation Technique

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • create a Question Focus statement for the challenge you are going to work on. This could be a picture, diagram or video.
  • make lists of questions, open- and closed- question categories, prioritized questions, and notes about the prioritization process

Learn more…

  • Right Question Institute – the home of the Question Formulation Technique. This site focuses on teaching teachers about the technique.