How Questions Help Us Learn

In Block 1, we asked ourselves, “How do questions help us learn?”

In our reflection time, we thought about this a lot and made some interesting conclusions.


Asking questions:

  • helps us learn new things
  • helps us learn to ask more questions
  • can start conversations
  • helps us know ourselves and others
  • helps us to stay curious

We talked a lot about questions and answers during this block. We wondered about questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer and how we learn to deal with those. We decided that, most of the time, those types of questions lead to a LOT more questions. At first, it was hard for us, because we want all questions to have a right answer. It’s also hard for us when Mrs. Baldwin says, “I don’t know,” because we thought teachers were supposed to have all the answers. (That made Mrs. Baldwin laugh.) In the end, though, we learned that sometimes the answers we think we know as fact can be wrong. If we always remember to ask more questions, we learn that facts can change sometimes.

Very early in the block, we asked questions about WHO WE ARE and how do people get to know us? We played a game where we got to ask each other questions and then had to share with the whole class what we learned about our partner. We also painted pictures of the emotions that live inside our heads. At first, we could only think about a few emotions. But we asked questions: “What other emotions do we have?” When we thought about it, we came up with jealousy, embarrassment, satisfied, and a few others. This really helped us think about how we’re feeling each day, and how we can express ourselves better when we have those feelings.


We also practiced asking questions by having a weekly #whatisit photo. Mrs. Baldwin said we could write/ask as many questions as we wanted, but we could not ask what was in the photo. NS said that is so hard, because our brains just want to know what it is! We got really good at asking questions, especially when we stopped to think about what we could NOT see in the photo. Sometimes, we asked what the item was made of or how the photographer took the photo. We got really good at asking better questions!


During this block, we explored how we know if facts are true or not. One day, we asked a lot of questions about fall: how do the leaves change colors? Why do leaves fall off the trees? Why do some leaves turn red, some orange, and some yellow? Mrs. Baldwin showed us three different videos, and we were able to answer some of those questions. But then Mrs. Baldwin asked us, “How do you know that the information we saw/heard in the videos is TRUE?” At first, we were confused. We thought that Mrs. Baldwin would only show us information that was true. She asked us if we have to trust the person who is giving us the information, and we said yes. After a little more discussion, we were also able to decide that the information was true because we heard the same facts in each video. Today, we reminded ourselves that we have to find a trusted source for information, as well as check with other sources to see if they all agree.

When we were asking questions about the Mars Rover and evidence that water had been on Mars, we took our questions to our Twitter account, @TeamBaldwin to share with others. We were able to get some great answers from Bobak Ferdowsi (@tweetsoutloud) about the Mars Rover. We learned to ask questions of experts, so that we could learn even more than we could discover on our own.


Some thoughts from our class —

BC: When you’re curious and you watch a video or read something, then you get even more curious!

RS: “I wonder… ” is a good way to learn something new.

As a class, we decided that questions lead us to discover new things we like. Also, if we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn new things as well. It’s like building with LEGO. If our teacher does all the building for us, we didn’t really learn how to do it ourselves. If we don’t ask our own questions about what we want to learn, then we’re just doing what our teacher tells us to do.

Our Capital Cities

In Block 5 (How We Organize Ourselves), we started learning about societies and governments. You can read about the beginning of our process here:

During one of our discussions about different types of governments, one student asked if we could build cities to show what we know about a government. After thinking this through, we decided we would need to learn enough about a specific type of government in order to really know what a capital city would look like.

We broke into three small groups and each chose a type of government we wanted to learn about. Mrs. Baldwin’s only rule was that we could not choose a democratic republic, since we already have that experience here in the United States.

The government types we chose: Oligarchy, Monarchy, and Dictatorship.

Oligarchy group: 

We used Minecraft to build our capital city. We learned that a very small group has all the power in an oligarchy, and they do not provide good resources for the other people of their country. There is usually a very wealthy side of town (minority) and a very poor side of town (majority) in the capital city. South Africa was an oligarchy for many years.

Monarchy group:

We learned that a Monarchy usually has a king or a queen (or both). Sometimes, the royalty is good to the people of the kingdom, and sometimes not good. Even a good king or queen will cost the citizens of the kingdom a lot of money, because the royalty has an expensive castle or home that is paid for by the citizens. If the king/queen is really good, there will be good resources for the citizens.  If the king/queen is not good to the people, the kingdom will suffer. The people will be very poor, hungry, and have bad living conditions. We decided to do a modern style Monarchy where the capital city would have good resources for the people and an expensive castle for the monarchs. Sweden is an example with a sovereign monarch.


Dictatorship group:

We learned that a dictator takes all the power and uses a strong military to control the country’s people. Citizens have little or no freedom at all, and everything depends upon what the dictator wants to do. The dictator’s home in a capital city will be very expensive and have a lot of servants. Also, there will be many guards around the dictator’s home. In the parts of city where the citizens live, they will have a lot of military guards and areas where they are not allowed. All access to the city will be heavily guarded.  Examples are Nazi Germany and North Korea.

We loved learning about types of governments by building cities! This activity was our choice, and we learned so much by building. We had to think about details of every building, roads, resources for citizens, and so much more.

Patterns of Learning

When we started our Inquiry Block 4, we began exploring patterns. We saw patterns in weather, climate, and temperatures; patterns in art, music, math, nature… we found patterns everywhere!

One day, we just started listing every pattern we could think of. Mrs. Baldwin asked us to choose a specific topic and explore the patterns. We traveled to the library to find some resources. We searched the web for more resources. We asked questions, found some answers, and then asked even more questions. Some of us were able to connect with experts* to ask questions about our topics.

Over a period of six weeks, we learned a lot. Some of what we learned was very specific to our pattern topics. We also realized we were learning other things, too:



Because we all chose patterns that interested us, our topics were very diverse:

  • Coding/Programming
  • Dubstep
  • Baking ingredients
  • Moon phases/Tides
  • Jet streams
  • Plant cycles/Nutrients
  • Therapy and Science Dogs
  • Plant growth in soil vs hydroponics
  • Electric fields

We held a Pattern Expo where we shared what we learned with our school community (students, teachers, parents). For each visitor to our “stations,” we explained what we had learned, how we learned, and demonstrated our findings. Some of us had experiments and products to share; some had videos and/or photos.

Each of us had a choice in how to share what we learned, so we could use the strengths and talents we have. Our only requirements were to share why we chose our particular patterns, share/cite our resources, and share main highlights of our research along with our demonstration.

One of the things we noticed about sharing at the expo is that we really had to be certain about what we knew to be able to explain it to others!

We hope you’ll visit our individual student blogs to read our reflections in learning about our patterns. You can find links in our sidebar!

We would like to thank our experts for helping us learn more, too!

  • Adam Bellow, CEO/Founder of eduClipper
  • C.T. Thongklin, Chief Meteorologist, RFD-TV
  • Chef Mark Kalix, Sur La Table
  • Pat Blocker, CPDT-KA, Peaceful Paws
  • Luca Formicola, Composer/Musician/Producer
  • Nate Polsfut, Pre-Service Teacher – thanks for listening to each of us share ideas about our projects early in the process!

Here are some photos from our Pattern Expo (click on the thumbnail to see the full photo):



Reflecting On Our Learning Process

This morning, our journal activity was a focus on our learning process.

1) How do I know when I have learned something new (without an adult to confirm for me)?

2) How do I react when I don’t understand?

One of the things we do well in our inquiry-based school is to think often about how we learn. Our struggle in that is we often fall back into old habits of how we react when things become difficult or we are not sure where to begin a project or activity.

This morning after our journal writing, we had a class discussion about these topics. Our responses:

How do I know when I’ve learned something new?

  • I say, “Oh! I get it!”
  • My face looks confused and then shows me understanding, like an “a-ha!”
  • I just feel it. It’s a good feeling.
  • I start working faster because I want to see that I know it.
  • I just DO it.

How do I react when I don’t understand?

  • Sometimes, I just give up.
  • I distract myself by talking with others.
  • I say, “I need help” without first trying myself.
  • I get overwhelmed and I don’t do anything.
  • I think, “this is too hard.”
  • I start to complain.

We discussed together that it’s important to recognize the signs we have when we learn and understand. We want to be sure we acknowledge those times, so we feel successful. It’s also important to recognize when we are frustrated.

Together, we problem-solved how to react differently when we don’t understand:

  • Don’t give up – persevere!
  • Try to focus on what I already know and then apply it to what I don’t understand.
  • Look at parts of the problem instead of the whole problem. Focus on starting with a small piece, one at a time.
  • Have faith in myself.
  • Ask Mrs. Baldwin for help ONLY after I’ve tried to help myself first.
  • It’s ok if I make mistakes when I’m first learning something new. If I already knew how to do it, I wouldn’t be learning.

This was a great class discussion! We thought a lot about how the learning process, and we remember that our brains might start out “confused.” That’s okay! Our brains don’t like to stay confused, and any discomfort we feel helps us to try to move past that and do our best to understand.

We really liked the ideas of starting with the small pieces and seeing how much we can accomplish. One example is when we struggle with a writing activity. Sometimes, we’re not sure where to start! Some suggestions were to begin writing down ideas, even if they aren’t complete sentences. Once we have a list of ideas, we can start forming sentences, putting the sentences into order and paragraphs that make sense. Voila! Before we know it, we have some good writing started!

How do you think about your learning? What are some suggestions you might add to our list?