Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Any Questions, WCYDWT, and the Rainbow Question

The #anyqs hashtag has led to much exploration and conversation about using images and video to foster convergent classroom interest around spontaneous questions and wondering.

In this post, I want to throw out some ideas about the intricate balancing act between the "diversity" of ideas and the "coherence" of inquiry pursuits. I want to do this in the context of a lesson I've taught several times recently.

Leslie Atkins and Irene Salter developed this amazing lesson around the question, "Are all the colors in the rainbow?" I have run this lesson now three times as part of professional development for secondary science teachers and college science instructors.

The last time I ran this lesson, I did a good job of managing the balance between the exciting diversity of ideas/questions with the comforting coherence of common pursuit. Here is how it started:
  • 5 minute silent free write about question, "Are all the colors in the rainbow?"
  • 5 minute discussion with neighbor (prompt, learn what your neighbor is thinking)
  • Whole class discussion where I write down everything on the board
Here is what got written on the board during the discussion last time I ran it with college undergrads in my science teaching and learning seminar.
  • What do we mean by color? - primary colors, crayon colors, secondary colors?
  • Where is brown? Is it there? Isn't brown from mixing colors?
  • If white light has all colors, why don't we experience seeing all the colors when we see white light?
  • Is this question being asked to like a scientist or like an artist? It seems like that would matter
  • What about black? Is black a color? It seems like its the absence of color? But then again, there are black crayons.
  • What about neon colors? Are they in the rainbow? What makes something neon?
  • Doesn't a rainbow have all the light colors, because it breaks it up like a prism.
  • Isn't purelight ROYGBIV?
  • In ROYGBIV, Yellow + Blue = Green, and that makes sense because green is between yellow and blue. But Blue + Red = Purple doesn't make sense because violet is on the end, not in between red and blue.
  • What about a blind person? Would they just see the rainbow in grays? Does that mean gray is in the rainbow?
  • Can you be underneath a rainbow? Can you see a rainbow from above? Yes, I've seen rainbows from above
  • What about double rainbows? How does that work?
  • When people look at a rainbow from different angles, can they all see it? If so, do they all see the same rainbow?
  • When you mix paint colors you get poopy brown, but when you mix all the light you get white light. Why?
  • Absorbance vs transmission? Doesn't that matter?
  • How do we see? Do we see what's reflected or what's absorbed?
  • What's a shade? Are shades in the rainbow? Can rainbows come in different shades? Would the rainbow be a lighter shade on a sunnier day? Would pollution effect the color of the rainbow? Isn't a shade like when you add white to it.
  • What is the wave length of brown? If we know that, we would know where it goes in the rainbow
  • Since rainbow is the diffraction of light through water? Does the color of the rainbow depend upon properties of water?
  • Is pink in the rainbow?
  • Don't we see color because we had rods in our eyes?
  • How does the brain interpret color?
  • Can a color blind person use 3D glasses?
  • How do 3d glasses work? Old vs New ones?
  • How does turning a color photo into a black-and-white photo work? How does black and white TV decide to make colors into different shades of gray?
  • How does gray work? If white is all the colors, and black is no colors? What why does having less of "everything" look gray?
  • Does needing glasses to see influence the experience of seeing color?
  • Does my "anti-glare" glasses that look blue-ish change my experience of color? Like more blue? Or does my brain correct for that over time? We've heard that when you wearupside down glasses you're brain corrects for the flip. Would it correct for color, too?
  • Can you create colors that don't exist yet?
  • Turquoise - it seems like it should be a mix of blue and green, and therefore be in between blue and green. But it doesn't look like right. It looks like a lighter shade. Which raises the question again of "are shades in the rainbow?"
  • Red-violet seems like it can't be in the rainbow because red and violet aren't next to each other. But we can see red violet. What if we could bend the rainbow in a circle? Would we get red-violet?
  • Red-violet is like the color of a plum. So it must be a color, because it exists. If it exists, does it have to be in the rainbow?
  • It seems like white and black aren't in the rainbow, and therefore gray can't be in the rainbow.
  • If brown has a frequency it's in the rainbow, if not then it's not in the rainbow.
That's a HUGE amount of divergence. But students were overflowing with excitement. I could barely stop them from sharing and talking, nearly too fast to write it all down. While the diversity and free exchange of exciting ideas and questions generated that excitement, I think that same diversity was going to soon get overwhelming and incoherent if I didn't bring it in.

The question is this: How could I capitalize on that excitement and personal investment in rainbow question while still bringing everyone to a more focused and shared inquiry?

Answer: Pass out a pack of crayola crayons to each pair. Tell them to put each crayon in one of three categories: Definitely in the rainbow; definitely not in the rainbow; unsure. Tell 'em they have to have reasons and arguments. For the colors they say are in the rainbow, ask everyone to put those colors in rainbow order. Let the excitement and motivation pay off.

What's the point?

The point of Dan Meyer's #anyqns is to create an image or video that stimulates interest around a common question. I'm wondering however, what's the best route to common interest. It may be that you want to start right out of the gates with a common question. Alternatively, it may be that you want to generate an overflow of divergent interest, and let that interest bleed

We do need to foster students' interest in the collective pursuit of some sort of coherent inquiry, but it may be that the diversity of ideas (across stakeholders) is exactly what builds interest in a common goal. That said, I believe it is the timely convergence of collective inquiry that brings comfort to the vastness of escalating divergence.

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