No Bad Questions

“There are no bad questions, only bad answers.”

Implicit in this well-worn expression is the purity of inquiry, the virtue of asking, and the excitement of self-initiated discovery.

The adage comes to mind as I reflect on an interesting workshop on inquiry-based learning (IBL) that convened just prior to the start of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, held in February in Vancouver, Canada. My thanks to AAAS and to Science World British Columbia, TELUS World of Science (our ASTC-member science center in Vancouver) for organizing and hosting this workshop.

The workshop afforded me the opportunity to present some highlights of the science center field and the work of our association. Yet I was struck, more broadly, by the distressing commentary by workshop participants about the near absence of IBL in the classroom today; rather, that there is a perceived disposition within the formal education community against learning that is both student centered and teacher guided.

Although this is not new information, it is no small matter for science centers on several levels. Clearly, we exemplify the principles of IBL, and we point to these principles to defend our impact in the education realm—giving knowledge meaningful real-world connections, transferring concepts to applications, encouraging the use of critical thinking skills, and creating a sense of personal commitment to learning. Moreover, we pride ourselves on offering teachers a wide range of training and support programs to help them employ IBL techniques in their classrooms. Stating the obvious, then, we do not win the case for the valuable role that science centers and museums play in education unless we help to counter those who still harbor some skepticism about IBL’s fundamental value.

There is a link to media here. While we grapple with these fundamentals, our youth are taking the initiative, knowingly or otherwise, to employ every media-based tool at their disposal to turn curiosity into knowledge. Studies show that K–12 students overwhelmingly agree that access to digital media (particularly interactive tools) is enhancing their learning experiences. With media tools, they are demonstrating IBL at work, individually and collectively.

The diverse media enterprise has many curiosity inspiring materials to offer our science centers and museums. And much can be achieved with modest investment. For example, through the ASTC global program SCEnaRioS (Science Centers Engagement and the Rio Summit), science center–based students worldwide are exploring sustainability issues through the medium of video.

So, as we ponder the significance of IBL, can it be that we need look no further for examples of success than this discovery-driven bond between students and media?

Not a bad question…