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Thinking Science: provoking thought and generating discussion

Published: Jan 10, 2019 4 min read

STEM learning

Thinking science cards

Thinking Science is a stimulating set of philosophical questions that provoke critical thought about physics, chemistry, biology and working scientifically.

Below is an example of the kind of question created by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bristol, where I first came across Thinking Science as a PGCE student. I use this resource endlessly, and hope you and your students find it as thought provoking as I have!

“Could a human survive without any relationships with other humans after it is born? If not what does this mean for us?”

The questions are designed for key stage 3, but transfer easily to key stages 4 and 5, as they are shaped by the knowledge that students apply. Thinking Science addresses curriculum links in every section. The scientific method and theories that we teach in the National Curriculum are probed and given context by the Thinking Science questions, which students find engaging and which lead to a deeper understanding of the methods, limitations and ethics of science.

The beauty of these questions is that their use is limited only by your imagination, there are so many ways they can be woven into lessons. To help, the Thinking Science booklet gives ‘lightbulb ideas’. These include setting a research-task homework, holding a class vote, or creating a panel for discussion.

As well as this, Thinking Science are amazing extension questions. They are open, require evaluation of knowledge and generate conflicting yet valid answers. In September, I printed out some questions and stuck them around my room. My hope was that daydreaming students would be drawn to more constructive musings. And sure enough, every so often, a student hangs back after the lesson and says “Miss, that question there…”

Sometimes, you might ask your class a thoughtfully crafted question and meet with a sea of blank faces. What are you supposed to do with that? To engage best with Thinking Science, students will need to understand the information pertaining to each question. This can be scaffolded by displaying keywords and directing students to use them. You can start discussion with a brief mind-mapping of ideas or share an example of a response to the question. If you want to promote a whole-class discussion throwing a ball around works well.

Discussion is a perfect opportunity to use scientific terminology in preparation for public exams, as oracy is the precursor to literacy. Thinking Science questions are self-differentiating; students apply as much as they know to answering the questions. Consequently, their answers reveal the depth of their understanding - including misconceptions - which allow teachers to re-teach certain areas.

Thinking Science really gets students thinking. The power of this cannot be underestimated. A scientist deals not with purely objective truth, but with its greyest, most uncomfortable areas. The idea of a question with no answers can feel like taking the stabilisers off a bike, but it will create a generation of thoughtful scientists and citizens equipped to tackle complex issues head-on.


You may also be interested in…

Do you want to find more creative ways to develop your students thinking? Join us at the National STEM Learning Centre in February to discover how to diversify teaching and learning to promote engagement, progress and attainment across all your students.


Watch this video of teachers discussing the value in using questioning approaches that encourage students to think and allow teachers to gather richer evidence about their student’s understanding. The video is part of our free online course on planning for learning.