higher order thinking questions for science
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NGSS Teaching Strategies

Higher Order Thinking Questions for Science

Why do higher order thinking questions matter for science? In education, we know that want to move away from questions and instruction that simply focuses on correct answers. Instead, we want to develop critical thinkers by posing a variety of questions that take topics of study and learning to a deeper level. Especially if you use the Next Generation Science Standards, you’ll want to emphasize the higher levels of bloom’s taxonomy by prompting students to engage in arguments, construct explanations, and analyze and interpret data.

Of course, I think it’s important to point out that there is a place for all types of questions when it comes to teach key concepts and new ideas. Students must be able to remember vocabulary and understand the main ideas before they are able to move on to more provocative questions, especially for an english language learner. When it comes to classroom instruction, lower level questions should not be considered a bad thing and may be useful for student engagement. Personally, I’ve always found, for better or worse, that the majority of my students are a lot more engaged when they know how to get the right answer. There are, naturally, some students who thrive on difficult questions. Differentiation has always been the most difficult part of teaching science for me, so perhaps if you find a way to strike that perfect balance, you can let me know!

Why ask questions?

  • To extend pupils’ thinking from the concrete to the more abstract.
  • To check prior knowledge and understanding of key ideas.
  • To clarify misconceptions.
  • To challenge pupils to apply the key ideas to a range of observations and findings.
  • To lead pupils through a sequence which establishes their understanding of certain enquiries.
  • To promote the use of thinking skills, for example, reasoning, evaluation.
  • To develop a systematic approach to scientific enquiry and problem solving.
  • To promote pupils’ thinking about what they have learned and how they have learned.

Source: https://stemedhub.org/resources/760/download/

Strategies for for improving questioning

Plan your Questions Ahead of Time

Great teaching rarely happens without any prior preparation! It’s important to take time before your lesson to think about the questions you plan to ask. I like to incorporate my questions into my presentation if I’m using one, or make a short list that I can keep on my clipboard while I teach.

Wait time

Are you constantly getting the same kids raising their hands in class? Giving wait time is an often neglected solution to this problem! Not every student has an answer prepared instantly, so giving wait time can bring out more from students that you may have underestimated.

Tell students Big Questions in Advance

I like to use higher order questions on my assessments because I think a good question can really get to the heart of what students know and understand. If the question isn’t Google-able, there really isn’t any harm in giving it to the students beforehand so that they can do their research and plan their response. I also find that this seriously helps alleviate testing anxiety, which affects some of my students pretty severely.

Provide Talking Stems

It’s very possible that your students don’t actually feel equipped to answer higher order thinking questions. I know my own students have often been traumatized into thinking they can’t really speak unless they “know the answer.” As a result, classroom discussion suffers and kids with really good ideas rarely speak up.

To remedy this problem, consider providing talking stems. Accountable Talk is a great way to give kids the tools they need to participate in class discussions. I’ve known teachers who post these talking stems on desks or on the wall. If your students struggle with getting off track, you can also make it a requirement that students must begin their comment with one of the stems.

Take a look at some of the talking stems for science below:

  • “I can relate to _____ because…”
  • “I disagree with _____ because… “
  • “To recap, …. and the consensus is…”
  • “I agree with what was said about _____ because…”
  • “I think…”
  • “Can you clarify what you mean when you said…?”
  • “What’s your evidence to prove that…?”  
  • “I think that was a great point because in the text it says…”
  • “I found it interesting when…”
  • “I would like to add…”
  • “I understand your opinion, but would like to add a different viewpoint…”
  • “When you mentioned ____it made me think about…”
Higher Order Thinking Questions for Science

What is a higher level thinking question?

Higher-order questions cannot be answered by repeating prior learning verbatim. These questions foster critical thinking skills and often require students to look at topics in different ways. They may require students to incorporate new information with a big idea that they’ve already studied and determine the best way to integrate the two. Often, these questions don’t have a right or wrong answer but require students to provide evidence for their claims. They also refer to those closer to the top of the Bloom’s taxonomy hierarchy.Good questions are critical for helping students learn and deeply understand the wonders of science.

On the other hand, lower order questions, refer to those near the bottom of the hierarchy. These questions typically have a right or wrong answer. They require students to match or identify vocabulary. Students can often answer these questions by copying content from their notes, textbook, or by using Google.

Of course, both types of question have a place in educational settings and classroom discussions!

What are so me examples of higher order thinking questions?

Remember, rigor does not mean more – it means better. We really want to challenge our students to think critically in science. You may also notice that the majority of the NGSS standards really push students to those levels of higher order thinking. Most teachers would agree, though, that you’ve got to get the lower levels down pat before you can move up.

Take a look at the table below to read a little more about the various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, plus some examples that you could use in your science class.

LevelDescriptionSentence Starters Exmples in Science
RememberRecall basic facts and basic conceptsdefine, duplicate, list, repeat, stateWhich organelle is responsible for producing proteins?

What is the chemical formula for photosynthesis?

List the steps of the engineering design process.

Can you name…?

What is…?
UnderstandExplain ideas of conceptsclassify, describe, explain, identify, selectClassify the following list of terms as biotic or abiotic.

How can you use the idea of forces to explain why a boat floats in water?

Pick the one that doesn’t belong: elastic energy, gravitational energy, mechanical energy.

Can you explain why…?

Can you write in your own words?

Write a brief outline.

What was the main idea of…?
ApplyUse information in new situationsexecute, solve, use, demonstrate, interpret, sketchUsing the graph, what can you conclude about the connection between ticket price and concert attendance?

Do you know of another instance where…?

Ilustrate…

AnalyzeDraw connections among ideasdifferentiate, compare, contrast, examine, organizeWhat is the difference between an independent and dependent variable?

Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine
if a chemical reaction has occurred.

If … happened, then what would be the outcome?

How is… similar to…?

Can you distinguish between…?

What was the problem with…?

Why did… changes occur?
EvaluateJustify a stand or decisionargue, defend, support critique,Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their
relative distances from Earth.

Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of
groups of cells.

Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an
ecosystem affect populations.

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
CreateProduce new or original workdesign, assemble, construct, develop, investigateDevelop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere
interact.

Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy
by chemical processes.

Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass,
and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample.

What would happen if…?

Can you see a possible solution to…?

Get my Question Stems Resource for Any Core Subject!

If you’re interested in getting a little more help in writing solid higher order thinking questions for science or any other core subject, take a look at the question stems resources listed below.

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