PTC NSWHomeGEMSPlanningStep 10: Focus Question Selection

Step 10: Facilitating Focus Question Selection

This is typically the first time that mentors will be visiting your classroom although you may have had communication with them beforehand about the class theme and the topics arising from the class brainstorm.

Essential information on preparing for mentor visits is in the documents Preparation for mentor visits and How can I use scientist mentors in my classroom effectively? 


Preparing for the mentor visit

Prior to the first mentor visit students should have been working in groups of 2 or 3 on an agreed topic area. They should have completed some background research related to their topic and have generated about 5 different questions that they wish to investigate that are related to their topic.


First 20 minutes

Mentors need time to get to know their students. Put aside the first twenty minutes of the first session for mentors to talk about how they developed an interest in science, how they use(d) science in their work, the fact that they studied science subjects in high school and then at university – and what these experiences were like.


Remainder of visit

Mentors need to help their allocated student groups to craft their questions to fulfil the following three criteria and to be testable. The three criteria are:

  • the answer is not known by the students
  • the answer is something that is of interest to the students
  • the investigations must be 'doable' in a primary school setting.

A useful scaffold for generating questions that are testable is to phrase a question as:

'If we change ________________ what happens to ___________________?'


For instance, if the investigation is about how well the type of construction material helps houses to withstand movement or destruction by a tsunami then this could be phrased:

'If we change the building material of the house what happens to the distance the house is moved by a wave?'



Applying Cows Moo Softly

  • what is CHANGED – the construction material (cardboard, pop sticks, Lego blocks)
  • what is MEASURED – the distance that the building moves from its original location
  • what is kept the SAME – dimensions of the model house, placement of the model house before each wave, size and strength of the ‘tsunami’.


The following sequence of images demonstrates one approach for investigating the effects of a ‘tsunami’ on ‘houses’.


Lego house placed on land before the tsunami.


Creating the tsunami. Note that the raised leg height on top of the white cones is the same each time.


After the tsunami the house has moved and this position can be quantified with measurements.


What is a Testable Question?

The list of questions in the activity below, posed by students, shows that a high percentage of questions suggested by students need to be clarified or modified to be able to be used in an investigation. The use of science mentors can be of great assistance to cope with the logistics.

Can you identify which of these questions are testable Stage 3 questions on Disasters? Use the quiz to check your answers with the suggested answers and comments. 




More in this category:

Go to top