Using Article Poker to Help Students Generate their Own Research Questions for Focusing Small-Group Open-Ended Inquiry in a Secondary School Science Classroom


poker_hand_webD.GeneseBy Daniel Genesee
Daniel Genesee was a pre-service teacher at the University of Toronto when he wrote this article. He was a recipient of the 2013 Don Galbraith Pre-Service Teacher Award of Excellence with this submission.

Curriculum Connection: Numerous grades and subjects — Secondary

Formulating good questions and learning to refine them is a key element of any inquiry process. It is also the first specific expectation articulated by the Ontario Ministry of Education for nearly every science course that is taught in an Ontario Secondary School.1 Posing good questions is also an essential skill that the Ministry recognizes supports critical thinking and critical literacy in science. 2

From personal experience working with first-year undergraduate students who were enrolled in an inquiry-based science course at McMaster University, as well as secondary school science students from across the greater Toronto area, generating a question is often the most challenging aspect of inquiry — scientific or otherwise.

To facilitate students’ inquiries in science classrooms, I have modified the classic Article Poker activity 3 into a scaffolded exercise that helps science students of any age or achievement level, generate a rich pool of ideas and questions related to a current issue in science.

Preparing for the Activity: Selecting a Trigger/Article

The first step in this modified version of Article Poker is to select an appropriate trigger. In the common parlance of most constructivist approaches to education (e.g., problem-based learning), the term trigger refers to some educational materials that help students define their own learning objectives within an assigned topic or issues case. Triggers can take a variety of forms — documentary films, guest lectures, books, popular articles, etc. Article Poker is so named
because students typically read a topical article, but an instructor could easily assign any other type of trigger that they would wish to use.

Important qualities of a good trigger include 1) it is interesting to students; and 2) it has the potential to engage students thinking about a particular topic on a variety of levels. For example, an article that discusses the sociopolitical, legal, and scientific implications of de-extinction technologies could be used as a trigger for an inquiry project within the Evolution and/or Genetics Units in SBI3U.

Phase 1: Students Privately Engage with the Article and List Ten Key Ideas

Once an appropriate trigger or article is selected, students are given appropriate time in class to privately read the article. Students are also asked to list ten key ideas or questions that occur to them as they read the article. The criteria that inform whether an idea or question is key should be determined by the students for themselves. For example, a question or idea could be important because the author in the article directly raises it, or because it is left unanswered by the end of the article. Students may also list ideas that they feel should otherwise inform a good discussion of the article, or that simply occur to them while they are engaged with the trigger.

Phase 2: Poker — Directed Small-Group Discussion of Article

After completing their list, students get into small groups of three to four other students and compare their list of ten ideas with each other. They are instructed to eliminate any ideas from their list that are not shared by at least one other member of their group. Each member of the group may also save one idea that would normally be eliminated from another group member’s list. Whoever has the most ideas in common, after members compare their lists and save any ideas, is elected the spokesperson for the group in the next phase of the exercise.

Phase 3: Pooling Ideas — Directed Class Debrief

Once a spokesperson has been nominated for each group, the class convenes as a large group. Each spokesperson shares their list of ideas and questions with the large group. Instructors should facilitate the discussion by comparing and contrasting the ideas and questions raised by each small group, noting common themes and novel approaches
to popular ideas.

The instructor — or possibly a student, depending on the class’s experience with inquiry — should also act as a reporter and record ideas and questions raised by each spokesperson. A spider map or some other similar graphic organizer is well suited to this purpose. Whatever method is chosen for recording the discussion, it should be distributed to the rest of the class afterward. For example, if you drew a spider map on the board, you might try to capture a photo of the diagram and send it to your students via email so they can refer back to the map in a later phase.

Phase 4: Collaboratively Generating a Question for a Follow-Up Inquiry Activity

Once each small group has shared their ideas with the class, the instructor can ask each group to collaboratively generate a question that will guide their research in a follow-up inquiry exercise. That question could be selected from the list of ideas that each group generated in the previous phase; or it can continue from a question or idea that was raised by another group; or it could be something novel that followed from the large-group discussion.

Article Poker is an excellent lead-in to a variety of open-ended inquiry exercises including STSE group inquiry. The principle aim of the activity is to leverage the rich diversity of ideas and perspectives that are prevalent in any large group of young inquisitive minds. The secondary aim is to model positive interdependent strategies for inquiry that are transferable beyond the secondary school science classroom.

I conclude with an example of the kind of rich inquiry product that can proceed from an inquiry project that follows a session of Article Poker. After reading an article from National Geographic on “de-extinction” and participating in a session of Article Poker, this group of students asked whether the practice of cloning should be legal. They produced a video as evidence of their learning following a period of small-group student-directed inquiry. It may be viewed here:  http://gdriv.es/productofarticlepoker .

1 The Ministry expects that throughout every science course taught since 2008, students will “formulate relevant scientific questions about
observed relationships, ideas, problems, or issues, make informed predictions, and/or formulate educated hypotheses to focus inquiries
or research.” This specific expectation (A1.1) is the first expectation articulated under the heading “Scientific Investigation Skills and
Career Exploration” for every science course in the revised Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12: Science, 2008.
2 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12: Science, 2008 (revised). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/2009science11_12.pdf. p. 40.
3 Frank DeLeo, department head of Northern Secondary School science in the Toronto District School Board, personal comments.