Adapted from Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards
A scientific question is defined as one that can be answered through empirical evidence. Asking questions is often the first step towards scientific inquiry - students may be driven by their own curiosity, or a prediction as a result of a previous investigation or experience, or the desire to solve a problem. Through research, investigation and observation students can work towards answering their questions about the world. Students also need to be able to ask questions of and think critically about data and the claims of others.
Much like asking questions is the first step towards scientific inquiry, defining problems is often the first step towards the engineering process. Students need to define a problem or address a human need before they can go about finding a solution. Part of this is also defining the parameters of a given problem - What materials can be used? How much time is given? What systems are involved with the design? Defining problems is an essential skill not only for engineers, but for all citizens. Teachers define problems & work towards solving them countless times a day in their classrooms!
Below is an example of how the practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems progresses from kindergarten to twelfth grade.
Below are examples of Engineering performance expectations from the NGSS that incorporate the practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems.
Students who demonstrate understanding can:
K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
NSTA article - One page resource with more information about this practice.
NSTA Webinar - Includes a presentation about Asking Questions and Defining Problems, along with other resources.
Bozeman Science video about Asking Questions and Defining Problems - A quick introduction to this practice and its applications.
How to Ask the Right Question - Tedx Youth Talk - Great food for thought about why asking questions is important, and how to ask questions.
Engineering is Elementary - Saving Salila's Turtle - A video of an elementary classroom discussion that uses a read-aloud as a springboard to define environmental problems. An accompanying unit for grades 1-5 is available here.
Exploratorium Snacks - These activities, which are classroom-ready versions of Exploratorium exhibits, can be used to generate questions with students.