Curiosity Gym

Imagine Your Question

Do you remember riddles from your childhood? Which of those did you throw at others? Certainly, those which you yourself found difficult to crack, right? Most of the time, we remember questions that we found difficult to solve, and those that finally gave very surprising answers. Those questions left us with awe and more thoughts on why we were unable to think out of the box or differently!

But why remember a question? Once it is answered, shouldn’t it be done with? Well, not always, as that’s the novelty! When we recall a question and think more about it, we also tend to think deeper into it. Like, what is the scope of thinking that is needed to answer the question? Does the question need the respondent to make any assumptions? Can the question be followed-up with a counter-question? In short, we want to ‘imagine’ the question. Imagination opens up great opportunities for open and critical thinking.

In a science event with 9th graders, I was a part of the team that organized a question-answer session where students dropped their anonymous questions on small paper notes. While most of the questions were factual, some did require deep thought. One such question that we all liked was, “Humans have evolved from monkeys and have lost their tails. Is it possible that humans will evolve into some other species? If yes, what will happen to the tail-bone that has taken the place of the tail? Will the tail-bone disappear in the new species? This was a brilliant question calling for some serious imagination.

As I prepared for the response, I decided to not answer it directly. Rather, I wanted students to ‘imagine’ this question. Initially, I asked them what makes new species? Mutations. So, one or two mutations are not enough. For how long should mutations pile up to form a completely new organism? Mutations accumulated through millions of years would probably lead to a new species. Would any of us be alive to record those changes? Certainly not. So, it is possible that a few mutations are happening in humans at a very small scale. And even if a new species is to appear, the tail bone is now very much a part of our vertebral column. That is the reason, it is unlikely that it will disappear. But we won’t know unless a new species originates, and none of us would be alive then!

Considering this also as an open-ended question, this was one way, and not ‘the way’ to answer the question. Evolutionary biologists could come up with different ways to answer it. But, this way of responding would have sparked the imagination in most of the students. If students can be made to imagine such phenomena, they can certainly be encouraged to imagine their own question.

They can imagine their question to be situated within a different context, something they may not have experienced, like, while studying the Earth-Sun-Moon system, they can imagine themselves to be space-bound, rather than earth-bound and then imagine a certain question. In that case, how will the question be? How would they get a different view of all the celestial bodies from space? How would they explain, say moon-rise to someone on the earth? Imagination can also be extended to being in a scientist’s shoes. How would a student think differently in Newtonian on Pasteurian times? What kind of questions would he/she ask to solve the problems we are facing today? What resources were available then to solve the problems related to gravity or infectious diseases?

‘Imagine your question’ is a powerful tool, not just to make students inquisitive, but to immerse themselves into the question, possibilities, contexts and ‘what-ifs’ of the question. In other words, students would also learn to also find out their own answers in this way. It may turn out that students come up with diverse answers and then debate, discuss and devise solutions, much like what scientists do!

This blog is contributed by Dr. Rohini Karandikar

Part of this blog was published in a Marathi weekly-Lokprabha in the article ‘Vicharaal tar Vachal’, 23rd November 2018

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