Topic 1: Questions, puzzlement and what is okay
One of the goals of ethics classes is to nurture children’s curiosity, as well as their own thinking abilities, so that they are motivated and confident enough to think well and for themselves about issues that matter.
In this topic we meet Mia, who likes asking lots of questions and finding things out.
Mia asks her mum ‘Can I have ice-cream for breakfast?’ which might be a pretty simple question for Mia’s mum to answer.
Mia sometimes asks her brother Oscar other questions which he finds hard to answer, like ‘How do fish breathe under water?’
[Ask] If your child is nearby, you may like to ask them: How do fish breathe under water?
You’ll no doubt be given a fascinating theory, even if the scientific understanding isn’t all the way there. In ethics classes, students will often each contribute a detail that together build toward understanding. If, at home, your child is like Oscar, and doesn’t really know about gills, a great way to respond would be:
[Ask] So how might we find that out?
Parents and carers are a great source of knowledge, but it’s a great chance for children to actively seek out an answer (there may be a book on their bedroom shelf that may help, for example).
Now, back to our story. One day Mia finds a slug in the garden, and she’s amazed – she’s never seen one before!
“What is it?” Mia asks. “Is it a snail that’s lost its shell?” And then, picking up a snail, “if I took his shell off, would it be a slug?”
[Ask] If your child is nearby, you may like to ask them: What would you say to Mia, if she asked you?
“No! Don’t do that!” Oscar yells. “Don’t!”
“Why not?” asks Mia. She has so many questions for Oscar…
Topic 1 aims to build on students’ developing capacity to recognise questions and answers as parts of speech, and to encourage students to think for themselves about:
- why it is that we ask questions
- whether we sometimes ask questions of ourselves
- why we might sometimes be afraid to ask questions of others, and
- whether sharing and discussing our questions with others can help us make progress towards answers.
Research indicates that supported, collaborative inquiry is one of the most effective means of bringing about understanding.In ethics we use the term ‘community of inquiry’, coined by Mathew Lipman, to describe a group who puzzles over issues together and makes progress towards answers. For a community of inquiry to achieve its purpose, participants need to show respect for one another and for one another’s ideas by paying attention to whoever is speaking, by giving others a chance to speak, by not talking over each other and by refraining from ‘put-downs’.
These behaviours are captured in the ethics class rules for kindergarten, and a further aim of this introductory topic is to elaborate on the role of such rules – and the principles on which they are based.
Activity: What animal is that?
[Ask] How can we make a question to help us find out an answer? We’re going to have a go with some animals.
I’m going to show you an animal. Let me know if you know what it is called?
Show image 1 (bilby)
If the child isn’t sure, [Ask] what question could we ask to find out?
(Eg what animal is that, what is this called, what is the name of the animal etc)
Or, if the child knows what kind of animal it is, move onto the next question.
[Ask] what else might we like to learn about it?
(where does it live, does it dig for food, does it eat grubs, does it live in a burrow etc)
Repeat exercise with image 2 (mole)
Extension: If time permits, work with your child to find answers to the questions they have about these animals (this could form part of a science activity).