Personal Inquiry Blog

Monday, September 20, 2004

Wondering...A more formal look at developing researchable questions

In the Wondering step of the 8W's, the student is finding the purpose of the inquiry through questioning and examining the topic area in terms of prior knowledge. By the time this step is completed, the student should be finding a focus and narrowing the topic.

I have become a real fan of Jamie McKenzie's website He says that "questions and questioning...are the tools that lead to insight and understanding." We need to learn to "live with entire families of questions, " according to McKenzie, and to realize that many questions don't get answered and only spawn more questions. This brings me to the character McKenzie calls "the serial questioner." This is a model to which I aspire. These are the qualities that McKenzie describes:

  • Humility
  • Relentless curiosity
  • Indefatigable persistence
  • Dogged determination
  • Open-mindedness
  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Thirst for the missing
  • Positive skepticism
  • Sharpened humor
  • Edgy wit
  • Vivid imagination
  • Cussedness
I want to keep these characteristics in mind as I work on this project. I want always to be a serial questioner in every aspect of my life.

This entire process for me is a little like juggling--I want to read and understand the professional literature and then assimilate it so that I can use it in my inquiry process. Like trying to keep two eyes on three moving objects in the air, you are always afraid something is going to slip out of your line of vision and fall down. And like so many things in my life, I'm sort of going at this backwards. I've been teaching for years and taking care of the library for six years and now I'm taking education and library science classes. I like having the experiences to call upon, and I can really understand the practical applications of many things I'm learning in theory. Wow, that was really parenthetical.

So...why owls? I have always loved birds, watching them, feeding them. When the Harry Potter films came out, I was struck by the dichotomy of their beauty and their role as raptors in nature. Why do they symbolize wisdom in nearly every culture in which they are found? Why did J.K. Rowling conceive of them as messengers? Why did parents think a raptor would make a good pet for their children?!!

In terms of prior knowledge, I must confess to not knowing much about owls. I was aware of the plight of the spotted owl in the old growth forests of the Northwest and that owls were good for gardens so many people put out owl boxes to provide nesting opportunities for them. What other owls were being threatened by pollution or eradication of their habitats? What, if anything, was being done to help save these habitats? What could I do personally to help these causes?

While I started out like every middle school kid putting "owls" in Google, I found several interesting sites in the first 20 hits. One of them was the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. From this site, I learned about rehabilitation of injured owls. (How do owls become injured? Who takes care of them? Can they be sucessfully returned to the wild?) I also read about programs to breed owls whose numbers are dwindling and reintroduce them into the wild. I used and searched "owl rehabilitation". (I love the little tree and branch connections among the sites!) From this search, I was able to find O.W.L. (Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society) in Canada. After an email contact, I sent a list of questions to them:

What are some of the reasons that you receive owls for rehabilitation?
Once the owl is healthy, is it returned to the wild? If not, why?
Are there laws against keeping owls as pets?
Do you have any reintroduction programs similar to ones in the US that are attempting to reestablish burrowing owls in Minnesota?
What kind of owls do you see the most?

I also found out that there was a wildlife rehabilitator about 12 miles from my house. I emailed her and have been receiving replies regularly. Most of her posts have spawned additional questions.

Once again following McKenzie's lead, I am narrowing my focus using How?, Why?, and What is the best? and I've come up with these questions:

How can owls be kept safe and healthy? How can their habitats be preserved? Why can't we reintroduce endangered owl species to areas that are protected? What is the best way for the average person to observe and appreciate owls?

Still tinkering but I think I'm down to a "manageable chunk" as Dr. Lamb puts it.


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