Learning Eco-Literacy (Lessons from an Orca Grandmother) Pt. 2

by Sally Hodson, Ed.D.
author of Granny’s Clan, published by Dawn Publications
See Part 1 of this series.

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killerwhalesboatPart 2: Asking Questions

How do we prepare young people for the 21st century challenge of caring for our planet so that it can sustain future generations of plants, animals and humans? In short, how do we educate our kids to be eco-literate?

To be literate in the language of our planet, we need to understand how life on Earth functions and how we interact with it. And we need tools to help our heads to think, our hearts to feel, and our hands to act.

This month, we’ll add Ask Questions to our Eco-Literacy Toolkit

Ask Questions
Remember when you were a kid and asked endless questions about everything that interested you? Where do stars go during the day? How do fish breathe? When we became adults, many of us stopped asking questions and focused instead on getting the “right” answers.

We learn by asking questions. Questions spark our curiosity, open our minds to new ideas and sharpen our thinking skills. A good question is one of our most powerful Eco-Literacy teaching tools. Students who understand the complexity of the natural world are much better equipped to solve difficult problems and make decisions.

While reading Granny’s Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas, children learn how orcas use sounds to navigate, communicate, find food and stay close to their family. By asking questions, we can help them explore this complex process and examine the impact of noise on the survival of these endangered orcas.

Got Questions?
1. Ask questions that involve different levels of thinking. (See Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy).
Remembering questions – What is echolocation?
Understanding questions – How do sound echoes help orcas locate fish in a dark underwater environment?
Applying questions – How could you find your way across a room if you couldn’t use your eyes to see?
Analyzing questions – What are similar and different ways that humans and orcas find their way in the dark?
Creating questions – What would happen if boat noise was so loud that orcas couldn’t echolocate or communicate with their family? How would you feel if you couldn’t find your way home? Talk with your family?
Evaluating questions – Why is echolocation more effective than orca eyesight in locating fish in dark waters?

2. Ask open and closed questions. What is echolocation? (closed) What do you think it would be like to “see” with sounds? (open)

3. Ask questions that develop imagination and empathy. What do you think orcas are communicating to each other? If you could understand orca language, what would you say to them? What do you think they might communicate to you?

4. Ask questions to clarify answers and encourage discussion. Good questions usually lead to more questions. Can you give some examples of ways humans “see” in the dark? Why do you think that? What else do we need to know?

Ask lots of questions. By modeling questions, you are showing students how to be active thinkers who can create their own questions. Every innovative idea begins with a question.

You’ll find a set of inquiry questions in each of the activities for Granny’s Clan: A Tale of Wild Orcas. Some of the questions presented above can be found in: Echoes Show the Way, Can You Speak Orca? and Danger Ahead! To download the activities for Granny’s Clan or for any other Dawn Publications book, click this link to the downloadable activities or click the Teacher’s/Librarians tab on the website and select Downloadable Activities from the drop-down menu.

The next installment of Lessons from an Orca Grandmother explores how to use the Power of Story to communicate ideas and inspire others. The fourth installment, Explore and Experience, focuses on how to connect kids to the natural environment. The fifth and final installment, Act as a Steward, shows how to involve students in action learning projects in their own community.


Dr. Hodson is a K-12 teacher and a trainer of teachers, and was executive director of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA.

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