Teacher Tap


Collaboration: Ask-An-Expert

Where can I go to find additional information in my content area?
Where can my students communicate with experts in a variety of professions?
How do I develop a project that uses outside experts?

expertWouldn't it be fun to follow an engineer on the design of a bridge or assist a geologist in calculating some earthquake data? Many professionals welcome the opportunity to interact with young people. Try an "Ask the Expert" project where students contact a professional such as an architect or historian through email. At the low end, ask questions about their career. At the high end, become involved with a NASA mission, an archeological dig online, or an environmental activity. Students find writing projects much more meaningful when they have an audience for their efforts. Get students involved with writing letters and email to real people.
Use the following websites for links to many Ask-An-Expert resources:

Designing an Ask-An-Expert Project

An Ask-An-Expert project is an excellent way to reach outside your classroom into the "real-world." You and your students can communicate with experts from around the world in every profession. Any successful classroom project takes planning. Use the following guidelines in planning your project.
Selecting a Project. Before jumping into an "ask-an-expert" project, consider the purpose of the project. Use experts to answer questions that would otherwise be difficult to answer. Think about when in a unit you might use an expert. For example, you might interview people as part of a career exploration activity. Students might use the information from the interview to decide whether they'd like to investigate further. Or, you might use the online discussion to generate problems for an inquiry-based project. Most classes use experts after they've studied a topic and they're ready to learn more. They've exhausted the resources in their classroom and library, but still have specific questions. Finally, some teachers use an expert as a sounding board for student conclusions. For instance, some science fair teachers like to send scientists the discoveries of their students and ask them to respond to the projects. Read the AskA Etiquette page to learn more about creating an effective a project.
Choosing an Expert. We've listed resources below that link to thousands of potential experts. How do you choose the best resources for your project? Start by examining the online resources about the expert. Read the background information provided. Some experts restrict the types of questions they will answer. Other sites only answer a sample of the questions they receive. Some websites will tell you how long you can expect to wait for a response.
Preparing the Expert. Many of the expert websites state that they can focus answers to a particular audience such as elementary or secondary students. If you're working with young children, you might want to send an introductory email to introduce yourself. Ask the expert if he or she feels comfortable addressing the questions of children. You might also ask about how long the expert usually takes to respond. If it takes two or three weeks, your unit may be over before you get a response. You might even want to give the expert a background on what you've been studying and the types of questions to expect.
Preparing your Students. Before starting an expert project, spend some time brainstorming with your students. Ask them about what they already know about the topic or profession. As a class, create a graphic organizer or chart to visualize these ideas. Consider questions that could be answered using traditional sources versus those that might need an expert. Focus on questions that relate directly to the topic or problem your class is exploring rather than general questions or personal questions. Some experts are willing to answer "get to know you" types of questions, but most prefer to stick to their area of expertise.
Designing the Questions. Whether you have twenty or one hundred and twenty students, it's probably not realistic for each student to submit a question. Develop a question collection activity that generates a list of questions. You might then categorize and combine questions. Then, ask the class to prioritize. If you will be doing expert projects throughout the semester or school year, you might assign a small group to make the final decision. They could also design the email communication. For example, you might try to submit one question a month, so each small group has an opportunity to submit a question during the semester. Focus on high-level questions that can't be answered with yes and no answers. On the other hand, you don't want questions that require lengthy responses.
Submitting the Questions. The next step is the creation of a short email message that provides a brief overview of the your class (subject, age of students, location) and reason for your submission. Next, include a question or short series of related questions that can be answered in a short conversational way. Number the questions and put a line between each question if you'd like a response to each question. Rather than using a teacher or student personal email account, consider a class email account. Put a student in charge of checking each day for a response.
Waiting for Answering. In some cases you can anticipate how long the response may take. It may take 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks, or 3 months or longer. Some classes maintain a bulletin board in their classroom where they post a timeline and responses. Younger children have trouble waiting, so it's a good idea to select a timely expert. In some cases, students are waiting for a response for a project. Again, you might want to prepare students for the possibility that the expert might not respond.
Send Followups and Thank you's. When you get a response, be sure to send a thank you. If you have followup questions, it's a good idea to send them immediately and include copies of prior emails to remind the expert about previous conversations. Rather than sending a "teacher-generated" thank you, get your students involved. Some classes even send their artwork, final projects, or copies of videos as a thank you. Remember that most experts are volunteering their time and a nice thank you will encourage them to continue their contributions.
Beyond Web Experts. You don't have to use the expert resources provided. You probably have great parent and community resources in your own town or city. Make use of these resources too. If you can't find a resource for a particular area, try the web and do some "cold calling." In other words, most websites contain email lists of representatives that might be willing to answer students questions. Give it a try.

Expert Resources

Use the resources below to locate resources for your project.

These resources provide expert and submission information.

Lists and Directories of Expert Resources

These sites provide links to expert sites.

Other Question and Answer Websites


Ask-An-Expert Activity

Brainstorm ideas for planning an ask-an-expert experience.
Plan an ask-an-expert activity. Use the links above to locate an expert.
Or, learn more about life as an "expert". Brainstorm questions about the experiences of the "expert" being an "online expert".

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