A Fermi Question requires a quick, estimated answer which would be impractical to measure directly.
Students are expected to answer Fermi Questions with very little information or data to support them. Fermi Questions therefore promote both creative and logical thinking.
The answer to a Fermi Questions should not be something that is easily calculated, already commonly known or easily found.
Fermi Questions are named after physicist, Enrico Fermi, who was renowned for making good, accurate estimations using order-of-magnitude calculations in his head.
These are very beneficial questions and it is important that teachers understand how to ask fermi questions in lessons.
These examples will give you a flavour of what a Fermi Question is and you will easily be able to come up with your own Fermi Questions using similar ideas.
Here are 20 examples of Fermi Questions that you could use in your lessons.
Fermi questions can be used at any stage of a lesson.
You can use a fermi question as a starter activity to engage students in a productive way through their participation in the discussions and collaborative working that is required to provide a response to a fermi question.
As a starter activity the students would either need to refer to their prior knowledge and assumptions of the topic or work with their peers to determine the information they need to produce a response.
Similarly, you could use a fermi question at the end of a lesson as part of a plenary. In this example you could ask a fermi question which requires students to produce an estimated response using some of the information and ideas generated in the lesson.
Ultimately, fermi questions can be used at any stage of a lesson, whenever the teacher considers it appropriate and beneficial to student progress.
Fermi questions are an excellent way to promote critical thinking, abstract thinking, creativity and also logical thinking.
Fermi questions are also fun to explore and from my experience students tend to actively participate with little need for encouragement.
However, it is sometimes quite challenging to directly link fermi questions to the specific topic you are teaching. This is due to the abstract nature of fermi questions.
Therefore, fermi questions are often used with the main purpose of promoting the type of thinking outlined above.
If, as a teacher, you would like to develop your students’ abilities to think in a more divergent way, generate responses with limited information and work collaboratively with their peers, then understanding how to ask fermi questions can be a great tool for achieving this.