My students spent a week coming up with a good question. A single question – average around 10 words – took my 8th graders a week to come up with. In comparison, my students will spend a week actually putting together a final product answering the question. This may be a little crazy. But I think it was the best thing for my students.
I’ve stated a couple times that I am intrigued by Design Thinking as a way to teach my students. I was lucky enough to go to a Creating Space for Innovation with Ewan McIntosh in September and for the first time I was able to actually practice what had been just theory: Ideation. Synthesis. Prototype. Feedback.
While the discussions I was able to have during the conference were meaningful*, I also fully appreciated how I was able to take the concept of ideation into my classroom the next day.
My 8th graders were starting their culmitative world religion project. I’ve never been happy with the questions my students chose to focus on. Even worse, I don’t think my students were happy. This was a project that my students were supposed to care about and their questions were letting them down. And in reality, I know from teaching all levels, kids often don’t know how to create good questions. Moreover, creating questions is an assessed strand in the MYP Humanities criterion “Investigation”. So I figured it was time for my students to learn how to create good questions.
Step 1: Generating Questions. Lots and Lots of questions.
This is the phase that probably looks the most familiar to anyone who has brainstormed. 12 minutes, don’t put your pencil down, write as many questions as you can. Music played**. I wish I would have had them standing up. But most of them were scribbling away.
Not surprisingly, some kids had tons and tons of questions. Other kids, not so much. So we re-grouped.
Depending on how many questions they had generated in 12 minutes, they had different instructions.
- 0-10 questions – meet together and have a conversation with me to try to generate more questions. This was a great chance for me to meet and help draw out interests and establish prior knowledge in small groups. I was surprised how hard this was for some students.
- 10-20 questions – share with each other for 4 minutes and write questions for 2 minutes
- 20+ questions – share with each other for 6 minutes.
By the end of day one, all kids had a least a dozen questions. Some questions were absurd. Others were intriguing. But we had started.
Starting to synthesize
Now students need to do something with their questions. They need to sort, purge, combine all their questions. And it needs to happen quick. 13 minutes laters, students had their questions sorted.
Making it MYP
My students need to know the official IB Command Terms. If they know what “identify” or “explain” or “analyze” means, they know how to answer a question. If they can start to get this in 8th grade, they’re golden.
I gave my students the IB Command Terms sheet. They then had to classify the terms into Level 1 (these are easy questions) to level 3 (high-level question/non-googleable). They were actually really good at it. Basically, they created their own Bloom’s Taxonomy.
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) September 24, 2013
Creating the Question: Next Step
Students had to create three possible questions, using a Level 3 command term. I want them using terms like “analyze” , “evaluate”, “justify”. They submitted them via a GoogleForm. I started getting excited because the questions I were getting were good. But now we needed to get to the final stage.
I learned at Ewan’s workshop about the “New, Useful, Feasible” Matrix.*** I changed it for my kids to “Interesting, Answerable, High-Level” Matrix. Students ranked how each question to figure out what they really wanted to do and what was actually possible. This was knocking out questions like “Why is there a God?” but keeping in questions like “Analyze how religion affect family and communities”?
I then did individual conferences with each student using this matrix as a guide for discussion.**** Sometimes I disagreed with their classification, particularly about how answerable a question was. I helped them refine their questions. Sometimes, we narrowed the questions. But a week after we started, they had questions they were excited about and questions that challenged them.
I had Parent Teacher Conferences this week and when the kids were telling their parents about the questions they were working on, I was a little blown away. Hearing 8th graders talk about the role of women in religion or why religions go extinct is amazing. And the kids are excited (for the most part) about the work they are doing.*** We’re also refining their questions. I want my students to be comfortable changing the question as their research develops.
I don’t know if I’ve spent this much time thinking about writing questions since I was in grad school. I think we assume kids know how to do this. But I don’t think that’s true. And I’m still so new to this process. I know that I have loads to learn about how to make this ideation phase better for my students. And while it’s been hard to be patient at times, I am convinced every second has been worth it.
** Pro-tip- Jack Johnson is a good choice for this type of thing.
***Basically, take ideas and rank them out of ten on how new, how useful, and how feasible the idea is. This helps figure out what the next step is.
**** I liked doing this on paper to hang up in the classroom. While I was absent, though, I created a GoogleDoc of the matrix. Having done both, paper was better.
**** I haven’t talked about the research phase or the prototyping phase. Another time.