#OZPBLCHAT 3rd December: Driving Questions and Need to Know

Last week was crazy for me … I can’t even remember why really except that I my prac student (Peter, who is great) started with me on Monday and on Saturday I presented on PBL to a group of English teachers in Wagga Wagga. In all of the busyness, I forgot to post on here the links to the storifys of last week’s #OZPBLCHAT. I feel bad about it because I know how much work Lee put into creating them and I also know that a few people have been wanting to catch up on the chat. The chat spans FOUR storify posts – crazy – one for each question.

Question One                Question Two                Question Three            Question Four

Last night we had our third #OZPBLCHAT – can you believe it has been three weeks already? – and as always, it was a rush of ideas and questions. Most of which I couldn’t answer in the time. Once again I chose four questions to focus our discussion however mostly these were a loose focus and we found ourselves discussing a whole range of things, even flicking back to significant content covered the week before.

Below arethe questions that I posed for the Oz PBLers participating in the chat with some of the ideas and resources that I shared as part of the chat. I will try to be as good as Lee and get the storify sequenced on the questions and share it here in the next day or so.

What makes a good driving question?

I don’t think that there is any one answer to this question. Why? Because like all quality strategies, a driving questions should be timely and relevant to its context. A DQ may be laboured over by a teacher for weeks, or it may come spontaneously in class from a news event, a personal experience or a random moment of abstract curiosity. For me, DQs often come to me in the shower … which is weird, I know. I’ve also had great success refining DQs via twitter discussions or through scribbling in my notebook. One clear distinction I do like to make regarding DQs is between the abstract, philosophical, ephemeral questions (e.g. What can we learn from tragedy?) and the action-oriented DQs (e.g. How can we make a short film that will impress auteur Tim Burton?). I shared some links that I always return to when I’m stuck, and here they are in a folder in my edmodo group PBL 1001.

What are the best driving questions you’ve used, want to use or seen used?

There were lots of ideas shared with this question but I think we still found ourselves grappling with the role that significant content (e.g. the syllabus and/or student interests) and the end product plays in the make-up of the driving question. As should be the case, there were divergent opinions about this. Having done quite a bit of PBL experimenting with my classes, I can confidently say that there is not one main type of question that we should try to perfect. Just something that is cool and the kids get excited by. Below is an image with a bunch of DQs that I have used over the last two years.

Slide1How can we ensure projects create a need to know? 

Hmmm … trying to summarise my thoughts on this in the ten minutes I feel I left in me tonight is going to be hard. You can read what the BIE definition of ‘need to know’ is here. I argued last night that the ‘need to know’ is really the ‘significant content’ (read ‘syllabus’) hidden just well enough for students to discover. That sounds devious, but it isn’t. My intention isn’t to trick students and it certainly isn’t to limit their inquiry to what is in the teacher’s head. What I mean is that a well designed project (with a clearly defined problem, purpose and audience) will lead students to the realisation that they need to know certain skills and content in order to successfully complete the project. So an example would be a recent project that I’ve written for the new K-10 English Syllabus. The DQ is: How can we make a powerful documentary? The DQ tells the students what the problem and purpose of the project is – to find our what makes a powerful documentary and to make one. The students will (ideally) realise that they need to know about the documentary form, watch some documentaries, work out what is powerful and what is (even come to some new definition of the word powerful) and that they need to know and master the skills required to actually compose a powerful film.

What strategies/tools can we use to support students’ establish what they ‘need to know’?

This is a question I wanted answered for me. I’ve been very happy with using a couple of key PBL strategies – the KWL table, Socratic circles and fishbowls. (These are wikipedia links, if you don’t like Wikipedia you’re silly, and if you do like it – donate!) These are learning strategies that help students clarify what they need to know (and hopefully want to know) in order to complete the project. Today on the photocopier in my staffroom I saw a worksheet with a description of a starbursting questioning/thinking strategy that looked awesome. I’ll have to find out who it belonged to – I have a suspicion it is my HT who is preparing himself for the move to HT of T&L. Anyway, this blog post gives a bit of an insight into how I get students to start thinking about the project and generating their need to know questions – yeah, questions are the best way to frame the need to know. Oh, and make these really visible – post them on the classroom wall and go back to them regularly to check what they have learnt or add to the list of what they need to know.

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