- Ideally, the Big Question must require the standards-mandated concepts and skills to solve them.
- These Big Questions must engage students. Bereiter says that we need to give problems that are of authentic interest to our students. Knowledge objects need then be marshaled and created as needed to solve these problems/answer these questions. Students learn to value knowledge objects as tools, and gains skill in the use of these tools in solving problems in their lives.
- The Big Question can't be to general or too specific. As I have found from experience, if the question/problem is too overarching, to general, I as a teacher have a hard time managing the long and complex spiraling inquiry that is required to build a series of knowledge objects needed to adequately answer the Big Question. Likewise, if the Big Question is too specific, little inquiry is inspired/required.
The current unit of study is Evolution. The over arching, "sub standards" provided by the state for evolution are:
- Genetic information found in the cell provides information for assembling proteins, which dictate the expression of traits in an individual.
- Variation within a species is the natural result of new inheritable characteristics occurring from new combinations of existing genes or from mutations of genes in reproductive cells.
- Evolution by natural selection is a scientific explanation for the history and diversity of life on Earth.
Big Question must engage students
I've used various strategies to create student buy-in to the KB process as well as find questions which students truly want to answer. I'm still searching for an ideal method though there might be none. Several years back I created 5 Big Questions that addressed the range of knowledge required by my students. For example, "What causes earthquakes?", "How do humans decrease the destruction caused by earthquakes?" and more. This was easier and turned out to be fairly effective and was a good way for me to start to use KB in my classroom. However, it's often good to have students do this hard, ambiguous collaborative work. Therefore...
I've also presented students engaging material, such as eyewitness accounts and videos, of the phenomenon and had them record questions that came to their mind as they viewed this engaging material. Students then wrote these questions on sticky notes and then organized them into groups. From there I've gone in 2 different directions:
- I've looked at these groups of student-created questions and created that initiating question for each group.
- I've had students create the overarching question for each group of questions.
Big Question can't be too general or too specific
While I've created many appropriately-leveled Big Questions, I erred on the side of 'too general' last year with the question, "Where do Humans and the other about 1.8 million described species on Earth come from?" One class had over 200 posts to this question--it became too ungainly for most students to really get a grip on it. We'll see how students deal with the questions I've selected in the current round of knowledge building to serve as the Big Questions. For my period 6 class they include:
- Ben -- how are new organisms created?
- Thalia -- how do they know when a skull comes from a female or male?
- Marilu -- how do we know that evolution has happened?
- Xavier -- when they say, "2 million species" do they mean like a regular cockroach and a Madagascar hissing cockroach being 2?
- Somsanith -- why did Darwin choose to study nature?