Driving Questions Part 1: Building Student Inquiry in Project Based Learning and STEM


Welcome to this first post in a series that promotes student inquiry in PBL and STEM. This series is dedicated to helping educators create a student-centered Driving or Investigative Question… which is so important in STEM and PBL. You will discover multiple resources and ideas in this series, along with some great ideas for finding student success in student owned inquiry. In this first post, I would like to build the idea of what makes a Driving or Investigative Question important in student centered learning, and how it can uncover important standards. Before reading, please take a moment to subscribe by email or RSS, and also give me a follow… on Twitter at mjgormans. I promise you will find some wonderful information coming your way in the posts that follow…So sign up now and please pass this on with a retweet. Also remember you can book me for a conference or your school district with workshops that are informative, engaging, and practical. Check out my Booking Page and as always… thanks so much!  Mike Gorman (https://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/)

Quick Notes

A big shout out to EdTech Magazine for recognizing this blog on its 2017 Honor Roll. That is quite a compliment from such an amazing publication. I especially appreciated the following quote, “On his blog, Gorman shares what he has learned with a focus on how tech enables project-based learning.” Check out this wonderful magazine for some great K12 educational articles,

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I am also presenting at Alan November’s BLC in Boston in July. I have three pre-conference workshops that you may want to register for. They include; One-Half Day PBL Splash, Full Day PBL Starter; and a One-Half Day Technology Workshop dedicated to amplifying standards and process using Technology. I will also have three concurrent session during the main conference. As a member of Alan’s Team all year, it is a lot of fun to meet so many people from around the world at his summer conference in Boston. Learn more at the conference master classes page.

Driving Questions Part 1: Building Student Inquiry in Project Based Learning and STEM

I really like Diving and Investigative Questions. In fact, I like them so much more than Essential Questions. You might ask… why? I think it just might be my affection for the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. You may remember that in the revision the different levels of Blooms were changed into action. In fact, I strongly believe that learning is a verb and is based on action. Take away the word “Question” and both Driving and Investigating are wonderful verbs loaded with action.

The word “Essential” standing alone is only a word devoted to describing… a colorful but inactive adjective. Another reason I am fond of “Driving and Investigative Questions” is they allow students to work together in the amazing process of divergent thinking. As students bring this process around to identify answers and ideas that finally converge, they are suddenly back on the path to even higher order divergent thinking. It is amazing to watch students become aware that answers can bring on even more questions. Seems to me that it is a lot as if the students are moving up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

I believe that both DQ and IQ allow students to take part in real inquiry and research. If the question is Google-able then it probably is not deep inquiry. Now, using advanced Google skills to find answers that create more questions fits the bill for rigorous standards. Literacy that is built to comprehend, analyze, compare, contrast, and make meaning of nonfiction across the disciplines is essential. Be certain to take a look at the verbs in the standards educators must facilitate with students. These verbs really do provide some great inquiry action that can be found on the super highway of Driving Questions. As students approach the standards in this way inquiry leads to understanding and assimilation of new knowledge. Those educators striving to meet the demands of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge will appreciate using these questions and verbs to promote authentic learning.

Last, I like “Driving and Investigative Questions because there are so simple, that they can also be difficult to construct. Let me explain. The Driving Question or Investigative Question in Project Based learning and STEM can be often the hardest concept to get across to teachers. Even after a workshop devoted to PBL… questions will come across my email asking for help in constructing and refining the Driving or Investigative Question.

Writing The DQ and IQ’s For Student-centered Learning In PBL, STEM, and Inquiry

Why are driving and investigative questions so difficult to create? Perhaps it is the powerful and simple concept they ride upon in a world where teachers have been taught to use so much of their “educationese language” Educators must work at being aware of the important standards in their content area without blurting them out. It is at this point that educators come across that often talked about idea of “uncovering, not covering”, the standards. Educators are so often told to practice this methodology, but are seldom told how to do it. This is the power of the Driving and Investigative Question and its importance in PBL and STEM. It must be simply stated so that students can uncover the content standards themselves. It should not give away the contents standards which students may not really care about. It should engage the students and create wonderment through relevance to their world. It should drive them to an investigation to “uncover the standards” through carefully planned PBL and STEM.

Best of all, the teacher facilitates this learning experience by addressing both content and student success skills. The additional bonus of building important (success) 21st-century skills is a natural outcome. In order for students to “uncover the standards”, they will need to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and provide creative thought.

Examples Comparing an Essential Question to a Driving or Investigative Question:

Example 1

  • EQ: Can you describe a typical food chain for the herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores in the deciduous forest biome.
  • DQ/IQ: How can we as authors write a restaurant storybook menu for animals that live in the forest?

Example 2

  • EQ: How are measurement skills and our knowledge of math and geometry related to building a dream park with a given set of dimensions and budget?
  • DQ/IQ: In what way can we design, plan, and pitch a needed park for our community?

Example 3

  • EQ: What are the characteristics of the planets in our solar system in regard to atmosphere, surface, and composition?
  • DQ/IQ: How can we, as NASA scientists, write a proposal that recommends which planet should be explored by the next space probe?

Example 4

  • EQ: How can robots provide automation and use computer programs and code to deliver a given task?
  • DQ/IQ: Can we program a robot to ….?

Example 5

  • EQ: Can we name the various reasons that the American Colonies declared independence from England?
  • DQ/IQ: How might we write and produce a play that could be used today, or in our countries early history, to show why the colonies should declare independence?

Keep in mind that the Driving or Investigative Question may take on many names. The key point, is that it drives an investigation based on student owned inquiry. It really is the very first step in providing students that opportunity to not just answer the question, but come up with their own.

Next Post … Driving and Investigative Questions Part 2: Defining and Refining The Question in PBL and STEM

Thank you for joining me and I hope you found this information something you can use in your school and useful to share with other educators. As always, I invite you to follow me on twitter (mjgormans). Please give this post a retweet and pass it on to someone who will benefit. To ensure you do not miss a future valuable post or other resource covering PBL, Digital Curriculum, STEM, 21st-century learning, and technology integration please sign up for 21centuryedtech by email or RSS. Have a great week! Mike (https://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/

 Booking Info – It is time to think about your school or conference needs.  Are you looking for a practical and affordable professional development workshop for your school or conference? I have traveled the country delivering PD relating to technology integration, PBL, STEM, Digital Literacy, and the 4 C’s. I have delivered hundreds of workshops and presentations. Check out my Booking Page .  Please contact me soon if you have an interest. I am now almost booked through June and the rest of the 2017 calendar is filling fast.  Its also not to early to begin thinking of 2018! Please take a look at my Booking Page to see how I could be part of your school PD or Conference plans. Thanks so much.  Michael Gorman (mjgormans@gmail.com).



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