Not by the work my students do, or by the way the kids challenge me to be more (or less) helpful each day. But by the “essential questions” that my fellow tech teachers and I come up with, as we wrap up our projects in pretty UbD packages. Too many easy questions, not enough essential, enduring, and deep.
It’s simple–and I’m as guilty of this as anyone–to have a favorite project, and then to find standards-based justifications for it. The architectural model in Sketchup? Sure: students are using models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues. The challenging and fun animation in Flash? You bet: we’re demonstrating creative thinking, constructing knowledge, and developing innovative products and processes using technology. The same thing happens to English teachers who have a favorite text, science teachers and their great lab, and the rest of us.
In a blog post about just this problem, Ewan McIntosh wrote that
So many of the “essential questions” sought out in project-based learning (PBL, EBL, CBL, and all the other BLs) are not that essential.
Instead, he says, we do a great job of covering content and engaging students, at the cost of asking deep or “meaty” questions. McIntosh’s challenge: ask ourselves and let our students ask, “Is this question Googleable?” If so, put it aside to focus on questions that are not, so we can “use class time to collaborate and debate around the questions that are Not Googleable, the rich higher order thinking to which neither the textbook nor the teacher know the answers.”
This week, I’m going to ask my students in 3D Modeling to help me discover the real essential questions of our inquiry and projects. We’ll try to get way past the easy stuff and develop genuinely meaningful questions that we can begin to answer through our projects. It seems backwards, sure, but we’ll see where it goes. I hope it will help me and my students develop the next challenge, looking for answers to hard questions.