George Lucas Educational Foundation

Presentation on Asking Better Questions

Presentation on Asking Better Questions

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I am presenting to other faculty members on the idea of asking better questions in curriculum development and everyday lessons. I am trying to merge Understanding by Design, Making Learning Whole (by David Perkins) and Project Based Learning. Can anyone share an instance where PBL, or UBD, or other changes in how you ask questions has changed your classroom or helped your students learn better? I appreciate any and all responses.

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Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Hi Lauren!
I tweeted out your question today on 4/26 and hope to get some feedback to you, soon!
I'm not a user of PBL as I'm a consultant, so really want to get you some feedback from classroom users.

Talk soon,

Matthew Sears's picture
Matthew Sears
Program Director at NC New Schools Project

Hi Lauren. Thanks to Lisa for the tweet that brought me here. I'm answering this having just left 3.5 years of PBL math in NC at a "New Tech" school. My comments relate to questions/challenges and I think they may not get at what you're asking (since I don't know the UBD work), but I hope they might help.

I always found posing those critical questions/challenges for my projects to be the most important and most difficult part of the work. An example: we made a Geometry project where groups of students were applying for this Fiskars Gardening Grant ( The question/challenge seems simple: Can you design a community garden for our campus that meet the grant requirements and a few others that our community needs (adding a few requirements like compost bins, etc.).

But after several years of working at this, the crafting of the questions/challenges had to: a) lead students to feel that while the work might be challenging, they could see themselves doing it (in this case, they thought that they COULD design a garden, even if they hadn't consider how much time/effort/learning it would take), and b) contain inherent "stumbling blocks" that would lead to learning situations (in this case learning about volumes was one of my objectives and quality dirt/compost is sold in cubic yards, so while kids can make instant progress on designing a garden, the details will generate learning situations).

This doesn't really address the daily "questioning" aspect of classrooms but I found it to be the most important kind of question/challenge I would give my students from project to project.

Geoff's picture
Math Coach | New Tech Network

Hi Lauren, a collaborator and I have been developing a simple line of questioning to go along with our Math content: pre-, during, and post- project/problem. I hope it might be applicable to your needs. Here's what we've come up with thus far for a line of questioning once students are presented with a problem/entry event.

Math Questioning

Define the problem
a. What is the problem about? What is it asking you to do?
b. What do you 'know' from the problem scenario or prior knowledge that can help solve the problem?

Analyze the problem
a. What do you need to know to solve the problem?
b. How is the problem similar or different to other problems you have solved?

Brainstorm strategies for solving the problem
a. What strategies might you use to solve the problem?
b. What will be your next steps?

Lauren Vargas's picture
Lauren Vargas
A New Teacher

Thank you all so much for your responses. And especially to Lisa for tweeting on my behalf. I am new to the digital education world, so this is a great experience for me and I know it will be useful for my colleagues.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

So great to see some wonderful feedback here!

Nancy Doda's picture
Nancy Doda
Nancy Doda, Professional Development Leader

I share your thinking and use all of these models in my unit design work. What is often most helpful in that synthesis is the focus on deeper understanding, and big, provocative questions that embrace themes of personal and social meaning. Simply making the shift from teaching to content, say " ancient civilizations": to teaching to big ideas" where you lives shapes how you live", is transformative for may teachers with whom I work. Keep it going!
Nancy Doda
Teacher to Teacher

Ken Cornett's picture
Ken Cornett
Retired: Grades 4 to 12, specializing in curriculum development

Not sure where you are going with this as my learnings are a bit older, like a lot.

But I was always taught that first you have develop background in the students, like many student don't know a lot of much at first, so one has to create lessons to provide background into that topic,

Once they have the background, then they can be challenged into the creative world from their background.

It is like teaching them to write, many students don't have a clue what to write about because of their experiences. What I liked to do was to give the students a 4 or 5 video of anything and they would make notes - this way they have information in front of them , then they would write in sentences what they just saw. After doing that for awhile, you can build into sentence structure, speelling, proof reading, and other parts of writing skills that they need to learn. At the end of the year the students would watch a full feature movie, make notes (it was pages and pages) and then write a story about what they just watched in no less than 20 pages, at the same time having complete sentences, proof reading, correct spellilng and anything you want to add - as well as having a class mate proof read, to check for correctness of their writings - this was a grade 4 class

Again find out what the students need to learn and teach to those skills, it really works.

Good Luck

Verna's picture

I am looking for questions to ask for interviewing new teacher.
Do you have any general guides for a list of good questions to expect while interviewing. Examples: Attitudes of people
Specific Skills
Knowledge of Early Childhood

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