Layering questions in PBL classrooms

At the heart of project based learning are driving questions. There are questions that are irregular and not easily answered. Personally, I prefer them to be somewhat obscure, romantic, mystical or even ironic (jokes are great!).

The point to drive more questions though a systematic process. Unlike the traditional Blooms approach, my preference is to start with questions that pose binary opposites and evaluative responses right off the bat. I’ve been constantly surprised at the responses and generally it allows me to get into differentiated discussions fast. The last thing I want is for everyone to move forward at the same pace or in the same direction.

For example. “Has technology become the worlds biggest bully?”

This question will of course will draw out plenty of answers, and all of them to some extent will contain truth and fiction. This video is provided just to kick start the conversation – to pose a question in a context that has relevance to today’s young people. What follows will not be some didactic lecture on cyber-safety. Why? Because that’s something that appears from school, not from the rest of their lives, so kids often can retell and repeat ideal behavior, but disregard it when the influence of the teacher and the topic are removed.

PBL students use KWL charts to decide as a group what they believe they know, what they don’t. However, like most people, they don’t know what they don’t know, so they need directing. The point being, they don’t all need directing in the same direction. Below is a list of questions that could be added to the a KWL session to help kids focus in on a topic. They take multiple perspectives at the early stages because critical thinking isn’t about tuning in on the best solution as soon as possible, it’s about exploring as many possibilities. Design thinking (if there is such a thing), is best thought of as a systematic process that promotes divergent thinking.

For students new to PBL, giving them a series of questions helps. PBL isn’t driven by one question or one agenda – a series of questions can be recycled and re-framed constantly. They are also turn-around questions when students start moaning “I don’t get it this, it is stupid” or “what is the point” which is really them pinging you for answers – as that is the think that education has told them to expect.

Have a practice – get some groups together and give them 4 questions each to work on KWL charts.

Do you agree with the actions…? with the outcome…?
What is your opinion of…?
How would you prove…? Disprove…?
Can you asses the value or importance of…?
Would it be better if…?
Why did they (the character) choose…?
What would you recommend…?
How would you rate the…?
What would you cite to defend the actions…?
How would you evaluate…?
How could you determine…?
What choice would you have made…?
What would you select…?
How would you prioritise…?
What judgment would you make about…?
Based on what you know, how would you explain…?
What information would you use to support the view…?
How would you justify…?
What data was used to make the conclusion…?
Why was it better that…?
How would you prioritize the facts…?
How would you compare the ideas…? People…?
Is there a better solution to…?
Judge the value of… What do you think about…?
Can you defend your position about…?
Do you think…is a good or bad thing?
How would you have handled…?
What changes to.. would you recommend?
Do you believe…? How would you feel if. ..?
How effective are. ..?
What are the consequences..?
What influence will….have on our lives?
What are the pros and cons of….?
Why is ….of value?
What are the alternatives?
Who will gain and who will loose?