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Essential Questions

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from ISED 11/13/07 by Jessi Christiansen

Below is a summary I put together (it's based on Heidi Heyes Jacobs' book) when we first engaged in this conversation.

  • This interrogative way of asking questions suggests investigation and inquiry rather than the more militaristic and directive "objective".
  • When the curriculum is formed around questions, the clear message to students is that you are probing them.
  • The essential question is also an organizer. To structure an array of activities, it's wise to group activities under essential questions similar to chapter heading in a book. It doesn't mean that every question has to be clever. The key is that you create a question of genuine perplexity to the learner.
  • Sample E.Q: How does my community affect my life? What do I owe my community? Or do I?

(Traditional Objective: Students will learn to recognize personal responsibility to the community.)

  • Criteria for Essential Questions:
  1. Each child should be able to understand the question.
  2. The language of the question should be written in broad,organizational terms.
  3. The question should reflect your conceptual priorities.
  4. Each question should be distinct and substantial.
  5. Questions should not be repetitious
  6. The questions should be realistic given the amount of time allocated for the unit or course.
  7. There should be a logical sequence to a set of essential questions.
  8. The questions should be posted in the classroom.

I think Essential Questions for more skill based classes/grades are challenging, but what might help is asking "What is the purpose of learning these skills?" So, for second grade you might had "How do we understand written texts?" as a question, or for French I, "How do we speak French effectively?". I'm not sure these are "right", but that's the way we went. I sometimes found faculty got very frustrated and bogged down with looking for the "right" EQ. It might be more helpful to make them more organic - look at the whole map and then ask "Why are we teaching what we teach?". (This is just my interpretation of Heidi Hayes Jacobs - do go straight to the source for her take.) -ISED 11/13/07 Kristen Dennison



What are the essential elements for improving the implementation of teaching with technology?

In his ISED listserv post on May 6th, 2006, Fred Bartels ponders whether the integration of educational technology leads to an improvement in the working condition of teachers. This is one of the most important questions for professional development specialists to consider, and one which, if pursued, would likely lead to greater changes in school culture. After all, if integrating educational technology makes teachers' work harder, why would anyone do it? Unfortunately, many cases of integration of educational technology have resulted in this outcome. Click here to read his post.


Seymour Papert challenges us to ask, "What do we want our students to know?"

Add your thoughts here!

  • love of learning
  • integrity
  • marketable vocational skills
  • lifelong learning

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