Question Everything

Take a second and think back to your elementary school.  In your classes, who was the person asking most of the questions?  Was it your teacher?  Was it the “smartest” kid in class?  Was it you?

Now think, who should be the one asking the questions?

Typically in schools, the teacher is mainly questioning students.  Then there is that one student, maybe multiple students, who question.  This student is often viewed as an outcast, the one challenging authority.  This attitude needs to change.

Instead of negativity towards these students, educators should be encouraging students to question.  We need to transition into a world where questions are valued more than answers.  In most cases, they are more important.

Why? Questioning drives us towards a solution.  Problems may come in all shapes and sizes.  Solving our problems is not simple.  Berger recognizes a method of questioning that helps solve difficult problems in three specific steps.  This is the Why, What If, and How process (Berger, 2014).

This method incorporates design thinking skills and helps break down the problem solving process (2014).  It may seem like an endless cycle of question after question, but it logically makes sense when you move through the stages.  It organizes your thoughts from seeing and understanding the problem (why?), to imagining solutions (what if?), to eventually doing (how?) (2014).

So how can we use this process in the classroom?

As a co-teacher in high school Geometry classes, I work with mainly freshmen and sophomores.  Along with teaching the curriculum, we are also preparing them for the SAT.  Beyond standardized testing, “we need more patient problem solvers” (TED Talk, 2010) to make sense of the world around them.  Teaching math reasoning is more difficult than teaching math computation, especially to high school students.  After all, who loves story problems?

In our classes we assign complicated “performance tasks” which usually involve multi-step word problems.  Students have to blend together prior mathematical knowledge with new material to find the answer.  The directions may help guide them; however they have to use their problem solving skills to think critically.

Performance tasks are ill-structured problems because students need to coordinate multiple systems, strategies, and skills.  This is not easy.  Students often do not do well on their first one.

This year, my co-teacher and I considered ways to scaffold our performance tasks.  We wanted to give some support early in the year, and then reduce that as the year went on.   We decided to use the visible thinking routine, Micro Lab, where every student participates in group discussion with rounds of sharing that are timed.  We altered this routine a little bit and had students just work with the partner next to them.

  • Students read through the directions and determined the problem on their own.
  • One partner had one minute to tell the other partner possible solutions.
  • The second student had one minute to discuss ways to get to the answer.

question marks

Even though we saw improvements in PT scores after using this routine, I would like to make some more changes.

We used the why, what if, and how framework ideas without explicitly telling students to question.  I would take away the micro lab and just have students write down questions for each of the three stages.  To make sure everyone participates, each student could come up with two questions for each stage.  Then, they can discuss the questions with their partner.  This conversation is critical for brainstorming ideas and coming up with the best method to solve the problem.  Later in the semester, we can take the partners away and students can use Berger’s questioning process on their own.

I naturally go through Berger’s questioning process when I make improvements on my lessons.  It is easy to imagine using this in my personal life as well since I have an analytical, questioning mind.  My new challenge is to instill this in my students by lessons that encourage them to question.

With Berger’s technique, “you can attempt to adjust the way you look at the world so that your perspective more closely aligns with that of a curious child” (2014).  This innocent mindset gives us a new perspective where we step back and truly observe a problem.  We take time to digest the information before jumping to an answer.  When we think this way and question our questions, we might come up with a brand new idea or innovation.  The possibilities are endless.

Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

TED Talk. (2010. March). Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover. Retrieved July 15, 2016. from http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover

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