Essential Questions

Last week during our regularly-scheduled faculty meeting time we broke up into discipline teams (also known as departments) to work on writing essential questions for our curriculum maps. The math team decided to focus on questions that would be useful in every math class, with the intention that we would get more specific later on. Here is our list:

  1.  What does it mean to model a scenario mathematically?  How do you recognize the limitations of your model?
  2.  What makes a mathematical argument complete and convincing? (process)
  3. How do you know when your mathematical work is valid?
  4. How can you decide if your work is valid? (product)
  5. If you have no help, how do you determine if your answer is correct?
  6. How do you decide when to check a solution?
  7. How do you know you’re right?
  8. How does your TI get an answer?

One of our stated goals is to get students to “think like mathematicians” and these questions are focused towards that. But…I don’t know if I like how broad they are.

An essential question is a story question for the course. As such they should be engaging, thought-provoking, open-ended, and specific enough to provide some structure. For example, “what is the meaning of life?” is not a good essential question because it is too broad to tackle effectively (and besides, it only has one answer: 42).

I feel like our list of questions is also too broad for students to tackle effectively. They are great questions for us teachers, to help us guide our own thinking, but not so great for students. At least not as questions to guide their work throughout a unit.

I’m interested in what questions we end up asking for each course and then each unit within a course. I think it will be neat to see how these questions shape the way we tell “the story” of each unit. I anticipate more thoughts to come on this topic, so stay tuned.

One thought on “Essential Questions

  1. I’m interested in how this actually ends up looking so keep us updated. As you said, this looks like guiding questions for teachers, not students. Really it all depends on what you do to followup. The “intention that we would get more specific later on” is a bit scary. If it’s like my school, that means we’ll completely forget about it and move on to the next thing.

    Oh and the meetup will have to wait. I’m not going to the Santa Clara talk (although Avery said Starbird is excellent) so I guess I’ll see you in November.

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