We want questions that blow our minds when we answer them. And by answer them I do not mean we come up with the answer that we put in a box, gift wrap and put a little bow on it. I’m talking about answers that we wrestle with, we entangle ourselves in, we work and rework, correct and edit, because through this process we are gaining insight into our lives and the world around us. As educators, it is our ability to pose thought provoking, inspiring, mind blowing questions that will take our students down so many rabbit holes they wake up dazed and confused and in an entirely new reality…they are freed from the Matrix.
The Essential Question is a good place to start any unit, or lesson, or every class for that matter because it forces the mind to engage. For example, if I say, “Okay my young minds of the future (or some other endearing label you have for your students), let me tell you about the Fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos that ensued around Europe as the people lost all hope of protection and security as their world fell apart.” It’s interesting sure. Filmmakers have car chases and explosions for a reason but when the dust settles, the masses tend to drift off after Ryan Reynolds emerges from the wreckage, shirt torn yet face still pretty, and starts talking. Information delivery, no matter how exciting the story, will engage a young mind for only so long before it drifts away (about 13 minutes for the average middle school student before drift off).
Take this topic and begin a different way: What would you do to survive if you lost all that keeps you safe? No government, no police, no school, just you and your family left to figure out how to survive. What would you do?
Now the idea of the destruction of a civilization takes on an entirely different meaning because the essential question forces the student to put themselves in the place of a Roman or any other person in history who has seen their civilization collapse and think about how they would handle it. It is a question that does not have the single answer floating around out there. It cannot be “googled.” A student cannot lean over and copy the “smart kid’s” answer. The question requires a number of other questions to be asked first before tackling the answer: What do I do for food? Can I stay in my house and be safe? Should I form alliances with neighbours for protection? What are the most important skills I need to stay alive?
- open ended
- not Googleable (is that a word now?)
- leads to other questions