Friday, April 24, 2015

Information Investigators: Step #1 – Essential Questions for Authentic Learning

The moment they hear the investigator music start to play in the background, the students rip open the mysterious black box that has caution tape wrapped tightly around the outside. Their hands plunge into the evidence box like archaeologists dive into a treasure chest full of gold. Each student has a proof pamphlet firmly held in their fingertips, almost too close to their goggle-covered eyes. Some read their job description aloud to their peers loud and clear, while others opt to read chorally and still others examine the introduction silently in their minds.

Hello, all! Mollie here! 

This short vignette is a typical scene from the first few minutes of an Information Investigators session. I’m writing today as a continuation of our Information Investigators blog post series that we recently started following our presentation at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. If you missed our first post of this series, click HERE to read up on what Information Investigators is all about! Basically, Amy and I have created a process and format called Information Investigators, where students are learning Science and Language Arts standards in small groups through an integrated, collaborative, and authentic project-based style.

Within this post, you will find tips on how to create an essential question. This is the starting step to get in order before putting together your Information Investigator pamphlet. In our opinion, we think of essential questions as vital questions that are intellectually challenging and spark conversation. Essential questions call for higher-level thinking, including, but not limited to, analyzing, inferring, evaluating, and predicting. These types of questions are difficult to create, but fear not because you can do it! When they are used appropriately, you will see the benefits through the growth in your students’ knowledge.

.:. Choose an important Science standard .:.

To begin, you first need a topic to base your essential question on. Choose a Science teaching standard from either your state standards or the proposed Next Generation standards that you would like to be the focus of your students’ investigation. This standard will be the main goal of your students’ entire work during this process. Sometimes we choose standards that we have not covered previously because we are doing the investigation as an introduction to the unit and other times we choose a standard that our students have already studied because it’s a continuation or review of their learning. It’s up to you to choose which point of the unit you want to use this format and which standard you want to cover!

 .:. Unpack the standard .:.

We use the term “unpack” a ton with our students. What we mean by this is to think about what is inside of the standard. How can you break it down? What does the standard require students to know in order to be successful at showing knowledge of the standard independently? Is there any background knowledge that the students must have in their schema? Answering these questions will help give you specific ideas for your essential question. This tip may take some time, but it’s extremely important and the time will be worth it!

 .:.Use specific types of questions .:.

Since essential questions must engage students in conversation and deep thought, they cannot be questions that have a “right there” answer, such as “What is a food chain?” This question has an answer that students can find in a text. There are some particular types of questions that we use to create our questions. They start with the following question stems: what if, should, why, how, and which one. Once you’ve chosen and unpacked your standard, match it with one of these sentence stems to form a question!

 .:. Make it interesting .:.

Information Investigators is supposed to be fun! Creating a real-world scenario that goes with your essential question is one way to achieve this key aspect of the process. For example, in one of the Information Investigators we’ve taught in the past on fossils, we have the students pretend that they work at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and are hired to create an exhibit for the museum. The students enjoy this challenge and it brings excitement to the process of learning.

It is your turn to try! You can now begin on your journey to teaching and facilitating your first Information Investigators by creating an essential question. We hope these tips give you a better understanding on how to create essential questions. Click the picture for our Freebie Information Investigator Starter Pack on TPT that will give you all the components you’ll need to create your very own Information Investigators.

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