Several months ago, I posted some thoughts about the importance of creating better problems for our kids to solve. Basically I asked:

“If a kid can Google whatever you’re asking, what value are you bringing to the process? If they can ask Siri the answers that are on your test, why do they need you?”

The value we bring is a deep understanding of not just the content but the process needed to understand and apply that content. And the ability to create authentic and engaging questions that lead your kids into that content and process.

In the earlier post, I listed a few suggestions about what those sorts of questions might look like. I called them “un-Googleable” questions, the kinds of questions that Siri can’t really answer:

  • What really happened in Boston on March 5, 1770?
  • Was dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima the humane or inhumane thing to do?
  • What is the best form of government?
  • Were African Americans really free following the US Civil War?
  • What is the best balance between state and federal power?
  • What does a “More Perfect” union mean?
  • Is it ever okay to violate the Bill of Rights?
  • What is the solution to the dropping water table in Western Kansas?
  • Should the local county commission allow energy companies to drill fracking wells within county boundaries?
  • How much influence does the environment have on historical events?
  • What name should be given to the federal land contested by General Custer’s 7th Calvary and the combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in June 1876?

But the learning can be very powerful when kids create their own questions. In fact, the NCSS College, Career, and Civic Framework standards encourage the idea of having kids look at a situation and begin to develop compelling questions that need answering.

The issue for many of us is that we don’t have a structure in place that supports that type of process. Luckily Ewan McIntosh and his staff have such a structure and have used it with kids. Check out their step by step suggestions below. Then head over and explore all of their stuff, including video clips, more suggestions, and additional resources.

  • Provide your class with an initial piece of inspiration – a TED Talk, some objects, a provocative discussion
  • Give students plenty of post-it notes to write one question per post-it in a short period of time – maybe 10-20 minutes.
  • Ask students to post their questions onto a window or wall, under two headings: Googleable and NonGoogleable
  • Discuss what might constitute a NonGoogleable question to create even more questions
  • Share out the Googleable questions for independent research
  • Give time for students to present their answers to the Googleable questions to each other: students as teachers
  • Explore the NonGoogleable questions as the basis of a rich project

That’s what I’m talking about. Sweet questions created by the kids themselves. Give it a shot and let me know what your kids come up with.