Developing a driving question

The driving question (DQ) provides the purpose of the project-based learning (PBL) for students and teachers. It sets the context for the PBL and links to the content standards. The DQ should be clear, provocative, open-ended, challenging and linked to the core of what teachers want students to learn. Without a DQ, students may not understand why they are undertaking a project; moreover, strong driving questions provide students with an understanding and appreciation for planned investigations and activities during project time.

The DQ provides the purpose of the PBL for students and teachers. It sets the context for the PBL and links to the content standards. The DQ should be clear, provocative, open-ended, challenging and linked to the core of what teachers want students to learn. Without a DQ, students may not understand why they are undertaking a project; moreover, strong driving questions provide students with an understanding and appreciation for planned investigations and activities during project time.

Generally, driving questions are:

  • Focused on solving a problem.
    • How can we improve our local community reserve so that more people use it?
    • How can we decrease our carbon footprint at our school?
    • How can we make our kitchen garden financially sustainable?
  • Concrete and conceptual.
    • Can the decrease in bee population be remediated?
    • How can we create an effective learning program to teach senior citizens how to use an iPad?
    • How can we explain to Year 1 students why they don't fall off their skateboards so that they can apply this understanding to other aspects of life?
  • Abstract and debatable.
    • When is violence justified?
    • Should First World countries provide insight on or dictate the decisions of Three World countries?
    • When do we grow up?
    • Who has power and how do they get it?

How do I create a powerful driving question?

When developing a DQ it is important to make sure it is engaging, open-ended and linked to the core content students need to learn through the PBL. When thinking about whether or not your DQ is open-ended, one thing to consider is whether or not it is 'googleable'. If your students will be able to answer the question through a simple online search then it is not a DQ. Driving questions need to lead to sustained, in-depth inquiry and the production of a significant piece of work in an attempt to find an answer.

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) have developed a resource to provide some prompting questions to help you develop your DQ. Engaging with colleagues to give and receive feedback is another effective way of refining your DQ. This process is explained in the refining your project section.

Further reading and resources

BIE Tubric 2.0 tool to help you develop your own Driving Questions

BIE webinar discussing how to develop effective Driving Question

'How to write effective driving questions for project-based learning' Andrew Miller, Edutopia

Learning in Hand – Crafting questions that drive projects blog exploring Driving Questions

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