Developing driving questions
During the identify and define phase of a STEM project, the driving question (DQ) is used to provide a clear purpose of the learning for both students and teachers. It sets the context for the learning 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.
How to write a driving question
The driving question is an integral component of an authentic STEM learning sequence. When well-constructed, it provides students with the scope and direction for their creative thinking and problem-solving. Writing a STEM driving question video (6:43) demonstrates one process that you may use as a guide in the development of quality driving questions.
Transcript of writing a STEM driving question.
The driving question is an integral part of an authentic STEM learning sequence. When well-constructed, it provides students with the scope and direction for their creative thinking and problem-solving. A great driving question is one that can't easily be answered using a search engine. It is not a simple closed question with a concrete answer. Nor is it a deep philosophical question that will have thinkers scratching their heads for centuries to come.
A great driving question is one that challenges ideas and thinking but still provides students with the opportunity to succeed in the STEM classroom. Importantly, a great driving question is one that is relevant in the lives of students and their community.
So what does it take to write a great driving question? Writing a powerful driving question takes time and perseverance. It can be written by the teacher or the student or by both in collaboration.
Here is one method for writing a great driving question called the HIVE approach that provides scope, direction and challenge for the students involved. This method breaks the question into four connected components.
- H stands for 'how can'. A great driving question starts with these two simple words
- I stands for 'involved'. Which individuals or groups are involved in your driving question?
- V stands for 'verbs'. Our next component is a collection of verbs
- And E stands for 'event'. What is the event or thing that your driving question applies to?
So let's consider the opening component H for 'how can'. This simple beginning automatically embeds inquiry into our content and helps students develop a sense of ownership over the problem they are trying to solve. Compare the opening 'how can' to the opening 'how might'. A 'how might' question is a 'perhaps' question, one that focuses on the possibility of something happening. A 'how can' question, however, has a sense of certainty. It suggests to students; I can, you can, together we can solve the problem.
The next component of our driving question is I for 'involved'. This component is a noun group which helps bring our question into focus by defining who is going to be taking the action. If one student is solving the question, then the question will begin with 'how can I'. If it's a group of students, then the noun group becomes 'how can we'. If it's a class or a school, then the question might be 'how can the students of kinder blue' or 'how can the students of Playville public school'. The scope of this noun group will typically broaden as students move through school and become more confident working with their peers and the wider community. Consider how powerful the question becomes when the noun group refers to a whole team or community; 'how can the Sydney Blue Cricket Team' or 'how can the community of Moree.
Finding the appropriate scope of this noun group is a critical balancing act when developing a driving question. If the scope is too wide, then the problem might become overwhelming and not relevant in the everyday lives of students. If the scope is too narrow, the problem is at risk of becoming oversimplified and students might develop a solution in a few quick sessions.
V stands for the all-important 'verbs'. The verbs used in this component should encourage broad but meaningful action. Verbs such as 'improve', 'change', 'design' or 'develop' work well in this component. Some verbs can also be used to indicate a sequence of events such as 'prepare, survive and recover'. Again, it's all about balance. The number of verbs you use in this component will determine the scope of your driving question.
The last component of our driving question is E or 'event'. This component is used to define the event or thing that our question applies to and is designed to give further scope and detail to our question. It is important to be specific with this final component. For example, instead of saying 'a garden' by itself, you might add adjectives to make it 'a sustainable vegetable garden'. Building up this final noun group makes our driving question more specific and again, reduces the risk of students becoming overwhelmed by a driving question that is too broad.
Now that we understand all four components of our HIVE approach, we can now develop a powerful STEM driving question. For example: 'How can the community of St Ives prepare, survive and recover from a catastrophic bushfire?' Let's see if we've covered all the HIVE components in our driving question.
Firstly, our question starts with H for 'how can', giving students a sense of ownership over the problem. Next, we have our noun group I for 'involved'; in this case the community of St Ives. This component gives students the opportunity to authentically connect with their local community but is not so broad as to seem impossible.
After this, we have V for 'verbs'. Here we have three strong verbs: 'prepare, survive and recover' which in this case indicate a sequence of time; before, during and after the event. And lastly, E for 'event'. This component outlines the event or thing that the question applies to; in this case, a catastrophic bushfire. The use of term 'catastrophic' here refers to the highest rating on the New South Wales Rural Fire Service fire danger scale making our driving question more specific and focussed.
Developing a great driving question is not a quick or easy process. Using this HIVE approach is a great way to structure the development of driving questions in your STEM classroom that are authentic, challenging and give students permission to succeed.
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