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Essential Questions


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Ocsta Educators' Conference Oct 2009 …

Ocsta Educators' Conference Oct 2009
Rick Guetter

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  • 1. Essential Questions what’s the “big idea”? M. Sutherland, R. Guetter OCSTA Convention, 2009
  • 2. Our Students’ Essential Questions
    • Is this on the test?
    • Are we doing anything interesting today?
    • Can I go …
        • To the bathroom?
        • To get something from my locker?
        • Anywhere but here?
    • When is the retest?
    • Can I go on facebook when I’m finished?
  • 3. Discussion Starters
    • "Civilisations are judged and remembered not by their most successful businessmen but by the art they leave behind."
    • An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
    • Gandhi /
    • Can we coexist if Jesus is Lord?
    • Gideon Strauss – OCSTA 2009
  • 4.
    • Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
    • Einstein
    • “ Your body is a temple of the holy spirit”
    • 1 Cor 6:19
    • “ Life is like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re going to get”
    • Forrest Gump, 1994
  • 5. Why talk about essential questions?
    • the increasing breadth combined with the decreasing depth of many courses – even in science and math??
    • the amount of course revision done at the Ministry and expected of all Ontario schools – science, 2009
    • the tendency for courses to seem like fragmented trivia
    • the frustration with subject pacing that is required at most (senior) levels
    • the lack of identified themes or threads that run through a particular course
  • 6. What’s the problem?
    • For many years, the focus has been on teaching, or more specifically, “ what are we doing today ”?
    • The focus should be on “ what are the students going to learn today ”?
    • We can easily fill our teaching days with one of two substitutes:
      • Fragmented, piecemeal curriculum, teaching facts and testing for recall
      • Edutainment – “this seems like a fun topic for the day”
    • Or we can identify several key ideas around which the whole course takes shape – questions or ideas that flow out of your/our view of the world
  • 7. What’s currently being done?
    • Ontario Ministry of Education – “Big Ideas”
    • a recent move from the ministry – see science guidelines discussion in part 2
    • Previously talked about strands – primarily organizational
    • Philosophical problem for them because of their attempt to be “value neutral”
    • Realization that content and job skills are not enough
  • 8.
    • “Big ideas” are the broad, important understandings that students should retain long after they have forgotten many of the details of what they have studied in the classroom.
    • Developing a deeper understanding of the big ideas requires students to understand basic concepts, develop inquiry and problem-solving skills, and connect these concepts and skills to the world beyond the classroom.
    • From the revised science curriculum, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009
  • 9. What do I mean by essential questions?
    • Two types – I’ll call them specific questions and umbrella questions
      • Specific – relate to the nuts and bolts of your course or disciple
      • Umbrella – cross curricular and recur throughout one’s life
    • Examples
      • How can we reduce our reliance on coal and oil
      • - good in a unit on energy in geography or science
      • How can we live stewardly in a land of abundance?
      • - a great way to organize a whole course
  • 10. Your turn
    • Take a few minutes and try this for one of your own units within a course – get a partner
    • Try to focus on an idea or concept that is really important in your course, but also on an idea or concept that may recur during your life
    • Please share some of these with the group
  • 11. Examples from your courses
    • Specific
    • Umbrella
  • 12. Should essential questions be spiritual?
    • Let’s ask this in three different ways
      • should all of my big ideas and essential questions be about God and Jesus?
      • is it possible that some key ideas or themes are not specifically related to the mission or goals of this school; that they just consolidate the topics in your subject?
      • What if I can’t think of anything in my course that ties to something spiritual, or that points to God?
  • 13. Why us? Aren’t we busy enough?
    • We have a unique opportunity to lead the discussion that is being carried on in many schools, boards, and professional organizations across the country.
    • The worldview that we live and teach out of reminds us that the world is a “whole”, not a bunch of fragments. Our Christian school tradition tells us that faith is not just something to be practiced on Sunday.
    • We believe that questions of justice, worship, technology, stewardship, etc. are Essential , not just in our “church lives”, but in our everyday lives as teachers and students, as parents and children, as individuals and community.
  • 14. This sounds like it’s going to be a lot of work!
    • This is NOT a matter of redoing your curriculum and lesson plans
    • This IS a matter of being intentional about pointing students to the big ideas in your course
    • It will require assigning some different activities, asking some different questions in class and on tests
    • At the end of a course, a student should be able to identify the 3-5 big ideas that have run though the class
  • 15. Much of the work has already been done for you
    • PACS – four themes
    • Edmonton Christian Schools – 10 “through-lines”
    • Your own school – mission, vision, and core values
    • Web resources
  • 16. Prairie Assoc of Christian Schools
    • The task of a Christian School teacher is to help reveal God’s fingerprints in all things. Biblical truth states clearly that the world, in every way possible, belongs to God. We must focus on unwrapping and revealing the integral nature of the faith and learning relationship
    • Curriculum development can be an avenue to reveal to students God in all things. Using a Biblical context of 4 distinct parts can facilitate this unravelling of God’s influence.
      • Creation: God has created all things
      • Fall: all things have fallen as a result of sin
      • Redemption: Christ came to earth to redeem all things
      • Restoration: in response to Christ’s act we are called to work in partnership with God as all things are restored
  • 17. Edmonton Christian Schools
    • Which scriptural themes run through our courses?
    • God is the creator and when we create things, we show that we’re made in His image
    • We can praise God by creating beautiful things; this is fun and makes God smile!
    Students will praise God by creating beautiful things. 4. Beauty – Creating
    • Respecting the world and all things in it is a matter of respecting God and IS our job
    • the challenge to live in ways that balance our wants/needs with those of other people
    Students will respond to God’s call to be stewards of all of creation. 3. Earth – Keeping
    • When other ‘things’ are more important to us than our relationship with God, they become idols
    Students will be challenged to identify and understand the idols of our time. 2. Idolatry – Discerning
    • Worshipping God is about celebrating: who He is, what He has done, what He has created, His relationship with us
    Students will be involved in regular and meaningful worship experiences. 1. God - Worshipping
  • 18.
    • Creation is full of order and patterns, not just randomness
    • There is purpose in God’s creation and we are able to discover this amazing order
    Students will find harmony and order in God’s creation. 10.Order - Discovering
    • All the characteristics we admire in God are also within us – we are His reflection in the world
    • People around us often form impressions of who God is by looking at us
    Students bear the image of God in their daily lives. 9.Image – Reflecting
    • We belong in Community – living independently is not an option – This is how God made us
    • We need to reflect shalom– to be active and eager examples of shalom-filled communities
    Students will be active pursuers and builders of communal shalom. 8.Community – Building
    • This may be a response to an injustice or doing good things for the sake of doing them
    • This may be easy for us to do but sometimes it will really push us out of our comfort zone
    Students will work actively to heal brokenness and bring joy. 7.Servant – Working
    • God created a wonderful world and wants us to enjoy it
    • God smiles when we get out, live in and experience the gift of creation
    Students will celebrate God’s beautiful creation. 6.Creation – Enjoying
    • We need to act as agents of change by identifying and responding to injustices
    • God has decided to use people to do His work in this world. A responsibility and privilege!
    Students will act as agents of change by identifying and responding to injustices. 5.Justice – Seeking
  • 19. Marva Dawn – streams of living water
    • V ocation - What is our task? loving God, hearing God, worshipping God, asking God for what we need - finding our passion in serving God
    • O ne True God – There is richness in other religious traditions but grace is available through Christ only – it takes you by the hand and leads you
    • C elebration of creation - Celebrate the gifts of the earth and of people; take time to celebrate the diversity of cultures and gifts
    • A gape - the unconditional, "gushing" love of God that is purposeful and attentive to the needs of our students - accepting, tolerant, forgiving
    • T rinity - God is known to us in three "persons" who are distinct, yet singular in purpose - creator, redeemer, intercessor
    • I ndividual - Care and challenge for each student; individual response to the strengths and weaknesses of each student, just as God does
    • O utward – God’s power works through us and that power is multiplied to our students and to their families and larger community
  • 20. What about YOUR school??
    • Our Mission - The mission of Woodland Christian High School is to equip our students for lives of Christian service.
    • Our Vision - Woodland Christian High School will be a vibrant Christian community of learning where the love of God is evident and where students will be equipped to serve in our society as followers of Christ.
  • 21. Our Core Values - as a community we value…
    • God’s Word, the Bible, as our guide for salvation.
    • A Christian worldview towards education, which reflects our reliance on God in every aspect of living
    • Christian principles of trust, cooperation and love are key characteristics of this Christian community of learning.
    • Our ongoing commitment is to know God better.
    • The conviction that learning must be rooted in our faith in order to have meaning.
    • A respect for the diversity of teaching and learning styles of our teachers and students as an expression of their unique giftedness from God. 
    • The commitment of all members of this community to be people dedicated to the healing and reconciling work of Jesus in this world.
    • The commitment of this community to continually seek more excellent ways of teaching and learning.
  • 22. From the Web
    • “ One meaning of “essential” involves  important questions that recur throughout one’s life . Such questions are broad in scope and timeless by nature. They are perpetually arguable – What is justice?  Is art a matter of taste or principles? How far should we tamper with our own biology and chemistry?  Is science compatible with religion?”
    • “ we soon learn that answers to them are invariably provisional. In other words, we are liable to change our minds in response to reflection and experience concerning such questions as we go through life, and that such changes of mind are not only expected but beneficial. A good education is grounded in such life-long questions”
    • Grant Wiggins, “What is an Essential Question?”, taken from http:// =53
  • 23.
    • We should ask enduring questions because they lead to thoughtful, soul searching reflection about great ideas. A great question generates deep thinking, rethinking, discourse, analysis, debate, and reflection. It challenges presuppositions, creates dilemmas, and requires more precise thinking.
    • Eric Cooke, taken from
  • 24. Second Task
    • Spend the next 20 minutes searching for examples of “big idea” themes or questions that may be of particular interest or use in one of your courses. Please share these with others in the same subject area.
    • Write down the question or theme and spend a few minutes thinking about how you might incorporate this into your existing curriculum and lesson plans – we will look at this in part 2
  • 25. Next steps
    • Ideally, much of your work will show up in your course syllabus and timeline
      • You might organize your course by themes and cover the content as it relates to the theme
      • You might include a list of 3-5 of your essential questions on the syllabus and make sure you refer to at least one of the questions every second class
      • Other ideas?