Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Driving Question Board: A Visual Organizer for Project-Based Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Driving Question Board: A Visual Organizer for Project-Based Science

Article excerpt

It was helpful to keep track of questions we had at the beginning so we knew what we were trying to find out." With these words, a student described the value of using a Driving Question Board (DQB) in a project-based science (PBS) unit. This instructional tool is designed to support inquiry and project-based learning by organizing and focusing students' questions and linking them to content learning goals. We have used this tool in both physics and chemistry classes, but it can be used with any subject matter. This article describes the purpose and process of the DQB.

The driving question

Most PBS units use a driving question to create "a meaningful, defined problem space that provides intellectual challenge for the learners" (Singer, Marx, and Krajcik 2000). The driving question contextualizes the content of a project-based unit and provides students the opportunity to connect it to their personal experiences. A driving question is a rich, open-ended question that uses everyday language to make connections with students' authentic interests and curiosities. The question cannot be solved immediately, but requires a series of investigations that can be done in or around the classroom over several weeks. (Note: Typically, the driving question is chosen carefully by the teacher, after consulting with other teachers, students, and science educators.)

The open-ended nature of the driving question creates a challenge, since students may have difficulty recognizing the relevant science principles that are needed to answer it. The tool described here was developed in response to this challenge, as an instructional strategy used to facilitate students' learning.

What is the DQB?

The DQB is a large poster board that presents the driving question, which is surrounded by subquestions that are the foci of different sections in the PBS unit. These in turn are surrounded by questions posed by students. The DQB is jointly constructed by students and the teacher at the very start of the unit (and modified as necessary throughout the unit).

First, the teacher presents the driving question through an anchoring activity--an exciting activity or real-world example that is used to engage students. Then, following this intriguing observation, students generate questions that interest them and that they think will help them make sense of both the anchoring activity and the driving question. This creates a common base for "science talk" that will serve the class as a community of learners (Wenger 1998). Working in groups, students write their questions down on "sticky notes." After these questions have been written, the teacher then presents the sub-questions, which are categories representing the main learning goals of the unit. Students use these categories to organize their questions. After they have finished, a representative of each group posts the student questions on the board, or on a temporary poster, under the relevant category. A whole-class discussion then leads to some of the questions being merged, re-categorized, or deleted. At the end of this lesson, the teacher takes the temporary poster or collects the notes from the board (after making a photo or drawing of the notes' locations).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The teacher then prepares the actual DQB to be posted in the classroom during the next lesson. It should include both the driving question and students' sorted questions around categories (or subquestions). Although the structure of the DQB is set by the prechosen driving question and learning goals, the specific questions under each category, the order of the questions, and the evolving DQB are unique to each class, created and designed by students and their teacher. The teacher simply finalizes the work that was done by students. The sorted questions remain on the board in the order students suggested, and are referred to during relevant lessons. …

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