It’s August and school starts soon.
Imagine it’s the second day of school. You’re finished with the rules and procedures, seating charts and get-to-know-you activities. Standing in front of your students, you’re ready to set the tone and framework for the next nine months of instruction.
You pass out this note
The purpose of this course is to struggle with the The Big Questions of US history.
At first these questions will confuse you. They are filled with unclear definitions and open to many different interpretations and seem to have no clear answer.
Your job is to monitor these questions throughout the year and slowly craft sophisticated responses to them as we move through the different units of the course.
In June, your final exam will be to choose one of the Big Questions (which could be one that YOU created independently), develop a thesis statement, and answer it convincingly using the content learned in the course as your evidence.
Or imagine doing this in AP government with the Big Questions showcased in the new curriculum redesign.
Here is what’s happening:
- You’ve established Big Questions to be the most important component of the curriculum. This tells students that asking them is valuable.
- You’ve set struggle as the expectation of the course. This is a subtle message that learning will be difficult but still worth pursuing. This is the growth mindset.
- You’ve honored the importance of skills while at the same time preserved the integrity of content. And now you can discriminate your content based on whether or not it fits under one or more of the Big Questions.
- You’ve taught students that learning spans across units, instead of being confined within them.
- Students get ownership. They decide what content fits where; they determine how the content fits; they can even develop their own Big Question and track it throughout the year. In this way you have provided the context for student self-motivation.
- You’ve given students their final exam on the second day of class! For the next nine months there is no confusion as to where the class is headed. This focuses you and the students like a laser on what is to be learned and why.
Admittedly, it would be much more of a challenge to do this in an AP course with a rigid curriculum and content expectations. But even then you could have Big Questions in the backdrop and use them for enriching discussions.
Can you see yourself organizing your course using Big Questions? If so, what might it look like?
Note: You can gain great practice designing your questions in Socrates and the Battle for the Soul of America, an online course offered through NCSS throughout the year. Check it out!
(Be on the lookout for future blog posts in which I feature the work of teachers who have completed the course.)