Have you ever heard of airport ideas?
According to Harvard Professor Dan Levy (no, not the actor), an airport idea is something from his statistics class that he wants students, five years from now, to be able to discuss when they see each other at the airport (remember when we saw colleagues and even students at airports? When travel for work was a thing?)
This reminds me of a question we asked a few years ago when departments were creating their program maps and looking at classes faculty in those departments and programs felt were critical to a student’s understanding of their discipline. We asked, “What do you want your students to be able to do know and know not just next quarter, but next year, and even five years from now?” How to we ensure that students are learning and understanding
That leads me to another important concept – essential questions. In a post on TeachThought, Terry Heick writes, “Essential questions are, as Grant Wiggins defined, ‘essential’ in the sense of signaling genuine, important and necessarily-ongoing inquiries. These are grapple-worthy, substantive questions that not only require wrestling with, but are worth wrestling with–that could lead students to some critical insight in a 40/40/40-rule sense of the term.” This 40-40-40 rule asks, “what’s important that students understand for the next 40 days, what’s important that they understand for the next 40 months, and what’s important that they understand for the next 40 years?”
When I was teaching statistics, I used essential questions to pull a thread through the class, Sometimes it was about something topical, like the 2020 Census, or polls in a presidential or even off-cycle elections.
Here are some examples of Essential Questions created by Terry Heick:
Language & Literature
- How is our understanding of culture and society constructed through and by language?
- How can language be powerful?
- How can you use language to empower yourself?
- How is language used to manipulate us?
- In what ways are language and power inseparable?
- What is the relationship between thinking and language? How close or far are they apart?
- How does language influence the way we think, act, and perceive the world?
- How do authors use the resources of language to impact an audience?
- How is literature like life?
- What is literature supposed to do?
Some overarching essential questions for math, from McTighe, Jay and Wiggins. Grant Essential Questions: Doorways to Student Understanding
- How is mathematics used to quantify and compare situations,
events and phenomena?
- What are the mathematical attributes of objects or processes and
how are they measured or calculated?
- How are spatial relationships, including shape and dimension,
used to draw, construct, model and represent real situations or
- How is mathematics used to measure, model and calculate
- What are the patterns in the information we collect and how are
This comes from The Second Principle by Leslie Owen Wilson who identifies essential questions as a key part of the instructional design process:
If you want to determine whether the questions you write fit into this framework, check out Dr. Wilson’s checklist:
I hope you give some thought to this idea – perhaps make it clear in your syllabus that this is what you hope students will be able to answer by the end of the quarter, and lead them through this investigation, bit by bit, each week. And maybe we’ll one day soon see our students at the airport.