One Key to Success? Ask Better Questions

Instead of asking our students what they want to be when they grow up, we should ask them what problem they want to solve.” This advice from Jaime Casap, Google’s Chief Global Education Evangelist, echoes the thoughts of columnist Thomas Friedman, who once wrote:

My generation had it easy. We got to ‘find’ a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to ‘invent’ a job.”

Invention and problem-solving. Sounds good, but how do schools teach these skills?

At TVS, it starts with teaching kids to ask good questions – questions that tap their interests and intellect, questions that motivate them and move them. In his book A More Beautiful Question, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger writes, “We’re all hungry today for better answers. But first, we must learn to ask the right questions.” In his research, he discovered that “the most creative, successful people tend to be expert questioners.”

Our eighth grade humanities team has found one creative way to make more time for “beautiful questions.”  Once a week, during their Humanities Lab, students step away from their coursework and pursue questions that are driven entirely by their own interests.

They call it “Drive Time,” and here is how Dr. Wood and Mr. Sahs explain it:

In these self-directed projects, students research and develop a presentation to give to their classmates about a topic of their own choosing. We don’t grade the presentations: the goal is for students to embrace learning and presenting for the sake of KNOWING the material. Students choose a topic that interests them and design and conduct their own research. The goal is to let students drive, and be driven by, this part of their learning.

The first step to a meaningful “Drive Time” project is asking a good question. Students choose a topic that piques their curiosity and then reframe it as a question to pursue.  Here are some questions that students are currently exploring:

  • Can coding be an art form?
  • What are the effects of stereotypes on individuals?
  • How does dreaming affect our mind?
  • How can society prevent animal abuse?
  • What does it take to become a cultural legend? Why?
  • How has iPhone technology changed how we live?
  • Is it ethical for professional athletes to be paid so much?
  • How do the Olympics benefit a nation?
  • How does peer pressure perpetuate unhealthy body standards? How do we combat it?
  • How and why does modern media have such an effect on body image?
  • Does Pokemon Go promote teamwork?
  • How does Six Flags Over Texas affect neighboring cities?
  • Is there such thing as a murder gene?
  • Is gun control realistic and effective?
  • The binary competition of soccer and politics: Why does it always come down to two competitors? What does this say about freedom?
  • What is the new relevancy of the railroad?
  • Why are people so passionate about sports?
  • Why is Apple so successful?
  • What are the causes and effects of, and treatments for, mental illness?

As students begin to explore these questions, they develop the very skills they will need to become expert problem solvers. They learn about where to look for information, how to organize and synthesize their findings, and how to communicate their ideas to their peers. And, invariably, these questions will lead to other questions – questions that will hopefully “drive” them to find creative solutions to problems, and questions that will inspire them to “leave a place better than they found it.”

As Berger writes, “A beautiful question shifts the way we think about something and often sets in motion a process than can result in change. Entrepreneurs — at least the successful ones — do a great job asking beautiful questions. They almost have no choice. Their whole reason for being is to . . . solve a problem no one else is solving.”


 photo credit: benjaminreay Big question mark via photopin (license)

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