Essential Questions

Trying to come up with essential questions for my algebra and geometry classes.

What is math?
What does math do?/What do we do with math?
Is math an invention or discovery?
How are numbers organized?
Does every number have a place?
Is that place important?

How can numbers represent change/patterns/time/space?
How can numbers be changed?/How can numbers change things?

Ok, I'm tired and that's all I got for tonight. Please please criticize and suggest more.


  1. I would hope no one would criticize you! I went through some of my math EQ stuff and found:
    It is better to live with a question or the wrong answer?
    What is change?
    What is truth?
    Who defines truth?

    Have fun! Jennifer

  2. Relating a question from a recent in-service, "Why is what you will eventually learn in this class considered important?" This is an EQ I plan on tackling, but unsure of an activity that will really grab their "buy in" to this. Ideas welcome.

    Maybe it shouldn't be an EQ; maybe it should be a modeled ideal that the students should develop an understanding of over time???

  3. Do you have to have a different EQ for each day? We do. We are also required to write it in such a way as to make it about the student: "How do you read a factorial?", "How do you find the number of possible outcomes in an experiment?", "How do you know when to use tree diagrams, permutations or combinations to determine outcomes?" are some of the ones I used this week. We are an IB school so we also have to have a guiding question, which can be written for the unit, semester or year. Our 8th grade math team elected to have a year-long guiding question: "How does language affect math?" We went with this question because we felt that in previous years, students may know the mechanics of math but don't always understand the question being asked in word problems. Hope this helps.

  4. Well if there is an essential question every day, then they aren't really essential, are they? I'm looking for more over-arching questions for the entire course. I do like the "How does language affect math?"

    Rich, I agree that it should be a modeled ideal and something to strive to prove in every class, every assignment. We should be creating the mindset that learning, knowledge, and math are important and useful.

    Jennifer, I love your question, "Is it better to live with a question or the wrong answer?" I think that will work perfectly with my math journal assessment.

  5. * Is math only useful for scientists/engineers?
    * Have you ever used math harder than arithmetic outside of class?
    * Even if you never use [skill] in "real life," what lesson can we take from this section that might apply in other circumstances?
    * (Geometry) Is there such a thing as a true circle in nature? If not, why do we study them?
    * What do you want to get out of this course?

    Maybe I don't understand what "essential questions" are. But there's plenty of metacognition to be done with specific topics, math as a whole, or even as general as the education system or their learning methods.

    I just came across your blog running through Google Reader's recommended feeds (I subscribed after reading this entry).

  6. Dave,
    I think I've covered the first question. We discussed whether math was a discovery or invention as well as talking about how numbers represent time, change, patterns, and space. I like the geometry question but I don't know how to answer that myself.

    The third question is one I strive to answer on a daily basis. I try to do a lot of hands-on and make my examples real world situations. I'll do almost anything to keep my students involved.

    Your geometry question is really stirring my thinking. Hm.

    Thanks for commenting.

  7. language? okay.
    spoken or written?

    but then, what else *is* there?
    what about the *drawings*?

    and what about *media*:
    how will our language be *conveyed*?
    (and indeed, how will our...
    drawings again, let's say...
    be created in the first place?
    chalk on the board? pencil?
    some bloody telephone or something?
    does it matter? and who *pays*?
    and how?

    and why does everybody always say
    it's so hard (math i mean) when
    actually it's the *only* thing
    that even makes any sense?

    and how does the language of *statistics*
    differ from that of *mathematics*
    (or, if this is too political for us
    [shades of "is that place important?"!],
    from that of algebra-and-geometry)?

    who moved my sign of intersection?

  8. Your questions look like the beginnings of enduring understandings. I think the questions that Dave posted are right on in terms of Essential Questions. They are not simply yes or no answers and they are not so large that you could spend all year answering them.
    In fact check out this article by Wiggins the "creator" of essential questions to better understand the point of them:

  9. Chum,
    Thanks for the link. It seems to me that Dave's questions are yes or no as well.

    Maybe I don't fully understand essential questions either.

  10. Yes I see what you are saying Elissa. I meant they could be modified to be more open. Essential questions are typically designed for units (2-4 weeks). So they may cover specific standards/ target sets such as geometry or graphing.
    How (when, where, why) are parabolic graphs used by scientists/engineers?

    Have you ever used parabolic graphs outside of class?

    Is there such a thing as a true circle in nature? Why do we study them?

    Year long essential questions are too large and open. Instead write enduring understanding statements. Then use essential questions in units to get at a particular unit topic that will help you to reach the larger enduring understanding.