183: Crafting the Driving Question





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Driving questions are provocative
  • engages student throughout the duration of a project
  • example: Do music videos paint an accurate picture of America?
Driving questions are open-ended
  • no easy answers
  • requires higher level thinking
  • require students to integrate, synthesize and critically evaluate info
Driving Questions go to the heart of a discipline or topic
  • can focus on central controversies of the discipline
  • can require discipline-specific processes to resolve
  • example: How safe is our water?
    • biology / chemistry / physiology project
Driving questions are challenging
  • opportunities to try out unfamiliar behaviors
  • confront difficult issues
  • example: When are people justified in revolting against an established government?
    • project on conflict and revolution in Latin America
Driving questions can arise from real-world dilemmas that students find interesting
  • example: How could we build a new community center using only materials that are native to the state?
    • project on physical and chemical properties
Driving questions are consistent with curricular standards
  • lead students to master knowledge and skills in project standards
Refining the driving question
  • Broaden the question:
    • Ex: Was Truman’s decision to drop the bomb justified? -> Can the use of nuclear weapons be justified?
  • Add predictions to question:
    • Ex: How have robotics and automation changed our society in the past century? -> How might robotics and automation change our town and its businesses in the next century?
  • Add expert guidelines and opportunities to examine central themes:
    • Ex: What happened to the ancestral Pueblo people? Create an exhibit using words and pictures. -> Why do civilizations such as the ancestral Pueblo, Inca, or Aztec civilizations disappear?  Put together a presentation suitable for an archeology convention that supports your case.
  • Go local
    • Ex: What is global warming? -> Should we be worried about global warming in our town
  • Add investigations of change
    • Ex: What have been the the most popular novels among teenagers in the last 30 years? -> How has reading changed for teenagers over the last 30 years?
  • Include a problem that needs solving
    • Ex: What is radiation fog and how can it be dangerous? -> How can we reduce traffic accidents associated with radiation fog?
For more discussion on driving questions, see this article: Essential questions.


Driving questions motivate students to apply their new knowledge and skills to tackle a difficult problem.  They are lighthouses that inspire and unite activities and products in a project.  A good driving question can be used as a pre-assessment, formative assessment and summative assessment.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze upcoming bundle of standards
  • Identify authentic and interesting themes that go with bundle of standards
  • Craft a driving question that highlights important issue(s) in the chosen project theme
  • Examine driving question using revising methods (see list above) and see if any of these can be used to improve the question
Early Implementation Steps
  • Display the driving question (online in project hub and physical in readily visible part of classroom)
  • Use driving question to trigger knows and need-to-knows
  • Use driving question to frame products and scaffolding activities
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Ask for feedback on driving question and use that feedback to refine the question
  • Teach students how to create related questions from driving question and use these as the center for their projects
  • Use driving question as pre-assessment and priming the brain activity near the start of a project
  • Maintain a concept map wall that goes with driving question that is updated throughout the project



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