Essential Questions for Math

Posted on November 22, 2011. Filed under: Assessment, Elementary math, Mathematical Proficiency | Tags: , , , |

Essential questions help us to frame our units of study.  They probe the “So What?”  They make us think deeper about what and why we are teaching and learning something.  They should be up and visible in a classroom so that anything we do “sticks to the essential questions.”  Heidi Hayes Jacobs says that they are the “velcro of the unit.”  I find that people struggle coming up with great questions for math.  

I recently found this list of 150 questions.  These are just some ideas to get you started.  Some are great and others need more work.  Remember that an essential question is expansive.  It makes you think and wonder and approach the answer in many ways.  You can’t google the answer.  It encourages broad thinking not narrow thinking.  Essential questions keep on pushing the thinking throughout the unit and beyond.

Let’s consider the following two essential questions:

Why is addition important?  How do I use it in my everyday life?

These are great questions because you can explore them with whole numbers, fractions and decimals. Students can investigate the question with family, friends and in the neighborhood stores. They are real questions whose answers can be found in our everyday lives.  They make sense and help us to make sense of math.

Happy Mathing,

Dr. Nicki


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