Driving questions to use in your PBL classroom

Driving questions set the purpose for learning and simultaneously capture the student’s curiosity. That can be a tall order to fill in any Project-Based Learning (PBL) classroom.

In the PBL classroom, groups of student solve complex problems. They gather and analyze facts, look for correlations, and evaluate possible solutions. Along the way, they make mistakes, and they meet dead ends in their pursuit of meaningful learning.

The process gives students the skills needed for collaboration and exploration in today’s workplace. Although it sounds like the students do most of the work, the teacher who initiates PBL in the classroom must provide the PBL structure before students embark in PBL.

Driving questions explained

That structure consists of driving questions.

Driving questions for PBL launch the learning project while illuminating the project’s focus. The most appropriate projects are narrow in scope. Broad projects can be overwhelming. They are more likely to lead down rabbit holes, which in turn, can cause frustration. Driving questions keep the project focused.

What makes a good driving question?

Writing a driving question can be difficult. Look for these characteristics in your PBL driving questions:

  • Make the question engaging. The best questions are easily understood and interesting. They ignite curiosity, making students eager to explore answers.
  • Craft open-ended questions. Driving questions go beyond fact-finding and reporting. They require students to compile information and use application, analysis, evaluation and synthesis to arrive at answers. Yes-no questions do not require critical thinking.
  • Support student learning goals. Projects are based on the content and skills students must learn. The driving questions align with these goals and incorporate academic vocabulary.

Examples of driving questions

Have your students develop critical thinking skills by answering questions that don’t have an obvious answer. Many types of driving questions can help you focus the learning tasks. For example, incorporate philosophical questions or questions focused on specific products or roles.

Driving questions follow a pattern. If you’re a beginner at writing driving questions, you can create the kinds of questions that focus your PBL projects with question stems.

First, identify on a single question that drives the project. To begin, start your questions with words like “why” or “how.” Next, write a challenge that begins with a verb like “build,” “create,” or “design.” Finally, identify the “where” or the “who.” What audience will benefit from the project?

Your driving question may look like this:

  • How can we plan a food drive that helps our community?
  • Why do cells go through mitosis in the human body?
  • How can I build a model of a pyramid to display in class?

When writing your driving questions, avoid common problems like these:

  • Slant and bias: Explain why not getting a college degree is bad. The question is written in the negative and already assumes that not having a college degree is terrible. The better question is “How does having a college degree affect people?”
  • Not opened-ended: Should the United States develop a Space Force? A yes or no will answer the question. No rationale is required. The better question is “What are the benefits and drawbacks for the United States to develop a Space Force?”
  • Lack of purpose:   How would you use science when cooking?  This question is too general. The better question is “How can we use the properties of chemistry in food preparation?”

Writing driving questions for your PBL takes practice. The time you invest in creating these questions will help your students engage deeply in learning.



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