Great Minds Discuss Ideas…

In the past week or so, I’ve had many conversations with kids about what they’re doing–I’m not sure why they’re bugged right now about their activity in school–it is just plain ol’ winter doldrums?  Has enough of the year passed so that they’re just tired of doing the same thing over and over?  Have worksheets gotten OLD? I’m not sure WHY they are complaining about the way school typically works, but they are clamoring for more–more choice, more responsibility, more history, more free choice reading, more conversations around those free choices (and fewer comprehension worksheets with questions). They say history is not taught enough and that it’s too USA-centric! They’re asking for a global perspective on events in the world!

So I’ve been struggling lately with how to have conversations with other teachers about deep learning.  That’s not something we talk about a lot in our building, for the most part, as our PLC work is all based around data–and the data is mostly based on multiple choice tests. But, having my kids be vocal about wanting a different experience is weighing on me.

I want kids to have a chance to explore big questions-and I want teachers to not only enjoy setting up those opportunities and have fun helping kids learn, but I want teachers knowledgeable enough to do that in ways that  will make sure kids learn the skills they need in ways that matter. I don’t want willy nilly education, but big questions based around concepts that will support kids to become effective and efficient–and passionate–learners. I want kids to know what to do when they don’t know what to do–to have strategies for learning something new in a variety of ways and in a variety of situations!

So I’ve been kicking around some questions kids have asked me, or ones I think they might like to explore. . .

Is there such a thing as an odd number? (See and

How many continents are there? (Check out this and this before you say 7.)

When is a fact a fact?

What happened before road signs?

What would the United States be like if Columbus had landed on the west coast, and our country had been settled from that side?

How can anything times something be less than the original?

How would you explain dividing fractions to someone?

How do scientists categorize plants and why do they use the categories they do?

Why ISN’T Pluto a planet any longer? How can it be a planet one day and not the next? Who decided it wasn’t?

If cell phone sales are catching up to laptops, why are schools still buying laptops and should they?

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What implications do the following numbers have for our world?

“It took 19 years for color TV to reach 10 Million users, VCR 12 years , CD players 7 years, iPad 9 months.”

And, I’m curious–what questions would you add?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

I want my kids to be discussing ideas!

14 thoughts on “Great Minds Discuss Ideas…

  1. You are so right and this is the exact way I have been feeling lately. My students recently wrote letters to our Board in celebration of gifted ed. week and their comments, though honest, really broke my heart. They said things like “We like to think, not just answer blanks on paper.” Their words were so powerful it has left me wondering how I will have conversations that will change things for them. I love your remark about making them “Passionate Learners”. I can tell a few questions that I heard in my classroom this week….

    “Why would they claim the Titanic was unsinkable but it wasn’t? Isn’t that lying?”

    “How can we have so much money in the space program when so many people we know don’t have jobs?”

    “Is ammonia in the soil going to harm my plant growth or will I need to use hydroponics instead? (Planning a space colony)”

    *This is why I love my job – I didn’t have immediate answers for these questions, but the discussions that took place were what it’s all about! 🙂

  2. :ove this post, Paula- really speaks to the notion that young learners don’t look for the easy way out- in fact, just the opposite. I’ve never found anything much fun that’s learned easily or demands little thought. It’s almost like being on autopilot which seems like kind of a boring thing to be as I sit 35K ft in the air and wonder if this plane’s on autopilot. The most interesting thing to me is that when kids get the opportunity to work hard at their learning – to think, create, design, analyze, take apart, put together- the job of the teacher gets easier. We become facilitators instead of directors of learning. We get to move away from the teaching wall, and we get to share responsibility with the learners not just for them. I love the questions- and the idea that it’s the questions without easily attainable answers that push learners to new levels.

    Yesterday some COB folks came out to ask my kids about textbooks and how they used them. My kids were quite vocal about not wanting worksheets and wanting to learn more than they are.They clearly want a variety of ways to understand information–charts, tables, graphs, pictures and support structures like indices, TOC, glossaries, and so on. Text features weren’t that important to them, but I think that’s because we haven’t had great conversations about just exactly what that means. They spoke to the necessity of finding information quickly and making words clickable, which clearly employ features of text. You’re right–learners don’t mind doing hard work–it’s when they are asked do tasks that are inconsequential that they get disgusted and don’t try. And, you’re right–when we let them work hard and make choices about their learning, our job becomes much more fun and interesting!

  3. Wonderful questions and Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is timeless! How ironic that a PLC becomes centred around data driven multiple choice questions when there are so many great ideas and questions that require attention.

    Here is a question I had to ask my administration this week when they changed our network password because students had hacked in. Why are we locking down access to technology in the school when they have access in their hands? What is our worst fear? When we face the fears, the answers follow.

    Loved reading your blog. Thanks!

  4. “When we face the fears, the answers follow.” You’ve certainly given me something to think about this weekend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Laura!

  5. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class and am now following you on Twitter and your blog. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing. Children are getting more mature all the time. It sounds like I need to be ready to show relevance in my lesson plans!

  6. Hello Ms. White!

    My name is Matthew Poirier and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class. My immediate reaction to those questions of yours was “boy, time to do some research…” which is exactly what should be the response to questions in schools nowadays. The answer shouldn;t be readily available, listed somewhere in plain english for everyone to just repeat. Thought provocation is what responses should be to questions. In Dr. Strange’s class, he speaks of what is called ‘burp back’ education, which is essentially feeding your students information and having them offer it back -‘burp’- in an exam, test, etc. What? What is that? Definitely not leraning. It’s recitation. It’s similar to when a student comes up with an ingenious idea, then another student raises his hand and says “yeah, um, like what he was saying, bla bla bla…” Everyone thinks “Hey buddy, you’re just repeating what the smart guy said in your own words. Close your mouth and put your hand down.” Students need to make other students think. Need to make TEACHERS think. Yes, I said it. I’ll bet any teacher in the world has his/her day made when a student says something and the teacher, after being stumped for a moment, goes “hey wait a minute… that’s exscellent! Why didn’t I think of that?!” Why didn’t I think of that. It’s a question we want to hear often, and especially after we’ve said something. No more burp-backing! Let’s get some real learning out there.

  7. It’s so wonderful that your students are wanting to have a global perspective in their education. Questions as these allow students to research and use technology to find readily available information which in turn becomes their own personal knowledge. Developing passionate learners is exactly what all educators must do, but unfortunately sometimes this is not the mindset. As a student, I really enjoyed finding answers to questions even when they were not part of the assignment simply because I enjoy finding information. My goal as an educator is to instill critical thinking skills and approaches in my classroom so that students can analyze information they encounter in their daily lives from multiple levels of analysis. I think that this will be different approach that students will enjoy because they are given responsibility and voice to express their opinions, share their research, and publish their findings.

  8. Hi My name is Rebecca, I am in Dr Stranges EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I have to say I loved this post. I have so many friends who are teachers and have kids asking for more, more creativity. It is just not that possible when the State mandates a certain curriculum and gives them little leeway. I love the questions you have raised, especially the one on the continents. Both findings and different ways to look at it were crazy. Thank you so much for this post!


  9. Hey Ms. White,
    This was an interesting blog. I liked all the questions that where asked in it. I never thought of what our country would be like if Columbus would’ve landed on the west coast. It makes me wonder where I would be if that would’ve happen. My question: Is the Bible something that men made up for people to have an explanation for why we are here?

  10. Pingback: Lost….and Found…thanks to blogs and tweets and being connected « Cooperative Catalyst

  11. I recently got my Masters in Elementary Education and have really enjoyed reading this blog. My favorite part of this specific post is: “I want kids to have a chance to explore big questions-and I want teachers to not only enjoy setting up those opportunities and have fun helping kids learn, but I want teachers knowledgeable enough to do that in ways that will make sure kids learn the skills they need in ways that matter” …this is SO good and so important! I want my students to be able to think outside of the box!

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