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					Big Ideas and Essential
Questions for Libraries

       June 22, 2011
     Today’s Learning Goals
1. Why big ideas and essential questions are
   crucial for libraries?
2. What are the criteria for big ideas and essential
3. Time to work with your colleagues to develop
   big ideas and essential questions for library.
Why big ideas and essential questions are
          crucial for Libraries
• Marzano – guaranteed and viable curriculum #1 for
  school improvement and student achievement.
  Identifying Big Ideas for Libraries can connect the
  whole school.

• Big ideas and essential questions guide feedback so
  students can make progress toward a key learning goals.

• Big ideas and essential questions allow for focus on
  content that is relevant and applicable to real life in
  order to achieve motivation and engagement.
     Big ideas and essential questions allow 21st century
                  learners to be successful

Core subjects – content linked to meaningful application

Thinking and learning skills – Critical thinking, problem solving,
   creativity & innovation, communication & information , collaboration

Life skills- leadership, self direction & responsibilities, accountability, ethics,

Technology Literacy – access the world, information as your finger tip

21st Century Content – global, entrepreneurship, civic awareness, financial
   economic business literacy, health and wellness
  Why are we focusing on big ideas and essential

   Students link all learning experiences to key
 concepts already known or experienced and new
     ones derived from real life applications.

• Not all expectations are created equal.
• Learning without practical and meaningful application
  is quickly forgotten.
• Understanding occurs when individuals seek answers to
  important questions and make connections.
• We need to know our students too! (what skills do they
  bring from elementary school?)
Since knowledge is infinite……

 focus on which concepts and skills will be
 needed in the 21st century if students are to
    become marketable, global citizens is
  Advanced “Big Ideas” 101
   “ A big idea offers a
  conceptual framework
  allowing the learner to
  explore answers to the
     essential questions
involving a unit of study.”
                  - Grant Wiggins
               What is a Big Idea?

• A big idea offers a conceptual framework allowing the learner to
  explore answers to the essential questions involving a unit of
  -Grant Wiggins

• Answer questions like:
   – Why exactly are we teaching…?
   – What couldn’t people do if they didn’t understand…?
   – What do we want students to understand and be able to do 5 years from
  How to identify the Big Ideas
Big ideas are typically revealed through:
   –   Focusing themes
   –   On going debates and issues
   –   Insightful perspectives
   –   Underlying assumptions
   –   Paradox/problems/challenges
   –   Organizing theory
   –   Overarching principle
   –   Provocative questions
   –   Processes- problem solving, decision making
            Some “Big Ideas” by Type
Concepts      Economics- Its not the money you have,
              but how you allocate it.
Themes        Good triumphs over evil.
Debates       Winning is dependent upon offense vs
Perspective   Life is shaped by your attitude; my cup half
              full or half empty.
Paradox       Freedom involves responsibility.
Theory        Form follows function; you are what you
Principle     Less is more.
Assumption Non-fiction text always depicts truth.
              Can we do this for library?
Concepts        APA Style focuses on the author and date of the
Themes          Information can be biased
Debates         Wikis and blogs are valuable information sources

Perspective     The quality of sources increases with the
                credibility of the author
Paradox         Freedom of speech involves responsibility in the
                on-line world.
Theory          Information is only useful if it is organized
Principle       Fewer clicks on a website increases useability.
Assumption      Non-fiction text always depicts truth.
          What are Big Ideas?
– Is it relevant to other subjects or are they interdisciplinary?
– Can students demonstrate progress towards it through some
  form of “real world” project or action.
– Do you have to dig deep to really understand its meanings
  and implications even if you have a surface grasp of it?
– Does it have many layers not obvious to the inexperienced
  learner? Is it an “Umbrella term”
– Is it prone to misunderstanding, misconception, argument
  and/or disagreement?
– Are you likely to change your mind about its meaning and
  importance over a lifetime?
– Does it go to the core of the curriculum?
– Is it historically important yet, still alive in the field
  for debate?
– Is it transferable to new situations and learnings a
  student will meet in the future?
– Is it abstract, not obvious?
– Is it counterintuitive?
– Does it allow students to ask and re-ask questions to
  clarify and uncover the idea as they go through the
– Does it involve the six facets of understanding?
– Does it promote development of an important skill
  required of life-long learners?
            Big Ideas are…
• Why? or So what?
• How is _____ applied in the world beyond the
• What couldn’t we do if we didn’t understand
    What the Big Ideas are not…
• A question
• A concept or piece of knowledge
• A narrow concept
• Written as an objective/expectation of students
• An activity (e.g. can sort French words into lists
  of nouns and verbs)
• A skill – can light a Bunsen burner
     Advanced Essential Questions 101
   “An essential question is – well, essential: important, vital,
    at the heart of the matter – the essence of the issue.” -
                                   Grant Wiggins

A question is essential when it:

• Causes genuine INQUIRY into the big ideas and core content

• ARGUABLE: provokes deep thought, lively discussion, sustained inquiry, and
  new understanding as well as more questions

• Requires students to CONSIDER alternatives, WEIGH evidence, SUPPORT their
  ideas, and JUSTIFY their answers

• Stimulates vital, on-going rethinking of big ideas and assumptions

• Sparks meaningful CONNECTIONS with prior learning and personal experiences
           Essential                    Not Essential

• What traits and               • How many legs does a spider
  characteristics determine a     have?

• Where do artists get their    • Did nature influence Monet?

• What determines value?        • How many dimes in a dollar?
• What distinguishes a fluent   • What is the meaning of the
  foreigner from a native         Greek term technology from
  speaker?                        its Greek root “techne”?
• How does where we live        • Why were settlements
  influence how we live?          developed around lakes and
     Tips for Essential Questions
1. Cause genuine and relevant inquiry
2. Broad in scope, and provoke deep thought, lively discussion,
   inquiry, and more questions; never fully answered
3. Pose authentic dilemmas
4. Force incongruities into our attention
5. Require students to consider alternative views, weigh evidence,
   support their ideas, and justify their answers
6. Stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking and meaningful connections
   of big ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons and learning;
   timeless in nature
7. Naturally recur, creating opportunities for transfer to other
   situations and subjects
8. Perpetually arguable…the answers will change over time for
   students as they see them again in new subject settings and add
   new experience
You want them to see the big
Next steps…Learning Goals and
        Success Criteria
• The daily, monthly, unit Learning Goals should
  come from the Essential Questions that come
  from the Big Ideas.
• Success Criteria are the evidence of achievement
  we would accept from a student to demonstrate
  their learning.
UbD has 6 facets of
understanding that are
used to analyze the Big   Interpretation
Ideas to get to

           Explanation                     Application

                            six facets          Self-

Big Idea Jeopardy

How do we identify the Big Ideas in

Where do we go for these expectations since
 we don’t have a curriculum document with
 overall expectations in libraries?
          Documents we have…
•   Together for Learning
•   Information Studies
•   21st Century Fluencies
•   TDSB Research success
•   On Your Own
•   Research models like Big 6
•   Other jurisdictions attempts to create
Revisit unpacking standards to big ideas AND essential questions.

     Students interpret, analyze, and evaluate
informational text in order to extend understanding
                   and appreciation.
          Big Ideas                       Essential questions

• We interpret information and      • How do you determine if a
  draw conclusions both from          main idea is believable?
  what we read and experience
  in life.                          • How can we decide if what
                                      we read is true or accurate?
• Knowing the difference
  between fact and opinion and      • Facts, opinion and
  inferences can help you             inferences, why do they
  become more discerning.             matter?
Revisit unpacking standards to big ideas AND essential questions.

Relate data and facts from informational texts to
prior information and experience with assistance.
          Big Ideas                       Essential questions

• Graphic displays of               • How can information be
  information supports                represented through visual
  comprehension and                   displays?
  interpretation of information.
                                    • How do some types of
• Prior experiences can               visuals better represent
  impact the degree to                information than others?
  which we relate to and
  interpret visual                  • What knowledge do I need to
  representations.                    bring to the information in
                                      order to make meaning and
                                      sense of the concepts?
         Collaboration Time and Tools
 Using the documents available or search for others:
• Identify the top 5 Big Ideas in Library that would
   encompass the skills shown on the continuum.

•   Using the Tips for Essential Questions from the
    PowerPoint to develop essential questions for
    one of your Big Ideas.

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