I love hearing people (adults) talk about this crazy new math kids are doing these days. You and I both know it's not the math problems that have changed, it's the mathematical ideas and way of thinking math that has changed. "Kids these day" are a so good at solving problems in different ways. One way that we, as classroom teachers can encourage a deeper understanding of a math concept is to provide our students with essential questions.

## What is an essential question?

I used to wonder why there was this overarching question at the top of my curriculum maps. I didn't really understand the purpose of the essential question. It wasn't until I started investing time into this question when I started to see the impact it has on learning.

**Essential questions are questions posed before the lesson to stimulate thinking, background knowledge, and inquiry in a subject area. Over time, essential questions help students develop thinking tools and apply skills to the real world.**

## Here are some sample essential questions for math:

How can you use a fraction to find part of a group?

How does the number of fraction parts relate to the size of each part?

How can you combine plane shapes to make new shapes?

How do you know which metric unit to use to measure the length of an object or distance?

## How do I use an essential question in the classroom?

Ideally, in a perfect world, you want the essential question to move from the teacher's control to the students' control. Essential questions are open ended and thought provoking. You hope they have an ah-ha moment when they learn information through your lesson that helps them to answer the essential question. Here are some ideas for implementing the essential question into your math class.

You don't need to have an essential question for every lesson. Use an essential question for your topical big ideas.

Post the essential question and dissect the vocabulary so your students understand what the question is asking. As your lessons progress, return to the essential question ask the kids to discuss what they've learned that helps them get closer to answering the question.

Model, model, model! You're going to have to model how to apply the lesson skills to the essential question. Model through discussion, note taking, and writing.

Use an exit slip to see if the students can answer the question.

## The Bottom Line

As a teacher, your responsibility is to the standards. You're expected to teach your standards, not the essential question. However, the essential question will make them think, dive deeper, make better connections, and (hopefully) learn to ask more questions. If you're just starting with essential questions, start slow. Like I said, you do not have to do it for every lesson or every standard, but try to weave them into your curriculum.

If you're looking for a math resource, here is an essential question guide I use in my 5th grade classroom. Click the picture below for the essential question cards.

If you want to do a deep dive into essential questions, I recommend the book, __Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding__ by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins

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