Finding an Inquiry Topic: Essential Questions

girlsmicroscopeOnce you’ve determined which learning conditions are ripe for starting an inquiry, it’s time to sit down and design your topic of investigation. It needs to be something that cuts across subjects, and creates an opening for multiple perspectives. This is where the essential questions come in; they should help kick start your inquiry.

Essential Questions:

  • Arise from people’s attempts throughout history, to learn more about the world we live in. Essential questions probably intrigued the ancients as much as they puzzle people living today.
  • Essential questions invite perspective to be brought to bear in order to develop deep understanding. For example, the question “What is light?” has scientific, mathematical, aesthetic, literary and spiritual dimensions.
  • Attempts to answer essential questions allow people to explore the connection between their personal, individual, unique experience of the world and its exterior, objective, held-in-common dimensions. In exploring essential questions together, people are able to find expression for their own strongest gifts and interests at the same time that they are able to establish a sense of community with others.
  • Essential questions allow us to explore what knowledge is, how it came to be, and how it has changed through human history. An essential question is always poised at the boundary of the known and the unknown. While permitting fruitful exploration of what others before us have learned and discovered, attempts to answer an essential question open up mysteries that successively reveal themselves the more we come to “know”.
  • An essential question engages the imagination in significant ways. An essential question that arises from imaginative engagement is an important way to bring teacher, student and subject matter together in ways that enrich all three.

Learn more about inquiry and essential questions, Focus on Inquiry: Chapter 2 – A Design for Inquiry

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