## Pretending Closed Questions Are Open

Posted in anyqs on November 29th, 2011 12 Comments »

I was in Avery Pickford’s session at CMC-South when he put up this image and polled his participants for questions that interested them.

They asked about the slope of the diagonal. They asked about its length. Avery then constrained their questions. “What things could we *count*?” he asked.

His participants responded with “the perimeter” and “the number of squares.” At that point, Avery just asked the question that interested him:

His session ended on that problem but I’m extremely curious what would have happened had he presented a new image and asked his participants for new questions. I can’t be sure but I suspect they would have held out. They’d know from their last experience that Avery had a question in mind and everyone but the apple-polishers would have waited him out.

**Open And Closed Questions**

If you have a question you’d like your students to answer, ask it. But before you ask it, consider creating a visual — something short and sweet, one photo or one minute of video — that orients your students to the context of your question and makes that question seem like a natural one to ask. Like:

- How long will it take Dan and Chris working together?
- Will the ball go in the hoop?
- How long will it take Dan to go up the down escalator?

If you’d like your students to pose some questions of their own, ask them what questions they have. But questions about what? Give them something to ask questions about. Consider creating a visual — something short and sweet, one photo or one minute of video — that lends itself to different perplexing questions. Like:

**What Happens On Twitter Stays On Twitter**

How can you tell in advance if students will be perplexed by your closed question or if they’ll have open questions about your photo or video? You pilot it. There’s no right way to pilot curricula, only optimizations for different variables that are often in competition with one another. Like:

- Are you piloting with students or with some proxy for students?
- How easy is it for your participants to give you feedback?
- How many participants are giving you feedback?
- How helpful is that feedback to your development process?
- How far into the development process are you waiting to get feedback?

Here’s one optimization: show teachers your photo or video on Twitter and ask them what questions they have about it.

This means (1) you aren’t piloting with students, which is unfortunate, though no students are harmed if your idea is a dud, (2) it’s easy for your participants to give you feedback, (3) the number of people giving you feedback is proportional to your followers on Twitter, (4) that feedback is often useful — if you plan to ask a closed question, the feedback will let you know if that question is interesting; if you plan to ask for open questions, the feedback will let you know what questions to expect.

Or you might pilot your curriculum on the same day you’re teaching it, making modifications for your afternoon class based on feedback from your morning class. You can evaluate the variables for yourself on that one.

Make it work for you. Twitter, #anyqs, your classroom, your faculty lounge, whatever. Make it make you a better teacher. Just understand that when you’re using curriculum in the classroom, you’re optimizing for an entirely different set of variables than when you pilot that curriculum somewhere else.