Scaffolding Question Building in an Innovation Landscape

Training of the Mind
Training of the Mind

When I first started exploring questioning in some detail was when I was hired to support teacher in the Winnipeg School division with the Inquiry process embedded in the LwICT Continuum. That was in 2007 and my understanding of developing question with student has evolved somewhat over the years since. I thought I might share this evolution with you in this post entitled Scaffolding Question Building.

At first, I relied heavily on Manitoba documentation that went along with the Literacy with Internet Communication Technology Continuum documentation that the province provided online. Blooms taxonomy was one of the theories used to ground this continuum and was, in fact, used heavily in terms of framing the questioning section of the process. This seemed a logical starting place.

Blooms Revised
Blooms Revised

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of thinking organized by level of complexity. It gives teachers and students an opportunity to learn and practice a range of thinking and provides a simple structure for many different kinds of questions and thinking. The taxonomy involves all categories of questions. Lower level questions are those at the remembering, understanding and lower level application levels of the taxonomy.

Usually questions at the lower levels are appropriate for:

  • Reviewing and/or summarizing content
  • Scaffolding to higher level questions

Higher level questions are those requiring complex application, analysis, evaluation or creation skills.

Questions at higher levels of the taxonomy are usually most appropriate for:

  • Encouraging students to think more deeply and critically
  • Problem solving
  • Encouraging discussions
  • Stimulating students to seek information on their own
  • Create new meaning

In the early days, I spent a lot of time developing activities that aligned with helping students develop question at each level of blooms. I modelled many of the activities after the ones found in the books Q-Tasks Edition 1 & Q-Tasks Edition 2:

Koechlin, Carol, and Sandi Zwaan. Q Tasks: How to Empower Students to Ask Questions and Care about Answers. Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006. Print
The focus was generally placed on using question WORDs to format questions: who, what, where, when, why, & how…

Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How
Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How

This was a very prescribed approach that worked well for teachers starting out. Together, we spent a lot of time dissecting questions, trying to help teachers and students understand how questions were constructed and how to get students to come up with better questions. Things were working, but teachers needed more helping understanding how deep questions are created. My colleagues and I tried another resource on questions:

McKenzie, Jamieson A. Learning to Question – to Wonder – to Learn. Bellingham, WA: FNO, 2005. Print

This was an overwhelming book all about question types. Too much information as it turned out, but a valuable reference in small doses. It gave teachers some back ground, but was fitting the bellman terms of getting the results we were hoping for in terms of question generation from students within their inquiries. We needed something different.

Applying some of what we know of Anne Davies about regarding setting criteria, that’s when we hit upon a question creation process that seemed to help.

Gregory, Kathleen, Caren Cameron, and Anne Davies. Setting and Using Criteria: For Use in Middle and Secondary School Classrooms. Merville, B.C.: Connections Pub., 1997. Print.

The process went something like this…

Question Process
Question Process

We discovered, not surprisingly, that our criteria for both types of questions changed or needed modification as we encountered diverse examples of & talked about the intent behind more and more questions. We kept adding to or adapting the criteria that we had previously set. To give you an idea of the kind of criteria that has been created by teachers in past inservices, have a look at the lines of the quoted text snippet below:

A deep question leads to the seeking of personal understanding, could have many different answers, inspires more questions and conversations, can be answered in many ways, is motivating, and leads to ownership of the learning process. Deeper question lead to answers that are often created, not “found” in books or other resources. (living draft)

One clever teacher at Lord Roberts school came up with a way of visualizing how this might look.

Visualizing Deep Questions
Visualizing Deep Questions

It was vitally important to us not to dismiss scaffolding questions to only focus on deeper questions, however. While answers to scaffolding questions are often fact-based, easy found online on in other effortlessly accessible resources like books and the like, they are critical in providing base information for answering, exploring, exposing deeper questions. They often led the way on an inquiry journey guided by deeper, critical questions and ultimately deeper thinking & exploration.

And this is where we have left things for the most part.

As of late, the Division has shifted it’s priorities towards innovation, Maker Spaces and STEAM focussed education. Arguably this is not necessarily a huge departure from a creationist, inquiry focused, question driven philosophy; rather, it seems a nature evolution.

This got me thinking about the status of the questioning process we have in place and whether it needed tweaking as well. Does it help teacher and students in an innovation, maker space, or STEAM setting? I am reasonable certain that in STEAM/Maker Space classroom the process, given time, will work. After all, an inquiry class and a STEAM class are really not that dissimilar. But how does it apply to an innovative school for example.

I kept searching online for inspiration, for something new. I found lots of innovation questions or prompts:

  • What could I look at in a new way?
  • What could I use in a new way?
  • What could I recontextualize in space or time?
  • What could I connect in a new way?
  • What could I change, in terms of design or performance?
  • What could I create that is truly new?

It would seem that question creation remains a process of exploration, a process of discovery, a process of creation. One thing did occur to me as I thought about Blooms , questions, innovation and the maker movement and that was word CREATION. It might be time to invert Blooms and thing of Creation first out of the box….

Blooms Flipped
Blooms Flipped

Perhaps we need to think about making question the same way we go about making meaning.

We explore artifacts, we discuss, we think, we share, we collaborate, we muck about and get messy, we sort and categorize, we set criteria and check against that criteria to see that we’re on track…

Albert Einstein once said,

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

That perhaps is the right idea.


I just went on Twitter and came across this Tweet from my colleague Shauna Cornwall stressing the importance of two simple question frames to be used regularly even in primary classrooms. It’s never too early too start!

Such important questions to “frame” all that you do with your gr2 Ss @smacpenner #winnipegSD

What and Why?
What and Why?

Analytics & Metrics Galore Oh My!!

One Million Tweet Map

Lately, I have seen analytics & metrics showing up all over the place & I am sure you have seen them as well: on Twitter streams, WordPress blog sidebars, Tumblr footers.

I like to espouse using the right tool for the right job. If the tool is not right for the activity at hand, find the one that is and use it. I simply don not understand the latest trend in analytic use in social media – or at least a part of its use. Let me explain…

I don’t actually have an issue with analytics or metrics as they can be instrumental in helping a user in supplying their viewers or clients with the content they require. But there is some work involved. There’s a lot of data that is collected that needs to be carefully considered & analysed. Unfortunately, this is where the users usually stop thinking and over rely on the powerful metric software tool they have selected.

The Net is filled with sites & services that promise to serve up numbers and copious amounts of all kinds of data: total tweets, total unique visits, country of origin and much more. Some of the ones I’ve seen in use are (not the best – Google being the exception):

By their nature these services are rather hands off, giving users auto-posting and autoupdating options that take one out of the ‘thinking’ & analyzing equation. Three of the services post maplets showing where in the world people are posting from and one other posts stats about new #s of new followers, mentions and the like to a public timeline. Interesting some say – but completely pointless from an analytics standpoint.

Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Especially >valuable in areas rich with recorded information, analytics relies on the simultaneous >application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify >performance. Analytics often favours data visualization to communicate insight.
Firms may commonly apply analytics to data, to describe, predict, and improve >performance. Specifically, areas within analytics include predictive analytics,
decision management, web analytics, predictive science, etc…(

Analytics or metrics are data collected to help inform decisions about what’s happening with sites, etc. that are under a user’s control. The key phrase here is ‘inform a user’s decisions’. Looking at the numbers or a pretty map without any analysis of what that data means is fruitless!

It might be like having someone else put a letter grade on your student’s assignments, handing them back to you and then having you continue teaching them. You have no idea where students went wrong on their assignments because you haven’t done any analysis of either the results or the trends or the particulars of the assignments. The number on the assignment itself isn’t all that useful. It doesn’t inform your instruction in the least and therefore the grade or number itself has no benefit to you at all without the analysis piece!

However, analytics tools can be potentially useful, even one of the ones listed above:

Maplet Example
Maplet Example

For example, if you must post a maplet, and the map indicates a dearth of activity in say Australia, what might you learn from this? I might have tweeted something like this: “This is interesting. I have good coverage in North America. I wonder how I could make better connections in Australia? Thoughts?” Not maybe the best tweet, but at least an attempt to use the tool as a conversation starter to broadened my reach. Perhaps a better use would be to not post the maplet at all and do this thinking, make my decisions and plan of attack offline.

What’s the difference you may be asking? I have a few reasons why posting analytics without thought is a practice that you may want to reconsider:

  • This is the same with ANY kind of analytics or metric. Without looking at the data and actually spending sometime THINKING about what they mean, they aren’t really interesting to anyone, they’re pointless and can only really serve one simple purpose especially if they raw numbers are just posted to a twitter stream or blog post: that of being potentially boastful.
  • Social Media Etiquette suggests that you shouldn’t humblebrag. In addition to your bio basics and account stats, most people will read your last two tweets when they are checking out your Twitter profile. One of the things that come up in research was hatred of the “humblebrag,” and self-aggrandizement in general. Posting material like the image below or maplets amount to nothing more than humblebrags in the absence of thinking and analysis.

    Humblebrag: Nothing Humble about it
    Humblebrag: Nothing Humble about it
  • Social Media Etiquette also suggests that you shouldn’t allow Robots to craft your tweets. If your recent tweets look like they were automatically generated, people may see you as disingenuous. Generally they are frowned upon. What people want on Twitter is to hear your genuine voice, in real time. They don’t want lofty quotes that you’ve scheduled to go live at strategic periods, stats from your latest workout or what your “top stories” are via a third-party curation service. Twitter is about engagement, not just broadcasting meaningless words.
  • In my opinion, here is the biggest issue with analytics and why they cause issues. Most people start with data instead of a question they are wanting to answer. The most common misunderstanding about analytics is that if you look at data hard enough, you will find insights. Staring at daily dashboards in the hope that insights will miraculously reveal themselves is often overwhelming, confusing and unsuccessful. Successful analytics start by identifying the question you’re trying to answer from the data.

I was scrounging the Net trying make sense of this and stumbled upon some resources that might assist in sorting through how to successfully get started using analytics with social media platforms, at least as a starting point:

To download the above PDF simply click the link below:

Hopefully, this post has helped to make clear the function of Metrics & Analytics and the useful but silent function they serve in assisting a user think about reaching clients and broadening their social media reach.

Illustrated Arduino! Easy One the Eyes 78 page Guide to Arduino

The Illustrated Arduino
The Illustrated Arduino

16Hertz Releases :“The Illustrated Arduino”, an open-source, hand-illustrated guide for learning the basics >of Arduino programming and electronics.

The guide is full colour and easily read! The illustrations are as detailed as they are lush. The comic book style is engaging for the targeted age group (6–14 year olds). This is an amazing resource not to be passed up especially at the PDFs price!

The .pdf publication is free for use, and the bound version is available on the company’s website 16Hertz Releases for $14.99 and the Ultimate Arduino Kit sells for $69.99.

You can view the full guide at

Binary Bracelets

Photo by christiaan_008 -
Photo by christiaan_008 –

As I was browsing Twitter today, I stumbled upon a colleague’s @eppertdanielle post during this week’s ‘Hour of Code’ celebrations:

Binary Bracelets
Binary Bracelets
Binary Bracelets

Ss learned about binary and created bracelets using binary code #winnipegsd #WSDsteam #HourOfCode

I looked at this activity and I thought, how incredibly clever. It’s about binary code! It’s about 1 & 0, On and Off switches just like in the millions of transistors states within the chips of a computer! How awesome an idea is this, so foreign & yet still so connected!

Problem Solving in Binary; Planning the bracelets
Problem Solving

Binary Bracelets

First off, there is plenty of evidence of the Four C’s at work:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

But there is also connection to math systems. Binary is base 2. Our current number system is base 10. There is an opportunity to compare and contrast the number systems or at least play the conversion game between the two. One could show students that place value is not limited to base ten, and that there is a difference between numbers and numerals!

Helping Eachother Decode Bracelets
Collaborative Skills
Collaborative Skills

Finally, this activity uses the concept of binary to illustrate how a computer encodes
data that will be stored and then decoded and retrieved for use later. It highlights the idea of opposites (i.e. up/down, on /off) that can substitute for the stereotypical ones and zeros.

While there are versions of this activity on the Net associated with, Danielle has done a great job of implementing her wrinkle furthering her student’s understanding the underpinnings of coding!

Coding a new Literacy Superpower

10 Reasons to Code
10 Reasons to Code

Coding in December has become the thing to do now that Hour of Code has begun sweeping the nation, and this is a very good thing!

But is it being explicitly taught or better yet infused in other curricular areas in most schools? That’s a question worth examining in some detail. My experience tells me that it is not. And I wonder why this is so. As I reflect on this, I wonder if it is because the value & flexibility of coding is undervalued! Also that coding is seen as somehow a mystical, magical beast that will be incredibly difficult to learn and even harder to bring to students in a meaningful way.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Coding is seen as something that is cool and engaging by almost all students. And while “cool” is nice, what really matters are the lasting benefits of building a coding skill set:

  • Logical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Persistence
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

These skills should look familiar… Shauna Cornwell in her latest monthly Eyes on Innovation November 2015 refers to Michael Fullan’s 4 Cs and 6 Cs…


4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity


Other educators, particularly in the older grades look to this model from Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) – The 6 c’s of Deeper Learning when having conversations with students around 21st century learning.

Let’s look at this another way… The 3 of the 5 reasons outlined below are potent ones that fit into cluster 0, critical thinking, inquiry, design process structures used throughout the Division and Province. With very little tweaking a programming, coding process can be added into these processes easily as I will show later in the article.

Why Code in Education Infographic

It would seem that reasons for coding in education are easily enough defended from a pedagogical point of view. The reasons listed above are well supported in theory and practice! So there is no reasons not to try coding. Except how does one start the process? It seems daunting. This is the logical next step to explore…

How does a teacher start the process of coding?

Online Coding Offerings: the tip of the icebergCoding has a lot to offer in terms of getting kids thinking, problem solving and collaborating. It can be infused in math, science, ELA and any other subject with relative ease. There are an increasing number of ways to get this done. Edutopia has an excellent article entitle 15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer). And these are just the tip of the coding iceberg.

Hour Of Code and are the hot-beds of all things coding in terms of getting started and getting students hyped up about coding.

This is where I would start my journey in learning about coding and helping younger students learning about coding.

Options Galore

However, the Hour of Code is just a starting point. When you and your students are ready for more, there are tremendous resources all over the Internet to explore. Keep in mind some of these are for profit organizations and have a cost attached.

There are a growing number of iPad, Tablet & Web-based (see already listed above) apps that promote coding as well. These apps often have their own support sites or online conduits or information sharing services.

Here are some more Advanced tools for those that want to delve deeper still…

A colleague of mine stumbled upon this link to a listing of grade level applications for coding. While I am not convinced that all the apps are truly locked into the grade levels suggested, they are generally targeted at the right age levels. For the sake of having the listing I am including the linked resource. Grade Level Coding Apps and Resources

Coding Processes

Example of Building Coding Process into Existing Design Process
I thought It might also be useful to talk briefly about a process to use for coding. There are many constructivist based processes like the design or inquiry processes that would serve as a starting place for a coding process. I would suggest adding only a few wrinkles to flesh out, otherwise solid, processes that have proven their worth in then educational realm. Below is an example of how a design process can be modified in three simple ways to make it more suitable for a coding process. This can be accomplished with whatever thinking or design process you happen to be comfortable with.

Girls and Coding

One final consideration before leaving you to begin your coding venture is that of gender balance…. The gender gap in the computer science industry is astonishing. Women today represent only 18% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, women were 37%. Encourage girls and young women to get started with coding using these inspiring programs.