Communities Resolving Our Problems: the basic idea
[SUP: Sharing Problems][THINK: Guidance][LEAP: Solving Problems]

Question Ambassadors:

Integration into Different Educational Roles

Once students have gained experience with the Poster Internet, they are in a position to reach a larger audience and build a larger pool of authentic questions. The process is the same. The source of the question changes. In short, students must ask someone outside of the classroom for a question, a real question about some topic which the class is currently studying. Neither the question asker nor the classroom student serving as question ambassador should know the answer to the question. The question is to be placed on the team or class Poster Internet.

The student's role is to play ambassador between the community of the classroom and some larger community outside of the classroom. This larger community could simply be the home for younger students. As they gain social skills and maturity, the questions should come from neighbors and community members including businesses, agencies and government workers.

The classroom students' role is use their skills and knowledge to try to solve the problem. Further, it is not always easy to illicit questions, especially when they must be on a particular topic and students will need and gain social skills in pursuing this cause.

The teacher's role includes several parts. They must teach processes for problem solving and teach skills in finding the resources to solve problems. They must also steer the Ambassadors to individuals who have interest in the topic being studied and in generating questions. Finally, they must manage the number of questions brought to the classroom so as not to overwhelm the class or the poster space.

The teacher must also devise various ways to draw attention and prestige to the role of Question Ambassador. The Ambassador could be one of the weekly room responsibilities assigned to a student or team of students. An appropriate badge or other insignia to indicate special responsibility needs to be devised, age appropriate to the students being taught. The questions are to be first brought to the classroom teacher who screens the questions for relevance and appropriateness. As done in the Internet Poster exercises, the question should be dated and a time limit set. The time limit could be set by the question asker or by the classroom teacher. If at the end of the set time limit no answer is found to return to the asker, a general response should be returned. This returned response should indicate a place or places the asker might go themselves to find the answer. All responses, whether answered or not should include a thanks for providing the question. Students would be responsible for writing these replies.

The media specialist or librarian's role is to help teachers and students master both the paper and AV resources in the building and community libraries and the online resources increasingly available through the Internet. The CROP site whose major links are at the top of this page provides a primary resource for teaching and learning these online skills. The media specialist should also discuss with participating teachers and the principal whether they wish to keep unanswered and answered questions in a place that other classes can share and suggest various means to do so based on this interest. This might mean keeping them in folders by grade level or content area or by unit plan. Unanswered questions could be brought out each time the unit is taught as special challenges.

The principal's initial role is work with participating teachers to track the number of questions raised and the number of questions answered across the building. This data has value within the building as one more measure of educational progress. The data also should serve a larger community liason mission.

For questions coming from within the building, teachers and principals need to observe the variety of question types and the quality of questions. A dominance of recall questions indicates a need for further instruction in higher order thinking skills and their question formats. The better the question, the more valuable and significant the answer. For questions from outside the building, the principal and teachers can play a valuable adult education role in teaching question askers the value of higher level questions.

Outside the school, the data should be used in community presentations to highlight the value of learning, and the value returned to the community by their children and the school. As the quantity of questions raised and answers grows, this evidence can be used to argue for further resources for the school to help the community solve its real problems. This might be new publications or reference materials for the library, or additional computers or increased Internet access.

As students at different grade levels begin to show mastery of library and/or Internet systems, it will be time to consider multigrade-teams of problem solvers that can tackle a wide range of topics. These teams could serve as both Question Ambassadors illiciting questions and problem solvers researching and creating solutions or they might take on specialized roles. The principal's role then will then need to include the management of a team of question screeners (parents and teachers) that review all incoming questions before being posted to a school bulletin board or other communication system for these various teams to consider the problem. Screening includes at least a telephone call to the question asker which determines the authenticity of the question. Various criteria would need to be developed by the committee for approving or removing a question from the pool. As with the classroom process, they will also need to consider the number of questions the building team or teams can handle.

As computer networking resources grow in the school building, various parts of this process can be automated, incorporating an online database. The database also then facilitates the generation of reports on the process, including the number of questions asked, answered, team scores, grade or room activity and so forth. An online database with global access is currently available that can serve that purpose immediately. As activity increases, the building would find it of advantage to build their own in-house operation. Principals should contact the CROP director, Dr. Robert Houghton, as this need develops.

One goal of CROP is to provide a process by which a school and district would annually demonstrate that they have solved a large number of authentic problems of those who provide the tax base for the school system. It is hoped that such evidence over time would have a dramatic impact in reconceptually the community's perception of the value of schools and the funding resources that they were willing to allocate. The community in turn would be helping to solve a long standing fundamental curriculum problem. How does an educator create the endless number of real or authentic problems that every unit of study needs to provide authenticity, motivation and relevance for the topic of study?

Updated April 6, 1997.
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Copyright, Dr. Robert S. Houghton, 1994-97.