Tag Archives: Need to Know

Remote Need to Knows in PBL

This is the second of a series of posts about what Project Based Learning infused with Social and Emotional Learning looks like when teaching remotely. Is it the ideal situation? Probably not, but it is the reality that many of us are dealing with. I will share my ideas and what others are doing to hopefully inspire you to action.

Need to Knows

After an engaging remote entry event, it is time to introduce the Driving Question. Remember the intent of the DQ is to shift the excitement of the entry event to purposeful inquiry. Like a delicious appetizer, the entry event should leave your students wanting more.

The Need to Know Process (N2K) is a structured way for students to generate questions starting with the individual and culminating with the whole group. Once completed, the class N2K list drives inquiry and instruction every day. This is the fundamental way that student voice and choice is integrated into every aspect of PBL.

So how do we transition N2Ks to remote learning? Let’s consider some methods and technology options to facilitate online N2Ks.

Live Options

In remote learning start the N2K process the same as in person, by having students write down their questions on a sticky note, scrap paper, or in a journal. It is important to always start with individual questions to honor all voices in the class and give wait time.

After 5 minutes, put students into random breakout rooms of 4-5 students and have them share their questions and choose the group’s top three. After 5-10 minutes in breakouts, reconvene as a whole group and collect each group’s top questions.

There are many tech tools that could be used to collect and save the class N2Ks. Popular options including posting sticky notes in Padlet or Jamboard, listing them in Google Docs, or posting on a collaborative board in Nearpod. Don’t overwhelm students by mixing up how you do this. Pick one tool that students already know and stick to it for consistency.

On Demand Options

If you won’t being doing N2Ks together live, then you could start with a simple Google Form. Give students a set amount of time (1-2 days) to submit all of their N2Ks. Next share the spreadsheet of answers with the class and have them pick out their top 3 questions. This could be done individually or students could work in groups on a shared GDoc.

Another option is a slow chat on Twitter. Post the DQ with a class hashtag and have students respond throughout the week. At the end create a thread of the responses into a class list.

What to do with N2Ks

So you have collected a diverse list of N2K questions. What should you do with them? In face-to-face instruction, they are posted on the wall for everyone to see and to check up on daily. We want to replicate this visibility and daily checkin virtually. So “put” them somewhere that students see them. Make them easily accessible. You could house N2Ks on a class website, in Google Classroom, or other LMS.

The location should be the place that students go to daily in your virtual classroom.

You need to direct students to them constantly. Refer to a specific N2K as the focus of each lesson. Frame each day around them. Use N2Ks to drive student inquiry. A good way to think of it, is that you are replacing your daily objective in your lesson plan with a student N2K. Check off each N2K question as students answer it. Add new ones to the list as students ask more questions throughout the project. Students should still be learning similar content and skills in your class, but they are driving the instruction, instead of curriculum.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

Why Need to Knows are the Essential Structure of PBL

Project Based Learning is all about student-centered voice and choice, but it’s not a free-for-all. PBL is the framework that employs inquiry for purposeful learning. The Need to Know (N2K) process is the central structure that starts a project with students’ questions and keeps them the focal point throughout. Let’s look at the basics of how to do N2Ks and then answer some common questions from teachers.

Need to Know Process

Every project should start with an engaging entry event to introduce the focal point and get students excited about the topic. The entry event could be anything from a short video to a multiple day simulation. Once kids are primed about the project topic, share the Driving Question along with an entry document that lays out any logistical details of the project such as product showcase dates, community partners, and basic requirements. Now take the class through the following steps:

  • Students individually jot down N2Ks from the entry event, entry document, or their background knowledge on sticky notes, scrap paper, or in a journal.
  • In groups of 4-5, students share their N2Ks with each other and choose their top 3 questions.
  • In a round robin, each group tells the class their unique questions and a scribe writes them on poster paper.
  • None of the N2Ks are answered on day 1, but they are posted in a visible location to be addressed daily.

What if kids only ask a few questions?

If your students are new to PBL they may be unsure about what to ask the first time. One approach is to teach them to ask questions before the project by using KWLs.

I believe that the initial framing of the N2Ks is critical for students understanding. Ask them to imagine that they had to start the project immediately.

  • What do they need to know to begin?
  • Where will they get stuck?
  • What will they need help on?
  • What do they need to research or learn more about?
  • What about the topic fascinates them?

Asking these kinds of questions at age appropriate levels guides students into the kind of questions to ask.

What if they only ask logistical questions?

Oftentimes students get bogged down into logistical questions that don’t lead to inquiry. They want to know “when is it due?” “who is in my group?” and details about the final products. One way to pre-empt these questions is to include the information in the entry document.

Another approach is teach students the difference between open and closed-ended questions through the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). I have found this to be an extremely effective instruction to asking better questions. Then during the N2K process, I ask students to come up with open-ended questions that lead to inquiry.

How do I lesson plan the project ahead of time before the N2K process?

Student-centered inquiry is still teacher directed. Think of the entry event as laying out a trail of bread crumbs leading students to the content standards and skills that you plan to address. The first time that your students experience PBL you may need to leave a trail of whole loaves of bread making the destination obvious and the next time slices. Eventually you can leave the smallest of crumbs and students will search out the connections. Building curiosity in learning is one of the important outcomes.

As the teacher, you are familiar with the content and skills required to be taught at that grade level or class. You also probably know some areas where students tend to get stuck and will need support. You can plan workshops in advance of the project launch, anticipating what students will need. But instead of starting with these lessons, you provide them in response to the N2K questions that students generate.

What if kids’ questions are totally different than what I expected?

Sometimes, even though you carefully planned an entry event to address specific content goals, kids see the topic in a different way than you expect. Usually this is a positive direction and oftentimes takes a project deeper. As long as you achieve your content/standard goals then pivot the project to student interests. You will have more buy-in, than if you try to force students down a pre-determined path. If you “leave space” in your planning for student audibles then this will not be as stressful, but a natural part of the process.

Another way to define parameters for your project is through local partnerships. If the project requires students to solve specific issues in the community, then that oftentimes creates natural limits to where the project goes.

Why do I need to post N2Ks on the wall?

Since my school was 1:1 with laptops, I started having students write their N2Ks in a Google Doc and posting it in our LMS. It seemed like a good use of technology, but what ended up happening is that we never revisited them. They were out of sight and out of mind.

N2Ks need to be visited daily, crossing them off as students answer them and adding new ones to the list. Every action in class should be framed as helping students answer on of the questions on the list. N2Ks are the most basic form of student voice and choice.

What if we don’t get to answer all of them?

Establish from the start that you may not answer every one of the questions in class. And that’s ok. Use questions that you know are beyond the scope of your focus as extensions for fast workers who finish early. Challenge them to research a N2K and come back tell you what exciting things that they learned.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.