Years ago, in an attempt to build bridges for educators interested in inquiry, Norma and I created a fictional ancient organization called the Knights of Knowledge. This group was founded in antiquity and included Socrates, Phythagoras, Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, Madame Curie, Pablo Picasso, Stravinsky, Georgia O’Keefe, Roger Bannister, and numerous others up to modern times. Those selected for this secret organization had two characteristics: They asked, and answered, interesting questions. Second, each answer led to even more interesting questions.
Our reason for creating this fictional society was based on the observation that children love the idea of being involed in something secret and special. And so they are told that the ancient Knights of Knowledge needs new members, and its leader has created a sub‐group called the Special Agents. Students are invited to join the Special Agents and are given short video‐based assignments consisting of a compelling question which forms the basis of an in‐depth research project related to the curriculum. Each video clip is only a minute or so in length – just long enough to set the stage for the challenge and for asking the question. From then on, the student is on her own to find answers and build a report, before generating follow‐on questions. For example, the question might relate to the observation that some trees change colors in the Fall and then drop their leaves, yet other trees keep their leaves all year long. It might relate to the observation that we measure time in units of sixty, not one hundred. Just about any subject at any grade and and content area is ripe for the generation of questions that can be used to stimulate student research. Our observation was that, once a question was posed, it led to other questions generated by students as they completed their project.
When students are researching topics on their own, there is a huge opportunity for them to develop passion for the subject area – a passion that does not appear in a traditional textbook approach to instruction.
When this idea was introduced in 2004, there was little interest. Now, with the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, the time is ripe to revisit this topic. Why? Because the new standards are less focused on specific pieces of information and more focused on processes and the transferability of knowledge between domains of study.
It is time for us to revisit this topic, and that is exactly what we are doing. Teachers need all the help they can get, and the Knights of Knowledge materials can be a key element in providing support and encouragement for the transformations we need to make in light of these new standards.
One of our original low-resolution videos showing a sample activity starter is posted on YouTube. Give it a try with your students and see how they do! We will be working to create materials and would love to hear from you regarding content areas where projects like this make great sense.