(Part 2 – What if) The PLC process through the eyes of the “Why – What if – How” progression

What if …. We study Mathematical Practices?

Thanks for reading! As a reminder this is three part blog, that clearly demonstrates the correlation between innovative questioning (via Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question), and how it is adapted and transferred into a school setting.  – Check out part 1 WHY if you are just joining me.

Today I will focus on the second part of the inquiry progression – WHAT IF.

In order to move onto the second stage of the innovative questioning progression, you must have a beautiful question. During the last school year, my grade level team used the PLC process to create, and study this learning goal:

Adobe Spark (4)
4th Grade PLC Learning Goal 2015-2016, Ada Elementary (Forest Hills Public Schools)

How might we? (HMW)

The initial question, or learning goal, is no easy task. I was so excited to understand where the “How might we?”  form of questioning came from. Many successful companies use these three words to ensure that innovation is possible (Berger, 2014). Wording of the question is crucial when it comes to successfully exploring a question.

“The HOW part assumes there are solutions out there – it provides confidence. MIGHT says we can put ideas out there that might work, or might not – either way, it’s okay. And the WE part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas.” IDEO Chief Executive, Tim Brown (Berger, 2014).

Our WHAT IF :: “Epiphany” :: “Aha Moment”

Within this learning goal lies our WHAT IF aspect of the inquiry progression. “The What if stage is the blue-sky moment of questioning when anything is possible,” (Berger, 2014). This is the brainstorming, and creative mindset aspect of questioning.

My team went back and forth discussing why we thought students struggle with multistep number stories. Additionally, we reflected upon our current practices of which we believe help students navigate through these tasks. But we realized that this was not helping us to properly explore our learning goal. We had to step back and use our learning goal to “erase the past and make a fresh start,” (Berger, 2014).

Once we did this we, we stumbled upon an epiphany moment, or as Berger refers to it; connective inquiry (2014). We noticed there were Mathematical Practices built into the EM4 units. They are meant to be explicitly used during the open responses.

Adobe Spark (3)
Connecting Mathematical Practices with Mathematical Content – as stated by Common Core State Standards


This realization of the Mathematical Practices, led to the connective inquiry moment where we questioned our initial question. Instead of brainstorming ideas, we asked even more questions. Berger calls this question-storming, and claims that this process “can be more realistic and achievable than brainstorming” (2014). Through this process we came up with a ton of questions, and eventually synthesized a few powerful questions that guided our exploration of the PLC learning goal:

  • Why don’t we know about these mathematical practices, that are embedded into the Common Core Standards and our Math Curriculum? (You would assume a teacher would already have this knowledge, but we didn’t!)
  • What if we studied the mathematical practices to understand their purpose?
  • What if we use the knowledge we gain about mathematical practices, to help our students gain confidence in approaching number stories?


Smart Recombinations

The last important aspect of the WHAT IF stage that I took away from Berger was, “we don’t have to invent from scratch; we can draw upon what already exists and use that as a raw material,” (2014). This is exactly what my team did! We took an existing tool (Mathematical Practices), and we used the material to further explore our goal. He additionally discusses smart recombinations as a way to use current tools in your own mix-and-match process (2014). Remixing will be further discussed in the final blog post about HOW we explored our goal.

As you can see, the WHAT IF stage has nothing to do with answering the question. Instead it is about better understanding the question, and gaining a wealth of knowledge about the topic to ask even more questions.  

Questioning the question is an extremely important aspect of PLC work. Without a foundational understanding of our learning goal, our team may have missed something or thought we found “the answer.” When in fact an answer is never completely clear, because there are always more questions to ask.

Keep reading to learn about HOW we studied our learning goal in order to help our students grow in Part 3 – HOW.

If you missed it, check out part 1, initial post about creating a WHY question when starting a PLC.


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury.

*Graphics created by Bridget Bennett on Adobe Spark


2 thoughts on “(Part 2 – What if) The PLC process through the eyes of the “Why – What if – How” progression

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