How does one *make* a question? Inspiration(s) behind Questimate!

(Note: This post also appeared on the Cooney Center blog.)

Our new estimation game Questimate! came out a couple weeks ago. It’s the first game where players make their own questions. Critics dig it so far, and some have asked us how exactly we developed the game. Where did it come from? Here are four main inspirations:

1. Parents and teachers repeatedly told us that their kids struggle with estimation, measurement, and real world math. There’s often a disconnect between abstract math over here on the chalkboard, and all the real-world math that kids do (even if they don’t know they’re doing it) over there. (Shelley Goldman’s Family Math Project at Stanford highlights just how many ways families do math without realizing it.) So we wanted a game to build estimation skills.

2. The Maker movement. EdSurge invited us last year to the first EdTech tent at MakerFaire and the enthusiasm we saw from kids blew us away — they’re so inspired and energized when put in control! So we wondered: what would it mean for kids to be in control of a learning game? That question lead us to the central game mechanic of Questimate! — making your own questions.

3. The wild comparisons and facts from Wikipedia and the web and Guinness Book of World Records that people share in person, on Reddit’s “Today I Learned”, and other places. Often, in conversation, people will ask the other person to guess (“Guess – how many earth’s away from earth is the moon?”) It’s a social way to heighten the wow-factor, more than simply telling the other person a fact.

4. Dan Meyer’s work on Perplexity and research findings such as the recent one that hands-on interactive activities work best at the beginning of a lesson. Most math textbooks “pre-chew” away the mystery from real world math problems by presenting total, perfect information. We wanted a game that confronts the player with rough, challenging, visceral questions. If there’s continuing interest, players can dig into the web source for the information and the precise math behind the answer. But we don’t start with information; we start with an interesting question; in the case of Questimate!, it’s a question the player has created.