Inquiry in Math

As a school that tries to develop rich, inquiry-based learning experiences, one of the questions that often emerges is how we handle inquiry and math.

Our thinking around inquiry-based teaching and learning is that it develops ‘disciplined’ ways of being and thinking. That is, inquiry is more than students just ‘doing projects.’
Rather the purpose of taking an inquiry approach is to structure learning so that students can tackle problems, generate possible solutions, share and improve each other’s ideas, and demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways. The end goal of inquiry is students developing deep understanding of key ideas and concepts. With that in mind, much of our school’s understanding of inquiry comes from the Galileo Educational Network and their Inquiry rubric.
Seen that way, the purpose of strong mathematical inquiry is to get students thinking, acting and working like mathematicians, not just doing math. This movement from students ‘learning math’ to students ‘learning to think like a mathematician’ can be a difficult concept to understand.
With that in mind, this video produced by our two grade 4 math/science teachers  does a fantastic job of capturing and sharing how an inquiry-based approach develops mathematical thinkers by putting student problem solving, idea generation and collaboration at the forefront of the learning.
This video is also an exemplary example of teacher inquiry where you have two teachers carefully and critically documenting and then publicly sharing the learning that is occurring in their classrooms.

7 thoughts on “Inquiry in Math

  1. Wow I've watched this video so many times thanks for sharing! I was hoping to see more IBL problems and how you've presented them to the students. For example: Comparing and ordering large numbers!

  2. So they spent hours poking around at a concept that can be easily explained in 5 minutes in a way that everyone understands perfectly the rest of their lives. Stunning that they end up with a class full of grade 4 kids who come in with no understanding of multiples or multiplication – aka grade 2 skills.


    PS – Sitting around guessing about the definition of a defined term is not something that “real mathematicians” do.

  3. Any chance we could see this done in a younger class – kindergarten or early primary/elementary grade? It's much easier to do with older classes but working with younger classes is more difficult because they can't always write what is happening.

  4. At Connect Charter School we welcome thoughtful, constructive dialogue around teaching practices and encourage you to look at the myriad of additional math posts on this blog that highlight the importance of questioning, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Inquiry-based pedagogy ensures that practice is a feature of the work that students are doing, and not simply the work itself. We regularly challenge our children to consider the accuracy of their conjectures and the efficacy of problems that they have solved using a variety of strategies and communication methods. Part of this work is being accountable to their peers and being able to justify their thinking.The conversations around mathematical definitions would have been designed to engage students in dialogue, research and consensus building with their peers. We do not ignore the basics, rather, we thoughtfully embed them in authentic mathematical contexts.
    Erin Couillard-Piper
    Curriculum and Assessment Leader
    Connect Charter School

  5. Hi there – as we are a middle school (grade 4-9), our examples are focused in the middle school. This type of learning is very natural at the primary level: asking questions, using manipulatives to develop understanding and verbally articulating their thinking can be just as powerful as writing.
    Erin Couillard-Piper
    Curriculum and Assessment Leader
    Connect Charter School

  6. There is also something to be said about the level of engagement these students have while learning a “concept that can be easily explained in 5 minutes.” They will take more from this than simply “a multiple of 1.” Great lesson.

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