How to Start Inquiry Based Learning In Math

Last year, I really wanted to get into inquiry based learning, but I have to admit, I had trouble with it. It all really started by accident. I had a program coach in my room, and I had put up a part of an eqao math question up in my room. It was a t chart with data in it, and I covered up the question. I just showed the class the chart. I started to do this to address an underlying issue that I had in my class. My students were reading part of the question, but not all of it. I wanted to show them how important it is to read the WHOLE question and think about it prior to answering it. So, I showed the class the chart and said to them "what do you see?" From there, students had authentic conversations, and noticed trends in the data. Finally, a student put up her hand and stated that she could see that one number in the data repeated many different times. This was a great observation because the question was about mode. We then discussed the term, and students clearly understood the concept. The math coach talked to me at the end and said "wow, great inquiry! This is an excellent way to teach inquiry in math, and incorporate eqao." And this really lit a fire under me.

So I followed this model, and tried to attack eqao questions in a different way. Show a picture, a set of data, or even a part of the question. And to expand one eqao question over 3 or more lessons, touching on more math concepts than just one. I would present the partial problem to the class and tell them to write down all information they could see in their math journals. Then, I would challenge them to write their own questions based on the information they had. We would then group the questions, and students would answer questions in groups. This would provide differentiated instruction as well, and created amazing math conversations. Most of the time, the problems the class would write would be richer than the actual question! Then we would share the questions and answers as a group. And, after all the inquiry was done, I would share the actual question, and require students to answer it independently. Their answers improved dramatically and their confidence grew!

Here are some pictures of an example from my class. The question was about how many square units (area) each school playground was. But as you can see, they developed different questions and some were much richer!

So, here are some steps to start inquiry based learning in your mathematics program.

Select the expectations that you want students to learn.  What concepts do they need to know?

Select a question that has already been made.  I like to choose questions that have tables, charts, pictures or diagrams.

Don't show students the question... just the picture, table, diagram etc.  Ask them to write down what math they see from the picture

Then have students write on the other side of the book / page questions that go with this image.

Have students share their questions.  Group like questions together.

Use their questions for your problem solving time for the next 2-3 periods.

After all of your rich problem solving, have students solve the actual question.  See their confidence soar!

What are your thoughts in inquiry based learning?  How do you tackle it in mathematics?

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