Wednesday, 30 November 2016

An Inquiry into how to plan for inquiry maths

I am passionate about the benefits of inquiry maths and inquiry in general, but recently, after completing a workshop with wonderfully passionate teachers, our discussions got me thinking about the difficulty teachers face in implementing inquiry maths into their planning. I felt that the confusion of when and how to teach was making teachers despondent before they had even started, with this then resulting in teachers falling back to what the know i.e. text books or worksheets. There seems to be a lack of information or resources out there about how to create a structure inquiry maths. Now, I know that the word "structure" and inquiry might sound conflicting, but my intention for creating structure is to provide teachers with the when and the how to teach and for the students to determine what we teach. I also really wanted to give both myself and my students more time.

More time to process questions.
More time to play with materials.
More time to explain their thinking.
More time to actually practice what I teach.
More time for students to share their understanding.
More time for conversations.
More time for students to pose problems.
More time for students to learn number fluency.
More time to assess authentically and in a manageable way.

So I started my own inquiry... 

Step 1: Tuning In (what do I already know?)

I started to think about what a week of inquiry maths might look like. I took all the components of what I thought would make a great maths environment and started including them into a time table. I took ideas from the likes of Jo Boaler, Ann Baker, and Peter Sullivan and used resources such as Nrich,, and the Teaching Student Centered Mathematics text by Van De Walle to help me create a "structure".

Plan 1:

Step 2: Finding Out

I researched to find out information to help support teachers with resources and information on how to carry out each activity or task on a particular day. I linked in readings and videos from and Ann Bakers Natural Maths blog. I searched articles on Peter Sullivan's phases and prompts. I included links to TSCM book and the Polya problem solving approach. 

The information was there, but would it work? Was it practical? Would it provide more time? Would it promote inquiry? What anyone be interested? Would it make my students better mathematicians?

Step 3: Going Further

I took this idea to my colleagues who were, for the most part, on board with the idea of having a structure in place, but how did I know if the plan was good or not? Was it actually good for students? Was it good for teachers? 

I then turned to some "experts". I sent them my ideas and got there feedback. I was very appreciative for their help. It's great to be able to bounce ideas and reflect on their advice. 

Step 4: Sorting Out

Their advice...

very comprehensive but is too much there?

Do students developing a deep understanding of important mathematical concepts?

How are we engaging the students in this process?

How are you identifying what they know... yet to know...choice... developing theories...

Are students enjoy mathematics when they struggle and they want to find a solution and they are given time to work through possible strategies.

It is flexible?

Is it focused on the student?

There is danger in that .... as mathematics can then become a series of activities.

Step 5: Back to Finding Out

I then went and looked a Ann Bakers idea for a what a week of maths might look like. I included the idea of a "mental routine" to begin the lesson. I like this because if give me time to teach skills in a conceptual, collaborative and informative setting. I also then took the idea of posing problematized questions (open-questions tasks) and then using the outcomes from that lesson to pose a strategy based lesson.  This formed the basis to plan number 2.

Step 6: Taking Action

I have implemented the plan into my classroom and will give it time to see if works. 

Plan 2:

Step 7: Reflecting

So far I am enjoying this approach. The number talk (mental routine) at the start is a great way to reinforce skills and to build students understanding of mathematical language and concepts. I really like the Poyla problem solving approach. I think it scaffolds students nicely through the process of solving a problem. The difficult part I am finding is posing good challenging tasks. I am getting better at creating them and I reflect a lot on the ones that work and ones that bomb ... and there have been a few, but when you pose a question that the students are engaged and challenged you can literally see the thinking happen and this is what I believe in the most. 

I will blog some of my open problems soon as I would be keen to get feedback or advice.

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