A Grade 2 Math Inquiry

At the heart of the IB Primary Years Programme is the belief that learners learn best through inquiry and finding out for themselves rather than being told, and that learning is deepest when learners have a personal connection to the learning and share in the decision making about what they learn and how. In class we have been talking a lot about inquiry -what it means and what it looks like:

  • It’s when you are discovering and finding things out.
  • It looks like you are playing but you are learning at the same time.
  • If you have an idea that you want to try and you do it again to see if it works, that’s inquiry.
  • Sometimes it’s noisy!

This week the children have had opportunities for “free” mathematical inquiry. We talk about how this is not a free play time, but a time to explore a mathematical interest or idea of their own choosing, with a view to finding out more. The children know that they will be held accountable and that at the end of the session they will be asked to share their learning with the group.

To help the children get started, we begin by brainstorming together to come up with some possible lines of inquiry. Over the last two weeks, I have noticed that several of the children have shown an interest in large numbers, often talking about millions, billions and trillions. I suggest that this might be an area they wish to pursue more. We write this idea down on the chart paper. Another child suggests an inquiry into Number of the Day. This is a daily quick mental math activity designed to develop children’s understanding of number. Yet another child left a “really tricky” math problem as a comment on the blog. Several children have risen to the challenge and want to try and find an answer.Marcus's math problem

In the classroom all our math equipment is organised into colour coded baskets and kept in one area. Someone suggests that “we could do inquiry with all of the math in these baskets”. Several other children nod their heads enthusiastically so we add that idea to the chart. Once we have listed some possibilities the children go off to conduct their individual and small group inquiries.

As the children go about their inquiries, I observe to see what “big ideas” the children are exploring. I will take these ideas and interests into consideration when I plan our math engagements over the coming weeks.

By now, the children know they need to record any work that they believe shows their learning -a new understanding or a skill development- for their learning portfolios. The children are learning to do this independently. We have brainstormed possible ways of recording and the children have access to the necessary resources. (In this case, the student decides that a photograph is the best way to record his 3D math work.)

Marus inquiry1
We have talked about collaboration, what it isn’t and what it is: It isn’t some people doing most of the work and others doing little; it isn’t talking about things that are not related to the work at hand; it is working together with someone, building on the ideas of others to create something that is better than one person could do alone. Two students come to me to explain that they both have good ideas and they think they can do “even more better” if they work together. At the end of the session, they are delighted with their work. They come and show me, proudly, and decide they want to record what they have done. It is clear that they have been on task and that the end product is more than either student could have achieved on their own.

Allowing some “free” math inquiry, where the students can choose what to work on, is key to helping them develop enthusiasm and motivation. Students who started the year as hesitant mathematicians, reluctant to take part in some of our numeracy drills, are now choosing to spend their free math inquiry time on these same drills.

One student is so delighted with his improvement, (“This is my best EVER!”) that he asks another student to take a photograph so he can show his parents.

I can see that there is an interest in the pattern blocks that could lead to an inquiry into shape, tessellation or area. I make a note of this; for the moment, I make a teaching decision to focus on developing students’ numeracy computational skills. However, the interest of this group, and of other groups around the room, get me thinking about when and how I will introduce other mathematical concepts in line with our G2 Common Core math standards

Mathchat 1
When we come back together for our reflection at the end of the session the children share their work, first in detail with a partner and then a summary for the whole group. These children are learning to think, talk and act like mathematicians. I make a note of the children’s reflections so that I can consider them as I plan next steps.

About tasha cowdy

PYP coordinator; Reggio inspired early childhood teacher; Workshop leader; Using technology to flatten classrooms; Involving parents in children's learning; Switzerland
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