Saturday, January 24, 2015

Immersing in Math and Science Inquiry

Our inquiry group is the Weavers.  We are weaving inquiry into the curriculum that we are expected, and held accountable for teaching.  Our overarching question is, "How do we blend required learnings in literacy / math / content with inquiry?"  We are really struggling with the balance between teaching to the standards, and throwing the scope and sequence out the window to make our instruction more inquiry-based.  I think that we all have a basic belief that our kids really prefer an inquiry-based approach.  It allows them a chance to dive deep into topics and question that they are passionate about. This will also create a place where students retain much more because they have much more ownership around the topic.  I am going to focus my study this year on Math inquiry, because I don't know that I have seen examples of this in action.  I have changed over to an inquiry approach in science and social studies, but how would I do it in math?  We have chosen a book called Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry and each of us is going to read a chapter that we find relevant to our practice. I scanned the book and didn't find anything riveting about inquiry math.  I am finding more information when I simply Google the topic.  I found a good resource here that I may use to light my path.  I am thinking that it would be worth my time to find some resources from people who have already done this, try it and adapt as I go.  In fourth grade, we are exploring fractions right now, so I am thinking that we will do some mini-inquiries around fractions and I will continue to reflect on that process as we progress through the year.

On Friday, I brought some artifacts around our unit on Space.  Right now, I am building background knowledge around the standard:  Earth is part of the solar system, which includes the Sun, Moon and other bodies that orbit the Sun in predictable patterns that lead to observable paths of objects in the sky as seen from Earth.  We have been watching videos and reading books about the Moon, then the Sun and now 'other bodies' and collecting our questions as we Stop, Think and React to what we are reading or viewing.

Our collection of Moon questions as we explore resources.

Student moon questions.

Students Stop, Think, React to information they
find in videos and books
(from Comprehension and Collaboration text.)

Students will engage in a mini inquiry as they focus in on a particular question that they or someone else in class has asked.  Again, I want to see what I can do to connect what I have done in science to what I can do in math.

Vitruvian Man
I THINK that I want our math inquiry to be student focused, I want it to have a real context for them.  What PUZZLES me is, if I am creating the context for them, will they be as engaged as when they create their own context? For example, I found a website called that has an activity call Vitruvian Man, where students take measurements of different parts of their body and then record fractions and ratios and see if they match the fractions and ratios discovered by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and drawn in his honor by Leonardo da Vinci.  Sounds great, but if I choose this activity (experience?) then will it be relevant to them? This is the focus of our group... how much of the curriculum should I throw out?  How much do I let fourth graders be the guides to their learning?  How will they learn everything they are supposed to about fractions (equivalence, adding, subtracting, comparing) if I allow them to determine what direction they go in their exploration of fractions?  I would like to EXPLORE more resources from people who have done this before, thinking about how to achieve a balance between teacher and student control over the content.


  1. Dear Jeff, thank you for your post! We all know that we learn best when we pursue our own speculating about the, "balance between teacher and student control over the content" is incredibly relevant. I feel the tension between what must be taught and authentic inquiry as well. I just go back to our overarching goal of facilitating the development of great and knowledgeable thinkers for life.

  2. I used the Vitruvian Man lesson with 7th graders when I taught in Aurora. For me it was more of a focus on a kinesthetic way to understand our skeletal structure with a little ratio math thrown in. Students enjoyed it, but I'm sure would be meaningful if ratios where the primary focus. Let's join together to toss the scope and sequence out the window, we know the district folks would not be happy.