One of my challenges as an IB PYP teacher is how to design authentic opportunities for inquiry using mathematics. I think it’s due partly to the fact that the outcomes tend to be predetermined but also because upper elementary mathematical skills aren’t often prominent in the students’ own inquiries.
My solution has generally been to provide an inquiry provocation to introduce a concept with related skills to be practiced in subsequent lessons.
Recently, we completed a unit on estimation. The initial challenge was simply to estimate the number of various objects in various containers.
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsAfter my students discussed different strategies and submitted their estimates, we engaged the school community by setting up the jars and forms in the corridor and inviting other classes to join in.
The giant cupcake was beautifully presented, but illustrates the importance of action in inquiry. This student’s work was hypothetically interesting, yet I don’t believe that any of the questions or ideas were actually pursued. When the idea was introduced, I was hoping that an abnormally large cupcake would appear in the classroom one day!
After creating posters to share their estimation inquiry processes, students embarked on a traditional unit of estimation practice and application in different situations. Their learning was certainly enhanced after completing their individual projects, and resulted in a clear connection between the academic and practical aspects of mathematics.
This was an interesting mini unit that resulted in meaningful learning, but I would like to explore ways to tie it to a greater and more general theme.
It also raises a question for me about the role of purposeful practice in inquiry learning. After all, learning outcomes are, by definition, predetermined. Is it enough to view them with suspicion when designing learning experiences, or should I actively try to eliminate them from my planning?