Despite having secure content knowledge and vast teaching experience, many teachers still struggle with designing learning experiences for students that truly qualify as mathematical inquiry. Even if teachers successfully achieve the goal of introducing inquiry sporadically in their lessons, the enduring effectiveness of the methodology is undermined by inconsistent employment of this proven approach to learning. Inquiry learning is considered to be integral to deep learning and is reliably supported in scientific research that explores how the brain learns. In his book, How the Brain Learns, Sousa focuses on the information that can help teachers turn neurological research on how the brain actually works into ideas for practical classroom activities and lessons. Along with Erik Jensen, who wrote the seminal tome, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, he advocated pedagogy that was brain-compatible. This pedagogy is informed by a deeper understanding of how the brain creates memories and a mindset to design classroom experiences that establish the primacy of inquiry learning.
Dewey played a prominent role in educational reform in the first half of the 20th century and was credited with raising the awareness of the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning approaches. Dewey proposed that instead of emphasizing the memorization of facts, students should be taught to think and act scientifically, his philosophy of learning underpins this approach. Recent researchers have suggested that it is “an organic way to make students active agents in their own learning process”. The deliberate choice of the word “organic” reveals the nuances that separate inquiry learning from other forms of instruction. The conscious involvement of students in the learning process was seen as a pathway to better understanding and the development of student agency. The notion that learning is organic, rather than scripted is the essence of inquiry-based classroom experience.
David Perkins, Professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, proposes the idea of “playing the whole game” in his book Making Learning Whole. The central thrust being that learning should be provided in a whole form, rather than in topics as is more normal. This is particularly intriguing for mathematics instruction. His metaphor of a baseball game being a different experience compared to learning different skills in a training setting is curiously poignant. For many teachers, this “inquiry method” is just another name for the Guided Discovery approach. Guided discovery is an inquiry approach but its limitations impact on successful conceptual understanding in Mathematics learning.
One pitfall of guided discovery teaching in Mathematics is the lack of transfer in weaker learners. While they logically follow through the process, they struggle to connect it to the Mathematics they need in order to solve problems effectively. A popular topic is the sum of interior angles in a triangle. The logical process of drawing a triangle, cutting out the ends, joining them and voila a straight line, relies almost totally on the teacher guiding – telling perhaps – the learners. Despite the process being well supported by logic and the outcome undisputed many learners still do not remember the simple fact. Transfer is lacking. Or at least independent transfer.
Student Agency through Inquiry
Inquiry teaching takes another route to learning, as it is largely inductive and demands questions from the learners for it to thrive. Questions are met with further questions, one
By: Megel Barker