Lloyd Alexander once said, “We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from the answer itself.” I love this quote because I’ve witnessed the truth of it firsthand in the classroom. Like much of life, the best parts are often found in the journey rather than the destination itself.
When students are truly engaged in inquiry, they are able to construct deep knowledge and understanding rather than just passively receiving the information. It also gives them the opportunity to encounter different perspectives that build upon prior learning, which they can then return to for guidance as they continue to grow.
This is particularly true when it comes to the study of mathematics. With math, educators often find themselves jumping between two worlds: the conceptual knowledge and the procedural knowledge. Procedural knowledge is what’s learned through standard memorization (like math facts), but conceptual knowledge is where students are able to grasp deeper learning through thoughtful, reflective activities.
So, as educators, how do we spark mathematical discussions in the classroom that play into this idea conceptual learning? Here are just five activities that teachers can use to help their students find the beauty in math, and bring about that greater sense of discovery:
1. Would You Rather…? Math: If you’re looking for ways to engage students in math conversations and how to have students use math to justify their ideas, this is a great resource to use! A great place to start is to check out the User’s Guide, which gives teachers a pathway to begin using this resource.
2. Youcubed Math Tasks: This resource is full of inquiry-driven math inspiration. While this link takes you to the math tasks (low-floor high-ceiling activities that are accessible yet challenging for ALL learners), there are so many other ideas and activities to explore.
3. TED ED Math Riddle Videos: When I stumbled upon these a few years ago, I couldn’t stop talking about them. To this day, I still share them with as many teachers as I can. The engagement level, the creative problem-solving, and the higher-level thinking skills utilized all help to build a love for math learning. Bonus: check out this list we created of 13 of our favorites, separated by grade level to make the search for the right task a bit easier!
4. 3 Act Math: I love the simplicity of these tasks and the problem-solving skills that each requires. I also love how students will go about solving these tasks in a variety of ways, while still being able to arrive at a common solution.
5. Esti-Mysteries: If you are looking for a thought leader in the math education world, Steve Wybourney is your person. He happens to be the creator of these estimation tasks and also a ton of other helpful classroom resources. I recommend also checking out his math Splats, subitizing tasks to help build students’ ability to recognize a set of objects without counting.
Inquiry builds on children’s inherent sense of curiosity and wonder, drawing on their diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Simply by taking advantage of this fact, we can help students connect with math in new and exciting ways while also laying the foundations for future learning. So in your next math lesson, make room for student inquiry and watch as your students revel in their newfound sense of discovery.
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