Guided Inquiry in a High Math Classroom? Really?

Yes, it can be done. We took Guided Inquiry and worked it into the math classroom. But why does everyone seem baffled at the the thought of a math teacher being able to make this work? I think it is what we have always been missing.

How often does a math teacher hear the question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”  With Guided Inquiry, the students are able to really answer that question. Let me start by staying, I am not one of those teachers that hears this question from a student and then gets immediately upset and irritated at the student. Actually, it is the best question they can ask, because that is the point of school. To teach the future citizens the knowledge and skills that they need for “real life.” Sometimes I have a perfect answer in my back pocket and other times I do not.

Mathematics is really about problem solving. Assessing the situation and determining which route to choose. Should that route lead you down a rabbit hole, then step back and try another approach. Problem Solving and Critical thinking are the top two skills that most all employers are looking for in a new hire. And what better place to learn these two skills than in the math classroom.

Now let me circle back to Guided Inquiry. How did this all start for me? My principal promoted this Professional Development called Guided Inquiry Design and he wanted to see a few teams go to it last summer. After thinking about it for a few days, I wasn’t quite sure what all it entailed, but knew that my Algebra 2 team has always been really strong and are willing to try new things if it is best for our students. So after talking to the team, I signed us up. In the end only 3 of the 5 of us could make it, but that didn’t stop us from going. Of the 3 that attended, two of us were veteran teachers to the school and to Algebra 2 and the other teacher was a brand new teacher, fresh out of college and eager to join the team.

We went to the 3 day PD for Guided Inquiry Design open-minded and after day 1 felt drained. It was hard. Hard in a good way. It really pushed us out of our comfort zone. The three of us tossed around ideas while we sat with lots of Elementary Ed, History and English teachers. We felt like we were on an island by ourselves. However, Leslie Maniotes (the institute leader), Martha and Taryn (our school librarians) were all so encouraging. They were supportive and helpful.

We refreshed over night and came back for day 2 determined to make this work. We picked our topic and started doing our own research, as if we were the students. This was really scary because the students can go so many ways with their questions, and for a math teacher to plan for the unknown, we still felt uneasy.  (Actually, I am pretty sure that we were all uneasy from the beginning of this institute until we finally completed this unit with our students in the spring.) So we stepped into Day 3 and made a short presentation to share with the group and ended up receiving really great feedback from all the other teachers there. We were on the right track, we just needed to be more confident with ourselves and more confident that our students would be able to make this work. At the end of the 3 day conference, we left with a plan for a unit on Sequences and Series. (In my next post I will go into all the details, mathematics and teacher prep.)

For now, I hope I have gotten the attention of some math teachers out there that have been skeptical about Guided Inquiry. Yes, it can be done!

Jamie Rentzel, Math Teacher

Norman High School

Norman Oklahoma