Guided Inquiry – A Mathematical Perspective

As I completed the final day of my guided Inquiry training this past Fall, describing myself as anxious would’ve been a major understatement. Our Geometry team had created a Guided Inquiry Unit for our students to complete right after Winter Break, and I honestly no idea what to expect. As a teacher interested in engagement opportunities, I was thrilled. However, from a classroom management perspective, I was terrified. I had no idea what my students were going to study, what they were going to find interesting, or what type of project they were going to create. As Winter Break came a close, I crossed my fingers (and toes!), and began this new experience.

As a class, we dove into ratios and proportions head on, with a new interest in real world applications, or most commonly phrased as the “why do we care?!” factor. My students kept a journal they wrote in one to two times a week, and I was fascinated by their responses. Overwhelmingly, they were so appreciative of my change of teaching! They enjoyed knowing the “why” of things, and felt much more connected to this chapter than any other we had covered so far. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! They were truly interested in mathematics! Quickly, my anxiety was replaced with hope and pure joy.

For my student’s create phase, they were to research a topic of their choice, and create a presentation and model of something in the real world. Common topics chosen included baking, toys cars (such as hot wheels), and movie sets.

However, one of the most interesting projects created involved Sea World’s Shamu and the animal’s large tank. The group of students created a model tank that was proportional to Shamu’s real tank. They weighed their model, thanks to a lovely science teacher, and converted its weight to pounds. Then, using proportions, discovered how much water would need to be in the tank with this model to be proportional to the real tank at Sea World. My students were so engaged in finding the correct answer, I think for a time they forgot they were in math class. I sat in awe as they presented their work, overcome with joy that these students were indeed mine.

As the unit came to a close, all of my students completed one final journal reflecting on the chapter, giving feedback, and rating this unit from 1-10. As a whole, everyone loved the unit. Many students enjoyed the project aspect of the unit. Others loved the real world applications. Finally, the majority couldn’t thank me enough of allowing them to study something they truly had an interest in. As a teacher, I felt I had truly done something amazing in my classroom.

To all my math teachers out there who are afraid of Guided Inquiry, I was too. But, don’t let that fear stop you from allowing your students to create something great. I encourage you to give Guided Inquiry a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed! Don’t let anyone tell you Guided Inquiry isn’t for math. Now more than ever, it’s exactly what we need.

Julia Prise
Geometry, Algebra 2, College Algebra Teacher
Norman High School