A high school math inquiry project

The email started like many we receive: What dates are the library computers available to bring down classes for research?

We check the schedule and start to email a response when it hits us …a math teacher…wants to do research? What?! We quickly respond with dates as requested and offer to help in any way we can.

Then Ms. White, my librarian colleague, and I start chatting from our desks to one another.

“Have you ever done research with a math class?”

“No, but this could be so cool!”

“I wonder what their product would be – a research paper? Presentation?”

Ding…then another email arrived with an attachment of the math research project Ms. Zehnder had done at a different school but she wanted to make it better and asked for our help, perhaps using the Guided Inquiry Process. And that is how we became part of another Guided Inquiry Design (GID) unit at HCHS. The three of us began collaborating to design a student-oriented research project and by late fall, students began their inquiries, and for many of them, this was the first math research project they had ever been assigned.

So, what did it look like?

Open – Students were asked to think about ways they use math in the real world. With a little prompting from the classroom teacher, the examples started pouring in. Perhaps the most powerful point about this phase was once they started thinking about math in the real world, they understood it was all around them. To help with this phase, as librarians, we brainstormed a list of ways math was relevant in their world and gave it to Ms. Zehnder although it wasn’t really needed. The list came in handy later though as we worked to find resources to flesh out the Explore phase.

Immerse– Using a high interest article in the classroom, the class found as many math related concepts as they could within it. Afterwards, as a group, they discussed how one might use it as a springboard to come up with inquiry topics for a research project. As school librarians, our role was to find a handful of possible articles and gave them to the Ms. Zehnder so that she could determine which one(s) she wanted to use. Having the classroom teacher model the process of reading articles and talking about real life experiences, then brainstorming how math was relevant to it, was a great way to scaffold the class for the Explore phase.

Explore – Next, students came to the library and participated in exploration stations to make connections with mathematical concepts used in the real world and think about how math affects their daily life. There were 4 stations: books, magazines, computers and manipulatives. Students spent 9 minutes at each of the stations looking through whatever materials caught their eye and filled out the Exploration handout as they went. There was enough time at the end of the period for students to return to any station(s) they wanted to explore longer. At the book station we had over fifty resources scattered around for students to pick up and flip through. Topics ranged from specific sports, to nutrition, to world records, to teen spending practices and more. A complete bibliography is below in case you’d like to look at it further. The magazine station included the local newspaper and a variety of magazines like: Transworld Skateboarding, Popular Science, Outdoor, Time, National Geographic, ESPN and others. By far the two most popular stations were manipulatives and computers. At the manipulatives station, we set out the Cracker Barrel peg game, Suduko sheets, mandala coloring sheets, the Banagrams game, dice, etc. Watching students at this station made me so happy. Not only were students trying their hands at origami, wrestling with math brain teasers, playing Connect Four, etc. they were having real conversations about math and enjoying it! The computer station was very engaging too. Ms. White spearheaded this station by creating a Symbaloo webmix housing a variety of websites for students to explore and determine how math was involved. Check out the Explore link below when you have time because the mix of videos, websites and tutorials gave students plenty to consider in this station too. The beautiful thing about this portion of the GID unit was that I learned a new technology tool out of it too!

Math topics

Resource: Math Related Topics Bibliography (PDF)

Symbaloo

 Resource: Explore Symbaloo Webmix (link)

Explore

Resource: Explore Stations (entire PDF)

 

Identify – During this phase, we as librarians visited the classroom to lead a mini-lesson with each class. With their completed Explore Station handout in front of them, students selected a mathematical concept they found interesting to focus on for the rest of their project. While students were not required to select a topic from the Explore phase, many of them did so and having a series of possible topics in front of them, allowed everyone to have something to work on during this lesson.  After we modeled how to take a topic and brainstorm possible inquiry questions, we gave the students time to complete theirs. Note there are two graphic organizers. We did this knowing some learners are linear thinkers and others are not. Our hope was that a student could select the one that best helped them organize the topic and potential keywords and related inquiry questions related to the main idea. We modeled both types of graphic organizers with the students. Ultimately the topics students selected were quite varied including:  how math drives the game of hockey, why an understanding of math helps mixed martial arts fighters get an upper hand in a match, why the number zero is relevant, why do we need to understand the concept of infinity, just to name a few.

Inquiry graphic organizers

Resource:  Identify Graphic Organizers (entire PDF)

Gather – The next time students came to the library, we (librarians) demonstrated how to take notes on relevant resources as it related to their inquiry. Students were required to use both print and web-based resources to research their mathematics concept. As librarians, we created and provided an Inquiry Log template including links to citation help where students could answer their inquiry questions as they researched. Before turning them loose to conduct their own research, we modeled the process using the template. During the student research time in the library, Ms. White, Ms. Zehnder and I circulated around the room to assist students with locating potential print and web resources, and generally helped them stay on task. In reflection, it was clear students loved talking and sharing what they were learning about their topics and were eager to share that with anyone who would listen. Students who did not complete this phase during allotted time in the library were required to finish it independently.

Gathering

Resource: Gather Sources Inquiry Log (entire PDF)

Create – Students were eventually tasked to create a presentation where they would explain the mathematical concept they chose, provide examples of how it is seen or used in real life and find relevance for its mathematical study. As librarians, we helped students think through possible presentation types. When PowerPoint was mentioned, we tried to talk about the pitfalls of a traditional presentation format and how to avoid it. Suggestions included not reading from the slides directly, embedding pictures or videos, and how to narrate using audio clips. At first students seemed frustrated by the lack of specific requirements given for the presentation. They wanted to know which presentation format was best, how long it should be, etc. In hindsight, I would definitely not change this aspect of the project because it helped students truly consider which format would be best for their particular topic and their particular audience. The varied results spoke to the wisdom of leaving the presentation format open. On the final day of class time given to work on the presentations, we did create and give students a Presentation Planner Checklist to help students organize themselves and know at a glance what else needed to be done or strengthened to ensure success.

Presentation Planner

Resource: Presentation Planner Checklist (entire PDF)

Resource: Presentation Planner Checklist (entire Word doc)

Share – Students ultimately shared their presentations and were graded based on whether their visual and verbal presentation addressed the mathematical concept, clearly defined and explained it, gave examples of the concept in real world and discussed the relevance of studying the concept in general.  The diversity of the final products was greater than I had originally expected. Sure, there were still a lot of PowerPoint presentations but not exclusively. Interestingly, if Ms. White and I got sidetracked in the library during one of the presentation times, it wasn’t unusual for a student to inquire where we were and ask to call and remind us to come up. How cool is that? We were absolutely thrilled to be part of the process from beginning to end.

Ms. Zehnder not only invited us as school librarians to the Share phase, she invited all building math teachers and administrators too. Students were both pleased and proud to have additional audience members. We even invited a Communications person from the district office who wrote a feature article on the district website. Check it out!

Resource: Everyday math takes a bow at Henry Clay High School” feature article

Evaluate – The classroom teacher, Ms. Zehnder, evaluated each project based on the rubric that specific class had made. For example, every class was evaluated on incorporating five math facts, citing their sources and discussing the concept’s relevance but she had also allowed each class to individualize their rubrics. Some classes added a creativity component, others bonus points for audience participation, etc. We intended to have students complete a self-reflection on the project using a Google form  but due to lack of computer availability, this wasn’t possible. Instead, students debriefed in a class discussion. In the future we hope to use the Google form, as it is a great way to collect and analyze data in a timely manner.

Resource: Self-Evaluation Google Form

The positive press by the district combined with teachers hearing about our project by word of mouth has led others to express interest in developing a GID unit of their own in collaboration with us. Perhaps by the end of the school year we will have more units to share.

Lets start at the very beginning

A very good place to start. When you read you begin with ABC, when you research you being with OPEN, IMMERSE, EXPLORE.

As promised, I am back again!  This time, though, to share out the project the team of teachers and I developed at the CISSL Summer Institute in the Summer of 2014.  Now that we have returned to school, I have spent this week jumping head first into a GID project with four sections of 6th grade ILA.  Being my former stomping grounds, it is nice to work with that curriculum again, but in the context of library studies.

The thematic unit is Challenge and Change.  Students read a variety of short non-fiction narratives, and stories about characters who have experienced challenges in their lives and brought about change because of those challenges.  For the project, we are connecting directly to the curriculum, by having students explore a person who has experienced a challenge and then how they were able to create change.

We start OPEN with Kid President, who is an engaging and entertaining young man with a debilitating disease, which students soon learn about.  They explore a series of resources (embedded below) and focus on answering questions connected with our theme of Challenge and Change.  The Cornell notes sheet for this exploration can be found using the link at the bottom of the page.

Create your own Playlist on LessonPaths!

 

The next step is IMMERSE, which we spend a class period working on.  Here students annotate three resources about freedom riders.  This allows students the opportunity to do some close reading and really begin to see some different options for people they could research.  Here, in the past, we have had access to a local member of the community who was a freedom rider, who would take student questions and answer them.  I have since lost that contact and am currently brainstorming some other ways we could incorporate a “field trip” style experience for students in this step.

Currently we are working on the EXPLORE step of the project.  Yesterday, students spent time in small friend groups (they will transition to thematic groups tomorrow), exploring a variety of possible research topics.

This is the most important step in the process, and the one which is left out most frequently!

Truly, it is worth taking the time to allow students to explore the possibilities for research in this step, your brain will thank you when you go to watch or grade the final products.  This step is where your students begin to get excited about their research, because…wait for it… they have CHOICE in who/what they select for their topic.

Today I repeated this line multiple times as we began to transition to the IDENTIFY stage:

Make sure you are selecting a topic you really like, not because your friends like that person, or because it will make you look cool, but because you are going to be truly passionate about them.  You will have to spend the next week with this person, you want to make sure you like them or you will be miserable and it will show in your final product.

You see, it is not enough to just say, here is a list of topics, pick one.  The value in EXPLORE comes when you allow students a “taste” of each of the options.  Instead of choosing blindly from a pre-selected list, students are able to explore the options, watching multimedia content, skimming articles, flipping through the pages of books, and reading book jackets.  Students then use an exploration chart to record those topics which catch their attention and drop those which are not of interest.  (See Explore page in the link below for the chart).  Using the chart prompts students to think more clearly about what they like and don’t like.  Because of this, they are able to select a topic more effectively and efficiently than with previous processes.

As the librarian, it is my job to curate the resources necessary for student success and guide them to the appropriate sources for information.  Purchasing titles which are connected to the theme for our collection, as well as pulling those for the exploration step and gather steps allows us to have some control over the topics, yet still makes students feel like they have some choice during the process.

Here is another quick video of what students were doing on Tuesday of this week for their Explore stage!

Throughout we have been using several of the strategies which get students up and moving and sharing their ideas as well as reflecting on the process.  We use a daily quick write to help students connect with the research as well as make connections to prior readings.  We also apply the community/city partner strategy which has students pair up on paper ahead of time and then when we say, “today you will share with your Decoy or Warrior partner,” they know exactly where to go and it is a big time saver.

More to come of our project as we continue with 52 Weeks of GID!

There are so many resources for this project that they would fill more than just a blog post, so here are the additional resources related to this project.  Please feel free to use under the share and share alike license 🙂