Math, Teaching and Instruction

Inquiry in Mathematics

In Saskatchewan our provincial curricula are built around one central core…inquiry.  Inquiry is a philosophical approach to teaching and learning that empowers students to explore and discover.  Through inquiry students are active participants in the creation of understanding and knowledge.   They are asked to be curious, to wonder, to question, to reflect, to share and to think

In Mathematics inquiry is often seen through problem solving.  By collaboratively solving and creating mathematical problems students construct and deepen their understandings of concepts, strengthen their strategic competence, and develop their logical reasoning skills.  As students engage in problem solving they need to attend to 4 important stages in the inquiry/problem solving process:

Stage 1: Understand the Problem–  This very important stage is often overlooked in the classroom.  It is often assume that students understand the problem in front of them but this assumption can by costly.  Without a solid understanding of what they are being asked to do, students are often stumped before they start.  Time spent carefully dissecting a problem and ensuring understanding can be critical to success.

Stage 2: Make a Plan– Just like the construction of a building, the construction of a mathematical solution requires forethought and a plan.  Having a carefully considered plan of attack can help students construct their solution successfully.  Problem Solving plans or strategies can include:

  • Acting it out
  • Using a model
  • Drawing a picture
  • Guessing and testing
  • Looking for a pattern
  • Making a chart or a graph
  • Working backwards
  • Making an organized list
  • Using logical reasoning   

Stage 3: Carry out the PlanIn the words of  Nike – Just Do It!

Stage 4: Look Back –  This stage involves careful reflection, checking to see if your answer makes sense, and considering the solutions of others.  Considering the solutions of others and comparing them to your own provides an opportunity for understanding and learning to be collaboratively constructed in the mathematics classroom.

For more information on Problem Solving in Mathematics check out these great resources:

Making Math Meaningful to Canadian Students by Marian Small

Making Math Meaningful

Introduction to Problem Solving by Susan O`Connell


1 thought on “Inquiry in Mathematics”

  1. I had a love/hate relationship with mathematics when in school. My problem was understanding the question that was being asked of me. I agree when you said that this stage is often overlooked, because it was when I was a math student. I believe that the first stage and the last stage are the most critical in problem solving. You have to understand the problem before attacking it, and you always should look back over your steps that you took in solving the problem.
    Great and useful post! Thanks.

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