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My name is Prisana Heaton, and this is my 16th year as a mathematics teacher, my seventh in China. I teach in the middle school of the Pudong campus.
When I first began teaching in Sydney, Australia, the focus in education was on improving student literacy and numeracy. Modern technology and changes in learning styles have led to the replacement of traditional math teaching methods, with a focus now on visual aids and models that represent mathematics. Today, students are supported in visualizing the connection between numbers and physical objects, rather than just memorizing rote facts. They are asked to inquire.
With inquiry math, I provide students with information in an engaging, fun, and stimulating manner while enhancing their understanding of mathematical principals in a way that goes far beyond rote learning. As a teacher, I find it fulfilling when students' critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities grow through inquiry math.
What is Inquiry Math?
In a traditional math class, we would come to a conclusion based on a formula. Traditional math doesn’t require students to necessarily go through a logical thinking process, whereas inquiry math pushes the student to think through the different steps.
Take this exercise we did in class as an example. We looked at the population of a particular city, used 50 years’ worth of data to extrapolate what would happen in 2050, then talked about if the data was reliable. We discussed how data and math don’t think, they just output mathematically. We get a specific conclusion based on a formula, but what about other factors that come in?
So we broaden the discussion to that. What if a city’s or country’s policies come into play—for example, the equation predicts we’ll have 80 million, but what if the government puts a cap at 50? Then we talked about immigration and emigration trends. In the case of the city we looked at; we compared the predicted data and real data for its 2020 population, and found that the real numbers were underneath the predicted numbers. There were all sorts of guiding questions that were incorporated into our discussions—how and why did you think that happen?
Same thing goes for our Twizzlers Bites experiments. It’s easy to see that in the real world, we don’t have perfect linear regressions. There are factors that will affect your outcome. So what I get my students to do, is to learn to think about all these and to ask questions, to reason, and revel in the process by which they arrive at their solutions.
Why Does Inquiry Math Matter?
Students develop as critical thinkers, better listeners, and demonstrate grit when they engage in inquiry learning, a process that enhances their ability to dive deep into a challenging problem. Being able to develop grit and not give up is so important. Once someone gives up, they can’t go beyond that. Is that the end of it? Being able to continue on with the challenge and not give up, even if they get it wrong, is grit. Because getting it wrong is inevitable.
The other thing is realizing how to transfer those foundation skills we learned in class elsewhere, and being able to build those skills beyond math and use it for science, for humanities…because math is in everything. The kids may not realize this, but they’re learning how to interpret what we learn and apply it in other areas of school and life.
If my students can understand and interpret given information, think critically and logically, and make informed decisions that are part of their daily lives, then I leave the school at the end of the day knowing that I’ve supported them on their way to success."