DocRunning discusses the value of problem solving in the math classroom, and picks out their favourite resources for teaching in this way
Discovering the solution to a problem is incredibly satisfying and provides the opportunity for deeper learning. As a teacher, it's hard not to give the answer. I know how to solve a system of equations and I could just show my students, but then they would not find and internalize the solution.
While many of my students weren’t instantly attracted to inquiry-based learning, by the end of each of these activities they did feel empowered. Inquiry learning builds confidence and I believe everyone can do it. Getting started with inquiry-based learning in your class can be easy and here are three quick strategies you can implement today:
- Find the pattern
Give students open-ended problem solving opportunities with this hands-on lesson about circles*, where learners work out the meaning of circumference and how to develop a formula. Through examining multiple circles and finding patterns, students are encouraged to figure out the answers for themselves. By the end of the inquiry activity, they can write the formula for circumference and find pi.
- Show examples but don’t define the concept
In this inquiry activity, students work with a concept. Rather than defining, or naming, the concept at the beginning, we explore it and try to understand it. For example, learners compare the space taken up in a box by unpopped and popped kernels of popcorn. Students then have to decide how to measure and define this. At the end of the activity, we name it volume and write definitions. This method means that later on, when they are working out formulas with different 3D shapes, the class have a clear recognition of volume.
- Create a problem, determine a solution
Tackle problems in an innovative way with this ‘design a medieval village’ geometry project*. I found that it gave learners the opportunities to come up with their own solutions. Several students wanted to include churches in the villages, but the churches were in the shape of Roman crosses. This presented two problems: how do you create a net for a cross and how do you determine the surface area and volume of the structure? Students discussed, failed, tried again and figured it out themselves. Importantly, they all found their own strategies, rather than just being told how to do it.
*This resource is being sold by the author