Posted in Current Posts

Shhh! Don’t Tell! Inquiry-Based Learning

Step One:

Ok. Open your envelopes, sort your numbers and discover how the numbers relate to each other, I said to the 5th grade class. The envelopes contained slips of paper printed with two base numbers and their factors. The base numbers are underlined and each set is in a unique font. I was using inquiry-based learning method with my class.

“Inquirybased learning (also enquirybased learning in British English) starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge. The process is often assisted by a facilitator.” Wikipedia

(Yes, I am quoting Wikipedia)

“Instead of just presenting the facts, use questions, problems, and scenarios to help students learn through their own agency and investigation.” Edutopia

At first the students were a little distraught that I would not help them or answer their questions. I encouraged them to enter the angst of the moment and embrace the struggle of deeper learning. After a few more minutes of struggle the number talks began to happen around the room within groups and between groups.

All of these numbers are evens!

Look! Each of these numbers is double the one before it.

All of these numbers divide into this underlined number! Does that work for the other set?

The students were on the brink of discovering the meanings of factors and multiples. That’s the secret of inquiry based learning: discovery. Discovering is so much more active/interesting/meaningful/powerful than listening to a lecture from the teacher on factors.

After a few minutes most students discovered the underlined numbers. A few more minutes and they all discovered the different fonts and began to categorize the numbers accordingly. At this point the magic began to happen. Shouts of discovery began to pop-up all over the room.

I got it, Mrs Kane!

Come here quick, Mrs. Kane!

Look what we found! 

Step Two:

Now I need you to think of a name and a definition for the sets of numbers you have sorted. What should we call these types of numbers? I love the names the students created: Number Strings,  Number Vines, Pieces of Numbers.

Step Three:

Back to your seats. Please be ready to share with the class your name and definition. We shared a few definitions, identified the correct mathematical term for our dicovery and recorded them both in our math journals. I put our homework assignment on the board, and we worked other factoring examples on our whiteboards. Students then moved to join work groups,  to join me to make a “math table” or to work independently. Others moved in and out of groups as needed. Some students helped mentor others who needed additional support.

The real win came at the end of class. As I was packing up my stuff I overheard a few comments …

I could feel the wheels turning in my head!

I am thinking so hard today!

I used to hate math, now I love it!

Inquiry-based learning is worth the prep work. The hardest thing about it is keeping your mouth shut and letting your students struggle and  think. Give it a try! Let me know what you discover!

What do you think about Inquiry Based Learning?

Please leave me a comment in the leave a reply section below. I ‘d love to chat with you!

By Mary Kay Kane

all rights reserved. copyright 2017


A Christian woman who wants to make a difference in the world.

2 thoughts on “Shhh! Don’t Tell! Inquiry-Based Learning

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