Ms. Coleman engages students through inquiry
One of Inspired Teaching's greatest strengths is training educators how to bring to life in their classroom inquiry-based instruction. In an inquiry-based classroom, teachers provide opportunities for students to solve or reason through novel tasks, by employing and applying prior knowledge, skills and understanding of content.
What does this look like in action?
To find out, one simply needs to visit the fifth grade classroom of Inspired Teacher Latisha Coleman at our demonstration school in Washington, DC. Coleman is a graduate of the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, and she brings to life inquiry-based instruction every week in her math classes.
On a recent afternoon, we dropped by Coleman’s math class. The class has been studying rounding and estimating for the past few weeks. Her students are sitting on a circular rug on the floor, shoulder to shoulder, with their math journals carefully balanced on their knees, and with their faces scrunched up in intense concentration. They are trying to make sense of the math equation that Coleman had just written on the board.
0.904 times 75 = 75
What do you think of this equation? Coleman asks her students.
It’s funny, says one. Something isn’t right about it, says another student.
What’s not right? prods Coleman.
If you carry the equation all the way through it’s wrong.
Well, how can me make this equation right? Coleman prods again.
The students squirm in silence for a minute or two but Coleman doesn’t give away an answer. She tells the students that they can figure this out if they apply the math concepts the class has been studying for the past few weeks.
A girls voice chirps up: “Well, if we round 0.904 to one, then the equation is right.”
If we round up or if we round down? Coleman asks the girl to clarify.
“If we round 0.904 up to 1, then we see that 1 times 75 = 75” the girl answers, beaming at the fact she’s figured it out.
After the class “cracks” this math riddle, Coleman then runs students through a number of other math challenges, all of which can only be solved when students apply the rounding principle. At every turn in the conversation, Coleman finds opportunities to increase her students’ math vocabulary and math fluency. Each problem is an opportunity to clarify and re-clarify the idea of decimal number, a whole number, the tenths place, the hundredths place. Coleman teaches math the way a foreign language instructor teaches language.. by using students’ current fluency with some math terms and concepts as stepping stone/bridges to understanding more advanced math concepts.
Later, when Coleman has a break from her teaching duties, she shares her thoughts about why teaching math through inquiry-based instruction helps develop her students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. She reflects:
“Inquiry-based teaching encourages students to do more than just find the right answer. In my lessons, I encourage students to apply the concepts and rules that we’ve learned to new situations. This helps them see patterns and trends… not just arrive at ‘the right answer.’ It’s about seeing the bigger picture.
By shifting the focus away from finding ‘the right answer’ to applying what they know to problems, and then inviting them to explain their problem-solving methods out loud, I help create an opening for students to take risks. Yes, there is an answer we need to arrive at, but the process of getting there, and explaining your problem-solving to others, is the reward. If a student’s problem solving doesn’t get them to the right answer, then we think through their process for getting there. Where do we need to back-track? Where along the way did we go wrong? Let’s go back and pinpoint, and find that wrong turn.
This way of teaching math, encourages students to take risks and to not be afraid to problem solve their way through things. It’s more demanding than traditional math teaching… more demanding on teachers and students alike. But it helps build students’ confidence in their ability to problem solve.”
Because of your support, Inspired Teaching is able to ensure that students in Coleman’s classroom and in hundreds of classrooms throughout public and public charter schools in the District are places where students experience rigorous, rewarding, and relevant learning. By helping strengthen the teaching practice of teachers like Coleman, Inspired Teaching works to ensure that high-quality, engaging teaching becomes the norm, not the exception, for students in Washington, DC.