The
Inquirybased Approach to Teaching Math: Teaching Students to
be Mathematical Thinkers
Mary Ellen Tyrell and Sapphira Hendrix do not teach at the
same schools. They do not know each other. They do not
even teach the same grade levels. However, they are
both extraordinary math teachers who are totally committed to
using ISA’s inquirybased approach to teach math. Tyrell
is the STEM Department Team Leader at the Institute for
Health Professions at Cambria Heights, and Hendrix teaches
ninth grade Algebra at Brooklyn Preparatory High
School. What these two teachers do have in common is a
strong relationship with their ISA coaches that has
facilitated their development and implementation of inquiry
in their math classrooms.
“When I started teaching,” Hendrix said, “I had an idea of
the kind of teacher I would be. I thought that I would
teach the way that I was taught. I would lecture and
model how to work a problem. Students would take notes,
solve practice problems quietly at their desks, do homework,
and love math like I did. I was totally unprepared for
30 ninth graders who were not naturally in love with
math. I don’t know how I would have survived my first
year without the consistent help and support of my ISA
coach.” Tyrell agrees. She primarily used the I do; we
do; you do pedagogical strategy during her preISA coaching
years. “Now,” she says,” my classrooms are 100%
studentcentered, not teachercentered. The students
take ownership of their learning. My students predict,
make inferences, pose ideas and defend them, and have
discussions with their peers about why they used a certain
process to solve a problem. Their voices,
thoughts, and ideas are valued and respected. Using the
inquiry approach to teaching math is the best preparation
that they could possibly get to succeed at the college
level.”
Tyrell says, for example, that prior to support from her ISA
coach she taught quadratic equations in a more
teachercentered way. Now she presents her students
with tasks such as: How long after you take a timereleased
medication will you have to wait to take another dose?
Such tasks require students to represent their solution
graphically and as an algebraic equation as well as orally
share their thinking with the class. The inquiry
approach requires students to integrate knowledge, skills,
and concepts and apply a body of knowledge to solve a reallife
problem. “They have to demonstrate deep understanding
of math, and they have to think critically to perform well on
these kinds of tasks,” Tyrell states. Hendrix points
out that math skills, procedures, and processes are embedded
in the tasks. “Using inquiry really promotes procedural
fluency because the math procedures and skills make sense to
the students,” she states.
See an
inquirybased math lesson by clicking here.
Both teachers attribute their development of inquiry pedagogy
to their partnership with their ISA coaches. “I can’t
imagine being able to meet the demands of Common Core without
having had the excellent coaching that I received through
ISA,” stresses Hendrix. She explains that it was the
consistent weekly feedback based on observations in her own
classroom and subsequent forward planning that helped her
shift her instructional practice. “My coach and I went
over every lesson before I presented it to students.
One of the biggest benefits of this process was discovering
my own knowledge gaps and working with the coach to close
them before I tried to teach the students. ”Having access to
the ISA curriculum was also a huge benefit Hendrix
recalls. “It took me eight hours to design a 50minute
lesson. There is no way that I could have designed a
lesson from scratch every day.”
Tyrell says that the benefits for students of using the
inquiry method are not just confined to math. She is
proud of how confident and courageous her students have
become. “They are not afraid to try even if they do not
know exactly how to do something.” Tyrell states that
she gives each student an ISA performance task so they can
demonstrate what they have learned. “I always include one
element of something that is unknown, and they are never
stymied by this. Not one student pushes the paper away
and says, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ The question that I
constantly ask myself is: What do I want my students to do
with their lives? I want them to be prepared to be
CEOs, not cashiers. I expect them to function at the
highest levels possible so that they have real options in
life. Using the inquirybased approach to teaching and
learning fosters attitudes and beliefs that will serve them well
over their lifetimes. There is nothing in the world I
would rather do than this.”
