Monday, March 9, 2009

The Real World...

Had an interesting weekend...While at a friends house, he commented on his daughter's maths homework. (I'm a maths teacher, people often tell me about their children's maths homework.) She had an assignment to complete which involved her researching a particular type of "special number". She had a list to choose from: Square numbers, Pascal's triangle, the Fibonacci sequence etc, and had to produce a poster with a definition, any special properties or applications of these numbers and any other interesting facts she could find out about them.
See what had fallen into my lap? A real world example of "inquiry based learning"! From chatting with her father, hearing about her approach to the task and seeing her finished product, I am able to make the following statements.
1. This task/topic was not at all motivating to this student. She had not engaged with it at all.
2. The expectations for the product of this task were not clear enough. (Her product would not pass at all under my reading of the task description. However, she and her parents seemed satisfied with the result.)
3. The methods and skills for completing this task were not explained, taught or modelled. After completing the task, the student knew nothing about the Palindromic Numbers she had chosen to study, and had no idea how she would go about finding more information if she wanted to. (She didn't.)
4. Parents are often ill-equipped to help students complete inquiry based tasks at home. These particular parents were happy to help but really didn't have the skills to do so. They also didn't have a clear understanding of the expectations of the task. (Did anyone?)
I can appreciate that this task was a well-meaning attempt by the teacher to depart from the "chalk and talk" and exercises from the text of a normal maths lesson. But I don't think the execution has been very successful.

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