Inspired by Leigh Ann's blog post, Math In A Unit Of Inquiry, I thought I'd also share my struggles to find an authentic way to bring Math front and centre to a unit of inquiry.
How We Got There
Last year I found myself running two planners, one for the UOI theme How We Express Ourselves and another for my Math both sharing the central idea: Talents, attitudes and skills help organisations to achieve their goals. The basis of the UOI was for students to experience how they organize themselves by running an art competition based on their collective interest in a type of Visual Art. This worked well but we did have many other opportunities within our other UOIs to include The Arts in a major way. For example you can check out Dare To Dance?
What was a challenge when reviewing our POI (Program of Inquiry) was the opportunities within the year where Math was the star. So I felt at least I could run a Math unit alongside our main UOI, where the basis would be an idea I found about Inquiry Teapots by Craig Dwyer (@dwyerteacher). You can also check out what inspired Craig at Geometric Teapot Packages. So there we embarked on our first Teapot Inquiry!
During post-unit reflection on our main UOI and my Math UOI, it did not take long for an A-HA! moment. I realized that Math was a excellent fit within this UOI and should be the main act. Maybe our central idea was truly supportive of transdisciplinary learning as it could be applied to Visual Art or Math and possibly other areas. I enjoyed reading a straight forward explanation on Transdisciplinary Learning from Greenwich Public Schools.
This year the UOI was a thrill. To live inside Math everyday where students are learning about it and applying it together to solve problems felt like we had successfully achieved a planner and UOI that was true to the transdisciplinary theme and didn't compromise on Math which is often stand-alone.
What It Looks Like
The transdisciplinary theme says, How We Organize Ourselves is an inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment.
The heart of this UOI is an inquiry into the structure and function of organizations and societal decision-making. This unit focusses on Thinking, Self-Management and Social Skills by learning how to effectively work towards a goal within a group by organising ourselves to solve mathematical problems involving Measurement and Shape and Space. It requires students to develop their Interactions within Physical, Personal and Social Education.
How Does It Work
I found a few great resources that helped us understand how to best approach problem solving in Mathematics. K-5 Teaching Resources have created fantastic e-books for Math Journals, Vocabulary and Projects. If you purchase a very affordable downloadable file, the explanation about Math Journals is straight forward and informative.
Another key factor was having students cycle through a problem-solving inquiry process as many times as possible within the UOI. This meant that students would be able to reflect on their skills, concepts, understandings and knowledge while giving them the opportunity to take action by applying what they have learned within the next inquiry cycle. It also meant that differentiation was imbedded as each "problem-solving organisation" or small group would be able to work at their own learning pace and level of understanding.
It was important for each student to select their group based on what the task or "goal" and the skills that he or she were bringing to the table as well as considering the skills that he or she needed from others. Rather than relying on random groupings or on a friendship basis. This meant that both students and myself had to be consistently aware of their skills state-of-play, through formative assessment, reflection and discussion. It also meant that before diving into a task, an extended moment of pause was needed to consider and apply thinking skills to ascertain what the goal actually was. This would ensure students practice good habits of thinking and avoid assumptions or racing ahead unaware of where they need to go (which was also up to themselves). This experience reaffirmed my love for open-ended Mathematics - its so rich and truly enjoyable!
In addition to the group tasks, I also ran individual Math Journals using the same process to allow for alone-time with Math and mathematical thinking.
Resources To Make It Happen
Hi, I am Natasha Hutchins an international teacher collaborating, exploring and sharing ideas with others, like myself from around the world, for our collective professional development and enjoyment of learning and teaching.