Inquiry and Assessment in Maths

Well, it has been very quiet from Southbank for a wee while.  Working in a fantastic school with outstanding colleagues is making me raise my game – which I love, but has come at the expense of some of the other things I love to do.  But here I am…

My partner and I, over the last 6 weeks, have worked very hard to provide the children lots of opportunities to inquire into place value.  Inquiry in maths is an area that is new to me, and if I am honest, I have struggled.  Structuring learning experiences in such as way as to facilitate the children asking their own questions and then inquiring into them is something new and difficult for me.

The steps I have taken on my learning journey have been to provide investigations.  I have given the children a variety of open-ended tasks requiring them to look at the numbers, patterns and changes to these number patterns, and then draw conclusions about what has happened. For example, the children took calculators, place value block, place value boards and their own “tickers” (similar to an odometre made of paper and card), and multiplied a number by 10, 100 and 1000 to see what happened.    As an aside, using the key concept “thinking keys”, particularly form, change and reflection, have been very useful with this unit.  (For more information on the thinking keys check out  Once the children, individually and in small groups, had come up with idea on what they thought had happened, they worked closely in collaborative groups to make a consensus page.  Here they recorded their own thinking and then had to present their findings to their group, possibly even persuading others, and then as a group they had to decided what they would like to present to the class, then finally model and “teach” their theory to the whole class.  This is only one example of the investigations the children have carried out.  Though I am sure this is far from perfect, I have loved watching the children develop their skills, knowledge and conceptual understanding in place value.

So now, the children are working towards their final assessment.  My partner and I agonized over this – we didn’t want a random, meaningless test, but with so much else going on we needed it to be efficient, both in time and content.  What we finally decided was the the children, working in groups of 3, will put together a presentation for the rest of the grade 3 children.  We will film it – which makes their e-portfolio sample easy – and the children in the audience will provide feedback and feed-forward on the mathematical contents of the presentation.

This has been a steep learning curve for me, I can tell you.  What are you doing in maths? How do you think we, as teachers, can facilitate more inquiry in our maths time?



Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, Mathematics

2 responses to “Inquiry and Assessment in Maths

  1. Your post is inspiring. I really like the way you’ve expressed the idea of teaching maths through inquiry, facilitating experiences for the kids to develop the mathematical understandings for themselves is no easy task. You’ve outlined some fantastic inquiry based maths learning. You’ve asked for what others are doing in maths, I’m more than happy to share where we are at the moment.

    In our grade 5 PYP classroom we are inquiring into volume and capacity. We started by breaking apart lots of different boxes to examine their nets. From this the students designed and developed a simple box of their own using only card scissors and scissors or glue, this progressed to boxes which must contain a single item (snugly), to boxes which had a certain volume and we began to talk about capacity. From all of these discussions the kids are now ready to design and develop a fish tank, sandbox, pond or swimming pool. These designs and the presentations of them will become the final assessment. Similarly, the audience members will provide feedback on the mathematical conceptual understandings, which has been a facilitated discussion woven through the learning discussions so far.

    We will also film the presentations or some students will deliver their presentation as a video. The students will also review their own video presentations and provide feedback of themselves from their observation of themselves.

    For me, the challenge to develop ways to facilitate inquiry is resolved by looking for these concepts in the real world (which in turn becomes the challenge). From these real world examples I try to develop tasks that will give the students an opportunity to uncover the mathematical concepts through their discussions as they work collaboratively together. I agree it is hard, not to mention time consuming, but rewarding when you see the kids make sense of their learning.

  2. nicpenny

    Thanks Rachel, you have some great ideas – I especially like the way your class work naturally flows into the assessment – this is how it should be. 🙂
    I am on the hunt for some good books and have been looking at loads of pd videos but havent found much on facilitating inquiry. But I can see with your unit how that would happen really well. Loads to think about. Thanks for your thoughts.

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