The moment Get Nichols of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana knew her schools were on the right track was when all the students in a fourth-grade class got a math problem wrong.
The teacher gave the students the area of the figure and its length but intentionally left out the width. Students drew shapes on their tablets, but when the teacher gave them the formula for area in a word problem, they mistakenly multiplied the two numbers they had: area and length. When the teacher told the class they were mistaken, the class expressed confusion until a student recognized the issue and blurted out, “You already told us the area!”
Suddenly, tablets lit up through the classroom, as students reread the word problem and put their new skills to work, figuring out how to calculate the width of their shapes. They’d discovered an organic solution — all on their own — to a common math problem traditionally associated with rote memorization of a formula.
“It was that productive process of struggling and failing that made them realize, ‘I misread that problem,’” Nichols added. “That’s inquiry-based learning.”
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