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Maths curriculum’s most pressing conundrum: ‘Inquiry-based learning’

So, carrying on from last week where we provided a post "How should mathematics be taught?" This post is along the same theme and again raises the conflicting issues within inquiry based learning and the "chalk and talk" method or rote learning (referred to as 'explicit instruction').

The article (from the Age newspaper) references the arguments of the proposed Australian curriculum for Mathematics. Again, whilst this is about the Australian curriculum (a neighbour we look up to for many things) the debate and discussion is equally applicable to us in Fiji. After all many of our students go on to enroll in courses in the Australian tertiary sector and work in many Australian organisations and gain professional qualifications from there. Even if you aren't interested there are some key takeaways and references for you to reflect on.

The article raised the quote:

“If you’re looking at multiplication, let’s say, is it more useful to know your eight times tables by heart, or to recognise that to multiply any number by eight you just have to double it three time ?” he asked.
A good system of teaching draws on both methods"

Within the Australian state based government there is not a universal acceptance of one single method over another. The Federal and the Western Australian government are concerned as to the focus is too inquiry based driven. As the article states many teachers also wrote in to complain that the proposed curriculum is too slanted to inquiry based teaching.

Of course the concern for all is where Australia ranks amongst its peer countries. It has slipped and as the article reminds us an Australian student is 3 years behind a Singaporean one. When it comes to the global village and future skills and industries - a huge problem. A potential problem here too for Fiji as we are more and more part of the global village.

Having said all that, is it just good enough to drill mathematics into students who understand it but don't "love it"? Or the counter argument that students end up with "cognitive overload, confusion and a dislike of mathematics" if using inquiry based teaching?

“Every graduate teacher that we interview thinks that explicit teaching is bad and inquiry learning is good,” he says. “All the stuff that comes from university faculties of education, from professional development, pushes people towards some kind of inquiry style of learning, the view that kids learn best by figuring things out for themselves.”

The above quote is something that our article last week mentioned about the science of teaching science and is relevant here. That, it was simply not about inquiry based teaching but there needed to be a culture, training and discipline around inquiry based teaching for inquiry based teaching to be optimal. Leaving everything to the students is inquiry based but unlikely to be optimal for learning.

What do you think? What do the universities and courses we attend teach us? What other factors come into this whole arena when we apply this to our own teaching situation?

Thoughts welcome. Here is the article in question. The debate is not settled and one we should all be mindful of as we go to our classrooms to be better teachers.

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