Framing the Curriculum for Inquiry Based Learning! An inquiry into division.

I have been participating in some professional development program which focuses on the ‘powerful’ learning practices. A significant part of this PD is in inquiry learning and developing curiosity in kids – very much in the Ken Robinson mould of changing education perspectives for the future…

Inquiry had always been a daunting and scary prospect, and something honestly I never understood properly…. and my understandings are still developing.

However this PD put inquiry to me in a manageable and practical way.

Frame the curriculum like a question.

It doesn’t have to be a big, expansive unit, full of resources you don’t have. At the barebones, inquiry is allowing kids to try to explore a question, develop their own answers and then present what they find.

This revelation and simplistic view on inquiry has inspired many changes in my classroom. In the smallest context or lesson I have been using an inquiry approach which the kids love! The independence, cooperative learning opportunities and genuine curiosity it can create is mind boggling and truly motivating for children.

Sooooo here is an example….

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Instructions and questions on my whiteboard, with learning intentions.

A run of the mill Maths lesson focusing on the connection between division and repeated subtraction, which would normally be taught in the traditional deliver and listen, followed by a pen and paper activity was turned into a simple question….

How is division similar to repeated subtraction?

Sharing counters for division - inquiry approach to maths

Sharing counters for division.

Kids then chose their groups, they themselves making sure there was a ‘confident’ maths person in each group. Counters were provided for students to explore and they were also encouraged to think back to our multiplication unit to make the connection to ‘repeated addition’.
They went away with a nervous excitement and in small groups I saw them discuss the problem, share their ideas, teach each other and then decide on the best way to present their explanation and what they found.Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 5.52.52 pm

When each group was finished, they shared their findings to the class. All groups had decided to make posters to help with their presentations and honestly all of them understood the concept by the end of the lesson.

The inquiry approach sparked their curiosity and allowed them to construct their own understandings. Not to mention they had fun and had control over their own learning!

Teaching Addition and Subtraction with Vertical Number Lines


Taking kids from using their fingers and concrete materials to thinking abstractly about addition or using mental strategies is a massive step. When they begin to add larger numbers and cannot use concrete materials, its hard to scaffold their use of effective mental strategies – like adding 10.

The best way I’ve found to support their addition of larger numbers is by using vertical number lines. Students create their number lines to 100 and use pegs to count on, or add 10 (using the different colours) to add larger numbers together. This activity allows them to visualise and physically complete IMG_2338addition of larger numbers.

A fun application of the vertical numbers lines is ‘Race to 100’, where students start at 0 and roll dice to move their peg up the line. The first to 100 wins. Another alternative is ‘Race to 0’, to practice subtraction.

I have used them multiple times, for counting on, adding 10, adding to 10 and counting down. Students got use to pulling out the lines and using them to calculate addition and subtraction. Perfect for grades 1 to 3.

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HERE is the vertical addition strips – FREE!

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Maths Battleship – Location and Coordinates Fun!!

The best way to teach coordinates…BATTLESHIP!

My kids are absolutely obsessed with this game now and are freely using coordinates in their free-time! It was easy to teach and required the kids to constantly use the language of coordinates to play.


Setting up the board was easy and can be made with everyday materials in the classrooms. I used about 20 long pieces of string and pieces of coloured paper for the coordinates and hit/miss cards.
IMG_2669It was interesting to watch students using logic about where the boats could be, and revealed the students that don’t have effective critical thinking skills. Watching them play showed a lot about what they are capable of when problem solving.

By the end of the lesson, the students were playing independently and the only instruction that was needed to support the students was to remind them to say the letter name first, when using coordinates. Suits grades 1 to 6!

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