For my research I sought to find out if students would rise to the challenges presented to them in a course that many students actively dislike. My research was focused on exploring the benefits of Inquiry-based tasks in a middle school math classroom. For years I had experimented with a few different hands-on tasks in the classroom and had hypothesized that they were more effective than teaching with a direct instructional approach. I also wanted to test how students would respond to content that was at their grade level with minimal remedial teaching. I took this opportunity to put those hypotheses to the test and measure the growth of my students over the course of the school year using inquiry- and project-based styles of teaching and holding students to the grade-level standard required by the state in tandem with consistent work in the classroom around positive mindsets. Positive outcomes would result in higher math scores and greater gains in learning over the course of the school year.
In the beginning my focus was a little different which is what you will see in the video below.
Background and Need
This study was conducted at an international baccalaureate middle school in the California Napa Valley. As of the 17-18 school year, there were 813 students enrolled. At the time of the study, the school had 68% of its students living in poverty as measured by free and reduced lunch statistics, with 28.8% English Learners with the predominant language being Spanish. A Math Inventory (MI) test to gauge the mathematics ability of students at this school is conducted three times per year. The proficiency level of all the students with the researcher as their math teacher for the fall was 70% below basic, 22% basic, 5% proficient, 3% advanced with a score of proficient considered being at grade level. This score breakdown shows the average mathematical ability levels of all the students at this middle school.
These math performance scores demonstrate that there is a need to find a way to help students be successful and gain proficiency in mathematics as well as find ways of engaging the students in the work of seeing themselves as mathematicians. The researcher believes that a change in mindset regarding math and engaging students in a variety of inquiry-based tasks can help students be more successful with the content they are presented. The researcher has also been experimenting with different methods of instruction of the mathematics curriculum and had an interest in documenting the change effect that was suspected when using more inquiry-based teaching methods
Educators are failing their students when it comes to math. Students have become less and less prepared for higher math education (Ganem, 2018). Why is the United States so far behind when it comes to mathematics? Research has shown that performance in mathematics across the country has been weak. This low-performance level is especially highlighted here in California, where math scores in 2015 for 8th-grade rank 42 out of 50 states, and scores for the 4th-grade rank 49 out of 50 states. Poor mathematics performance has been a problem even though the demand for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a growing need. Educators must work to figure out how to address these performance issues to prepare students for these careers. Many of these shortfalls are due to poor teacher preparation in mathematics, the mindset of parents, students, and teachers surrounding math, and faults in math instruction. In an attempt to combat these difficulties, many different approaches are being considered.
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