Inquiry-based learning is a term that has been thoroughly researched by Stanford’s math education expert, Jo Boaler. When Monterey Peninsula Unified School District puts on one of their professional development Saturday schools for educators, it might consider having teachers participate in a free online course by Boaler about inquiry-based learning in Math.

Why is it important? First because the USA is assessed at 28th out of 40 countries worldwide in Math, and spending in education is at the bottom. Math majors number a mere 16 out of 1470 at Stanford, and after 4 years the number drops by 19%. Those statistics are not very promising for an economy that demands Math and Science for technology development and jobs for global competition in the future. In the U.S., non-resident aliens encompass 44% of the MA’s and 35% of the BA’s in Engineering, Math, and Information Science.

In the 1970’s and beyond, boys achieved higher grades in Math, but by 2000, girls were equal if not higher according to the General Certification of Secondary Education in the U.K. 50% of college grads are women, but only 25% take Engineering, Science Technology because of the non-equitable Math classroom environment. Also in the U.S. the traditional model of Math is an impoverished version, especially toward women and minorities who are deterred because highly competitive universities tend to be icy cold toward them.

At grade level, women and girls tend to face sexism, stereo-typed ideas about women’s capabilities, feelings of isolation, lack of role models, and no inclusion, even at Stanford, where Boaler teaches Math education. In short terms, rule-based Math instruction is the major reason for this phenomenon because the general rule in Math class is “no asking why and how?”

According to science of brain imaging, the cerebral cortex which mediates language and higher cognitive functions, is more developed in females than in males. Since the males have an edge over women because of their hippocampus’s, which are pre-wired for special navigation in both the abstract and applied sense, the media overplays damaging stereotypes when in actuality 47% of women are Math majors and 48% are enrolled in AP Calculus respectively, thus pointing to the fact that there are no recorded gender differences in math.

Jo Boaler asserts these basic tried and true postulates about knocking down the myths about math:

Math is not about speed, memorization or learning lots of rules. There is no such thing as “math people” and non-math people.

Math and Mindset. Students are encouraged to develop a growth mindset, they see evidence of how mindset changes their learning trajectories, and learn how it can be developed.

Mistakes, challenges & struggles. What is math persistence? Students learn about the importance of mistakes, struggles and persistence.

Conceptual Learning. Math is a conceptual subject– this means making connections, representing ideas visually, asking big picture questions.

Developing Number sense. Students learn number problems that can be solved in many ways and represented visually.

Appreciating Algebra. Students are engaged in problems illustrating the beautiful simplicity of a subject that they may have had terrible experiences with.

Visual math. Thinking visually about math is a really important aid to learning math. Students engage in finding visual solutions to math problems.

How to approach math problems and knowing what successful learners do is key to successful accomplishment. Some different examples of people and strategies are: (seek, understand, connect, monitor comprehension, goals, work collaboratively).

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