Empowering the learners through knowledge building

Last year I decided to go through the idea of knowledge building in math.  I was working with the grade 11 college math curriculum and was looking at the personal finance aspect.  Every semester we cover the content they have great questions and I always got excited to answer their problems without thinking about the learning I was taking away from them.  At our school we have looked at the power of questioning and how to use the idea of knowledge building to develop their own understanding of questions that cannot be “Googled”.  

I had a lot of trouble with the concept at first because I was unable to step outside of my comfort zone and let the students fully drive the learning that was taking place.  I was also very nervous that the students would not take the task seriously and would not understand any of the material they were supposed to from this type of learning model.  Although I had those fears, I decided to still partake in knowledge building in math, something that is not tried very often.

The first thing we did was looked at were the different concepts that we were going to cover (buying a car, owning a home, investments, having a credit card, and student debt).  I was unsure how to spark questions from the students so I gave them infographics and chart paper to start generating ideas and questions they had about the topics we were covering.  Students started with very basic questions and then moved towards more complex ones that would help them acquire new knowledge.

I was lucky to have two teachers who were more comfortable with the idea of questioning and knowledge building in the school to help my students go from very basic and closed questions, to much more complex and open ended questions.  Some students went from ideas like “what type of home is better new or old” to “When I am looking to buy a home, is it going to be better value to purchase an older home or a newer home?” And other questions like “what is a credit score” to “How do credit scores impact us as buyers and how can we change our score to help us for future big purchases”.  Although the students didn’t come up with the exact wording, we were able to cooperatively Able to think deeper about personal finance.

Students performed group research for a couple of days to help them support the question they had with facts for or against there stance. The final products were to be a pros and cons list and then an answer to their question that showed their research helped them answer the question in some way.  Students were also able to conference with me which proved to be more beneficial because they were able to articulate more when it came around to them talking about what they learned instead of writing it.  Some students were able to expand on the knowledge we had from the unit, some were able to gather the same knowledge from the lessons, and others were able to go and develop their own viewpoint on the knowledge that they acquired.

We are trying to do this more in our math classes as we hope they will put the ownership back on the students, make use the facilitator of knowledge rather than the keeper, and help the students learn that their isn’t a definite answer to all of the questions we can develop, but we can get their from the skills we have.  I would like to try it with my grade 10 academic class in a few weeks to drive the question of why we learn trigonometry in class, and to see if they can find the different laws and rules that we have for solving missing sides from research.  I have used simple questioning in computer science to setup the 20 time projects by simply asking, what new knowledge can you gather if you spent every Friday trying to learn something new.

I am still struggling to get all the students engaged and still have difficulty with the ones that simply want to ask why to all the content, but we have made some big strides to connecting the missing pieces from the way we used to teach lessons and the applications of them rather than focusing on the applications and then learning the skills and the big ideas of the course.

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