Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Lego robotics

One morning during our summer numeracy camp, we had a special visitor from the board who led the Mathletes in an exploration of lego robotics. These are my three main take-aways from observing this experience:

  1. Let the students explore on their own first and provide guidance (if necessary) only after they have tinkered with the technology.
  2. The room will be chaotic, and you must learn to be okay with this 🙂
  3. Everybody- young and old-  was engaged while learning with lego!


Check out my previous post on the ‘hour of code’ and lego robotics initiatives that were implemented at my practicum placement school during my first year of teacher’s college. This exposure to technology and coding offers students the chance to explore and develop a specialized set of skills that will be useful to them as they seek employment in the digital age- in addition, it is LOTS of fun!

Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Measurement with catapults

As a team building exercise to finish the first week at Summer Math Camp, our Mathletes created simple catapults designed to launch cotton balls. The full description for the catapult design and construction can be found at this Kids Activities blog post.

Each student created their own catapult from the following materials:

  • 7 craft sticks
  • 3 elastics
  • Egg carton piece (single egg portion)
  • Cotton ball
  • Glue

We let the students experiment with how to construct their individual catapults, and provided guidance to those who needed it. The general construction resembled the exemplar below, although some students made adaptations as they saw fit. After testing out their creations, we all traveled down to the gym where students worked in pairs to measure the distance traveled (or height attained) for their cotton ball catapults.

For younger students, it provided the opportunity to practice:

  • Measuring distance/ height
  • Recording numbers in a chart
  • Comparing distances/heights

For the older students, they worked on:

  • Adapting catapult design to achieve greater distance/height
  • Adding up the total distance/height achieved over multiple trials
  • Estimating an average distance/height over a certain number of trials (for more advanced students)

We consolidated this activity by posing questions such as:

  • What was your longest cotton ball launch?
  • What was your shortest?
  • How could you have modified your catapult to launch the cotton ball further/higher?
  • Are there differences in the catapult designs that make some better at launching cotton balls further, and some better at launching cotton balls higher?

It was amazing to see how engaged the students were during this rich learning task. There were certain students who had been dead-set against anything resembling traditional math throughout the first week; yet even these students were eagerly measuring, adding, and comparing distances for their catapult cotton ball launches. Another great testament to the power of hands-on learning!

Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Building the 100’s chart

As one of our first large-group activities at summer numeracy camp, our Mathletes collaboratively constructed a hundreds chart using a masking tape grid and foam numbers. This was a great way to explore numbers, identify number patterns, and build number sense with the students. As described by Melissa Conklin, some important questions to ask when building the hundreds chart include:

  • Where does this number belong on the 100’s chart?
  • How did you know the number belongs there?
  • Can you see any patterns emerging on the 100’s chart?

After building an entire hundreds chart together, we used an interactive SMART notebook file to identify some number patterns. Students counted by twos, threes, fives, tens, etc., and successfully identified many patterns along with their mistakes or ‘hiccups’! Our Mathletes then worked individually to rebuild the hundreds chart on a piece of grid paper. There were many different strategies being used to efficiently fill in the numbers, and even our youngest students completed their own hundreds chart using a model and prompting. The students were then asked to create a colourful number pattern on their hundreds chart, and many challenged themselves to colour complicated patterns (counting by sixes, nines, etc.).

As a review and consolidation, we also used this riddle to get the students thinking about number patterns in the hundreds chart:

I am thinking of a number between 10 and 100 with a single 9 in it. What might my number be?

The students came up with many answers and explained their thinking, describing how their number fits the three criteria of the riddle!


Finally, I always like to incorporate a read-aloud if possible to link literature with mathematics. When discussing the hundreds chart, the book One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes is an engaging way to get students thinking about rectangular arrays, multiplication, and factors of one hundred. We consolidated by discussing the different arrangement of rows that the ants tried in order to get to the picnic. At the end of the day, I was impressed by the students’ grasp of the hundreds chart and their progress after completing these fun and interactive activities!


Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Misconception check

To use this strategy, the teacher gives a common misconception about a topic, and students explain why they agree or disagree with it. According to constructivism, students interpret new learning through the lens of previously developed beliefs and ideas about the world. These preconceived ideas could be misinterpretations of generally accepted explanations for a phenomenon, which can cause difficulty and frustration when students are learning something that conflicts with what they already believe. It is thus very important for the teacher to identify misconceptions and address them directly through classroom activities. This ensures that students will more readily accommodate new concepts that are being taught, especially in science education.

I usually used this strategy during whole-group discussions with grade sixes. I would ask a leading question based on a common misconception identified during formative assessment, and challenge the students to explain whether they agreed or disagreed. For example, during math and science discussions, questions could be something like:

  • Can we use a bar graph to represent this weather data?
  • When using partial products multiplication, is each partial product a separate answer?
  • If the switch is open, is our circuit still a closed circuit?
  • Are the colours of the wires important for our circuit to function?

Each question was developed based on observation, anecdotal notes or formative assessment that revealed a common misconception held by many students in the class. By posing the question and having a class discussion about the right answer, students were able to correct their understanding in a collaborative environment. This straight-forward approach led to many productive discussions!

Edutopia. (Sept.14 2015). 10 Fun-Filled Formative Assessment Ideas.

Tippett C. “Constructivism and Science Teaching.” (PED 3131 Course Notes).

Grade 6 Practicum

Anchor charts

Anchor charts are created with students using chart paper and markers (or a white board/ SMARTboard) to convey the most important or relevant aspects of a concept. This keeps learning readily accessible to the students, creates a visible cue that triggers prior learning, and allows them to make connections to future learning.

Anchor charts in the classroom should:

  • Communicate the most current and useful learning content
  • Be created with the students in order to make thinking visible
  • Be referred to by students and used as tools for new learning
  • Be neat and organized
  • Review concepts and recognize future goals

These anchor charts should be posted in designated spaces within the classroom (e.g. clothesline, bulletin board) and rotated regularly so that current learning is represented.

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During practicum, I used this strategy regularly. The students were always involved in creating the anchor chart, as I was usually recording their thinking on chart paper during class discussions. For example, when we were reviewing multiplication (standard, lattice, partial products) and division (standard, partial quotients) strategies, we would solve a problem on chart paper as a class using a specific strategy. This chart paper would then be hung on the math bulletin board for the students to refer to as they were working independently. Anchor charts were also used during language arts to remind students of the characteristics of persuasive writing or the components of the APE strategy, for example. Thanks to associate teachers for some excellent anchor chart samples!

Newman L. (October 2010). Anchor charts: making thinking visible.

Grade 6 Practicum

Reader’s Theatre

Reader’s Theatre is a strategy where a group of students reads a script after having rehearsed it. It is used to build reading fluency, so Reader’s Theatre does not involve the use of memorization, props, costumes or staging. Rather, students are encouraged to rehearse the script so that they perform it naturally.

Teachers, students or other experts on the topic can develop scripts for Reader’s Theatre. These scripts can define terms, provide review of a certain concept, explain difficult topics, or dispel misconceptions. The scripts could vary in length, but should be divided in such a way that students or groups of students can play certain parts, characters, or roles. This strategy can be used to integrate language arts with other curriculum areas. For example, Reader’s Theatre can be used to simultaneously bring science concepts to life while developing reading fluency.

I used this strategy during our grade 6 persuasive writing unit. The students had listened to a story called Hey, Little Ant and were working in small groups to decide if the bully in the story should squish the ant or set it free. When they were done developing their reasons, the class came back together to read the text aloud in the Reader’s Theatre style and the groups then tried to persuade the class of their opinion. It was a fun way to begin the consolidation phase of the lesson, and the students enjoyed the harmony of reading in synchronization!

Hey, Little Ant
Hey, Little Ant (Reader’s Theatre)

Kinniburgh L, Shaw E. (2007). Building reading fluency in elementary science through reader’s theatre. Science Activities 44(1): 16-22.

Tippett C. “Reader’s Theatre.” (PED 3131 Course Notes).

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts


As part of the ‘Maker Movement,’ Makerspaces (or hackerspaces) are physical spaces where students can come together to share, create, invent, network, build and learn. These community environments provide tools that could range from hardware supplies to a 3D printer. While they are often associated with fields such as engineering and computer science, this collaborative space’s primary purpose is learning through hands-on, self-directed exploration- however that may occur.

Makerspaces can be implemented in many different ways within the school environment. They may find a home in a computer lab, shop, or conference room, but in reality they represent the combination of all three spaces. In education, makerspaces provide students with the physical space and materials required for multidisciplinary, inquiry-based learning. Here are some tips when developing your school makerspace:

  • Guide students in developing metacognitive skills necessary to move beyond temporary failures
  • Create specific lessons and units that are project-based and align with curriculum
  • Ask the school community for donations of old electronics, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, balloons, toy cars, wire cutters, balls, adhesive, tools, cleaning supplies, safety equipment, etc.
  • Design your makerspace to accommodate many different activities, including: cardboard construction, woodworking, electronics, robotics, digital fabrication, building machines, sewing, metal working, etc.

While my host school during practicum was still developing their makerspace, students did get to experience a visit from the University of Ottawa’s ‘Maker Mobile,’ which is essentially a makerspace on wheels. The Maker Mobile visited grade 4 and 5 immersion students in early February and brought equipment such as a 3D printer and scanner, laser cutters, and Arduino microcontrollers. This makerspace connected the curriculum to programming and coding, and encouraged students to expand their learning goals. The Maker Mobile was an effective teaching strategy, as students were exposed to cutting-edge technologies and developed their creativity and problem-solving skills. Thanks to grade 4 and 5 teachers for the pictures!

Educause Learning Initiative. (April 2013). 7 things you should know about: Makerspaces.

Edutopia. (July 16 2015). Starting a school makerspace from scratch.

Edutopia. (March 21 2016). Makerspaces lead to school and community successes.

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Hour of code

The 21st century workplace will require coding knowledge, which is regarded as a new type of literacy. Through coding, students not only learn problem solving and critical thinking skills, but also feel empowered by this tool for self-expression. ‘Hour of code’ is an initiative to actively teach coding skills to students of all ages.

There are numerous coding games and apps that can be used to teach computer science and coding. The following tools are recommended for teaching coding to students over the age of 8:

  • Hopscotch: free iPad app that allows students to make their own games and share them for others to play.
  • Scratch: used or downloaded online, this is a programming game suitable for beginners.
  • Lightbot: free online puzzle game that lasts an hour.
  • Alice: a programming environment that blends games with storytelling to keep students engaged.
  • CodeCombat: free to play (at the basic level) online multiplayer coding game (9 and up).

These are a few of many tools that exist to help students learn coding. The teacher’s focus should be on cultivating an environment where students are encouraged to take risks and fail safely. Coding requires learning through collaboration and a strong growth mindset!

At my placement school, the  “hour of code” session was implemented as an introduction to the language and uses of computer science. Students used apps such as Scratch and Kodable to explore the concepts of coding. Students were also given the opportunity to further explore coding at the school’s ‘Innovation Club’ meetings, where they could tinker with Dash and Dot robots as well as Lego Robotics. Many students thrived on the chance to learn the basics of programming and robotics, creating complicated series of movements and tasks for the robots. The students were learning a new language while simultaneously turning their ideas into reality through coding!

Edutopia. (December 4 2013). 15+ Ways of Teaching Student to Code (Even Without a Computer).

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Genius hour

Genius Hour involves giving students one hour (or one class) a week to become experts in whatever they choose. Google employees, who are given 20% of their work time to explore a pet project that excites them, may have inspired this strategy. This is a student-centered approach and not only allows for more personalized education, but also encourages student creativity and innovation.

This strategy could be used with any grade level, but it is important that the teacher prepares all pieces of technology in advance (e.g. collected and charged). The teacher should provide guidance to those who need it, but also encourage students to turn to their classmates for ideas.

Some ideas for Genius Hour include:

  • Have your students pitch their project using a video
  • Collaborate with classes in other schools using social media, Google chat, Skype, etc.
  • Brainstorm with classmates using Schoology
  • Present projects in TED-talk format
  • Reflect on the process through student blogs or websites

 I was lucky to be able to observe genius hour in action during practicum. Our grade 6 class paired with a grade 4/5 class regularly for a Genius Hour session. Groups were formed by students and included a mix of grade levels. One example of a task students were given was to research something that the group was interested in or passionate about and present it to the class using some form of technology. Topics ranged from precious gemstones to medieval armour, and covered everything in between!  Groups used videos, Google slideshows, picture collages, and more to present their research and explain their varied topics. This Genius Hour allowed students to explore the use of technology (Chromebooks, iPads) in a stress-free environment, gave older students the opportunity to teach computer skills to younger students, and provided a creative outlet for individualized learning!

Edutopia. (August 4 2014). Genius Hour and the 6 Essentials of Personalized Education