Positives and negatives of the first inquiry
Ania Maxwell, 2i/c in a secondary school mathematics department, used the area prompt with her year 8 class. The students had middle to low prior attainment. Ania attended an Inquiry Maths conference workshop and decided to try out her first inquiry.
  
Ania reports that the prompt "brought out so many misconceptions" (see the students’ questions and observations above) that she would not have known about if she "just launched into instruction". However, the emergence of the misconceptions left Ania in a quandary, "How can I expect the students to understand more complex ideas without dispelling their misconceptions?" 
  
Ania had prepared to use the resource on the website (the rectangle, triangle and circle on squared paper), but "discovered how unconfident my students were even with that task." On reflection, she feels she was not prepared enough and needed more resources to address the different directions the inquiry took. Ania was very glad when a student asked how to work out the area of a circle using a formula so that she could direct the class to follow that line of inquiry and "resort to [her] usual style of teaching".
  
Overall, Ania says that the class "felt like mayhem" and she felt "stripped of confidence". She was not sure what the class had learned and concludes, "It's going to take some perseverance, more time and a lot more reading to get good at inquiry!" 


Andrew Blair replies:
Thank you very much, Ania. I think this feedback is very important and invaluable to other teachers thinking of using inquiry. As I said in the workshop, closing down the inquiry is advisable if the teacher and class are new to the process. 'Closing down' can mean reverting to your normal teaching style. For example, if you had prepared to focus on the area of the circle, I would have gone with that whatever questions came up. Then I could have thought about how to address the questions in the subsequent lessons. Overall, I think inquiry is very different to normal classrooms and it takes time to create a negotiated culture of learning based on following a line of inquiry. Once the culture is different, however, learning is accelerated with students developing into self-directed learners. The final point I would make comes from Kath Murdoch's The Power of Inquiry: "
Inquiry can be messy. Not in the literal sense (although that too sometimes!) but 'messy' in that, by being more responsive to what students say, do and reveal, there is less the teacher can tightly control from the outset.... Inquiry moves the act of teaching out of the realm of control and authority to one of complexity, nuance and some shared responsibility." I hope you try out an inquiry prompt again.