Designing for Discipline-Based Studies


The first day of classes can be an emotional experience for many students. It can be met with great anticipation and excitement or it can be met with dread and foreboding.

In a high school context, the first day is often a time to get to know your students, and address logistical tasks such as distributing textbooks, seating plans, and collecting student information. Some teachers on the first day may even begin teaching by assigning some reading or have some exciting discussion with their students.

This particular case study is one that is unique. Not often are students asked the moment they walk in the classroom to begin to engage immediately in the discipline for the class that they are attending. It is our intent in this case study to make visible different elements of effective teaching in mathematics, through the lens of discipline-based inquiry, having students engage in junior versions of the work of mathematicians. What does it look like to move away from the one-way exchange where “we teach and they learn”?

During the first lesson of the semester for these grade 11 students, the teacher invites his students into the classroom and immediately points them to the whiteboards, where there is a problem posted with magnets. Students are asked to form groups of three and to begin to solve the question that is posted. Immediately it becomes evident that the students are not in a traditional classroom. Within 8 minutes of beginning their very first class students are engaged in solving math a problem involving training for a marathon.

Click on the puzzle pieces below to see how one high school teacher used these dimensions to design learning for their math classroom. These same dimensions can be used by all teachers in any discipline to design inquiry studies for students. Use the descriptions of each dimension on the puzzle piece to consider how this dimension could be used in your own context.