Circling to Connect

Building Math Joy on the Foundation of Math Teachers’ Circles



Circles of Inquiry

Jane Cushman, Keiko Dow, Ryan Gantner, and Yousuf George

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In Upstate New York, we’ve been using Math Teachers’ Circles to promote inquiry-based learning in middle and high school classrooms. Our project, funded by a grant from the STEM education organization 100Kin10, is a collaboration among the MTC Network, the Initiative for Mathematics Learning by Inquiry, and the Greater Upstate New York Inquiry-Based Learning Consortium. To begin the project, which we call “Circles of Inquiry,” two teams were formed in the summer of 2018, one in Buffalo and one in Rochester. Each team comprises four teacher-leaders and two college faculty members. Teacher-leaders worked together with the college faculty members to develop a library of inquiry-based course modules. During the summer, we held workshops to build a shared understanding of what inquiry-based teaching means at the K-12 level, to determine which topics would be covered in the modules, to begin writing them, and later, to share our results. Some of the modules are inspired by activities the teacher-leaders have used in class before and some are brand new. Many of the topics (for example, expressions, equations, and percents) were chosen specifically because the teachers had found that their students struggled with these topics on state assessments. During the 2018-2019 academic year, the teacher-leaders used the modules in the classroom and made refinements as needed. The revised modules are available for download on the project website.

Two Math Teachers’ Circle series were held in the 2018–2019 academic year, one in Rochester, focused mostly on the modules geared toward the middle school curriculum, and one in Buffalo, which largely (though not exclusively) focused on introducing the modules geared toward the high school curriculum. During a typical Math Teachers’ Circle session, one or two of the teacher-leaders showcased a module by having the participants work through some of the activities, explaining some of the motivation behind it, highlighting facets that give rise to different student strategies for solutions or interpretations, or creating ancillary activities that went beyond the student activities. The teacher-leaders also sometimes showcased creative uses of pedagogy or technology so that those in attendance got professional development value beyond just the modules. Connections to the New York Next Generation Learning Standards (akin to the Common Core) were also made explicit.

Often, more “traditional” Math Teachers’ Circle activities were included to round out the evening. These were meant to engage the attendees as mathematicians rather than provide them with materials for them to use in their own classrooms. However, we have found that trying to stick with the theme of the night (e.g., if we were talking about linear equations, we would pick an engaging activity which is “linear” in some way) has meant that usually some facets of the MTC activity could also be envisioned for classroom use. This is an ongoing project and will see further development in the 2019-2020 academic year.

More in this Series



Building Math Joy on the Foundation of Math Teachers’ Circles


Julia Robinson Mathematics Festivals

Brianna Donaldson


Math Monday

Scott Kim


Math News Snapshots

Nitsa Movshovitz-Hadar


Journal of Math Circles

Emilie Hancock and Brandy Wiegers

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2019 MTCircular.


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