Exploring the Art of Inquiry


In early summer of last year, I found myself typing into an internet search engine the following parameters: “math circle curriculum for young children.” Say what?

My homeschooling partner-in-crime and I had decided that a math circle would be a brilliant addition to our homeschool group’s fall programming. Though neither of us has a math background, we approached the task only somewhat daunted and determined to find a way to enlighten our charges in the area of creative problem solving.

If you are unfamiliar with the term math circle, you can visit the web-site of the National Association of Math Circles for an introduction, but the basic idea is one that I have come to fully embrace over the last year or so — how to develop practical, problem-solving skills that take the drill-and-kill drudgery out of learning mathematics, often applied in a group setting that encourages both individual and collaborative effort to arrive at a solution or multiple solutions.

While there are several options for math circles for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students, I saw little or nothing for the elementary school set. This concerned me because I was scheduled to lead our 8-10 year old group and really had very little idea of where to begin. Thankfully, a pdf presentation called Math Circles as a Problem Solving Playground popped up on my screen. I read through the presentation and noticed (with considerable relief) that the author, Julia Brodsky, was in the process of writing a book of math circle problems (with solutions!) for young children.

After contacting Julia and learning that her book was on hold so that she might begin the launch a new web-site to deliver her math circle program to a wider audience, she invited me to take part in a pilot of eight developed math circle lessons geared for ages 7 – 9 years old. I readily agreed, and we began what would be a few months’ process of testing the lessons with our group and providing feedback on what worked well and what changes, if any, we thought should be made to the program.

As it turns out, Julia is also a homeschooling mom. She is a math circle organizer and instructor, former math and science teacher, and astronauts’ instructor with an MS in space engineering. She currently works for NASA.

In test piloting this curriculum, I found a few things to be consistently true. You do not need a background in mathematics or science to teach these lessons; the lessons are clearly written and provide step-by-step instructions for the parent or teacher. There are even anticipated and suggested student responses listed for each problem. In preparing for each lesson, I would read through it once, testing each problem (if necessary) before moving on. Many times, I would sit and think about all the possible scenarios and answers and before long realized I was actually learning something new. As a society, we are so conditioned against failure! If we don’t know the answer right away, it might reveal that we are not smart, or worse — slow to learn. What I loved about this experience is that it gave me a chance to impart so much more than information to my children — I soon understood that the underlying purpose of this class was not necessarily mastery of facts, but an opportunity to teach them how to think, that it is acceptable to be wrong, and that sometimes there is more than one answer to a problem.

Second, the lessons provide a turn-key solution for anyone looking for a different type of program for their homeschool group or co-op, or even a small group of friends looking to learn together in someone’s living room. At the top of each lesson, is a full list of materials needed, and unlike many science curricula, require materials that you already have in your homeschool arsenal (paper, pencils, tape, glue, matchsticks).

Lastly, if you are looking for something unique, the Art of Inquiry curriculum certainly meets that description. As a mom to two active boys, one age 9, I can tell you these types of problems are far more interesting, engaging, and challenging than assigning math worksheets, which may or may not prove effective in the long term. So far, feedback from our parents has been positive. The children report that they enjoy the class and look forward to the next week’s lesson. Watching them develop into problem-solvers vs. answer-givers has been incredibly rewarding for me.

If your homeschool group or co-op would like more information on testing this curriculum, you can contact the Art of Inquiry at guide@artofinquiry.net. This program is still in development.

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation to write this review. In exchange for use of the curriculum, we provided detailed problem-by-problem feedback. We did not pay for the curriculum and we were not paid to test pilot the program. All opinions are my own and reflect my experiences using the lessons in a group setting.


Angela (30 Posts)

Angela is co-founder of Mosaic Freeschool and a homeschooling mom to two never-been-to school kids. Born in Southern California and raised on the East Coast, Angela had a bit of an unconventional education, but did not consider homeschooling seriously until her first child was born. Believing that young children learn best from those that love them most, Angela and her husband John chose homeschooling for their two boys. She is dedicated to the advancement of alternative education choices, creating the web-site Raising Autodidacts in 2011 to further explore the idea of fostering the self-taught individual. In June of 2013, she started an instructional writing service called Gathering Ink .

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  1. says

    If you’re looking for Math Circle ideas for the preschool / kindergarten age group, I highly recommend the book “Math from Three to Seven: The Story of a Mathematical Circle for Preschoolers” by Alexander Zvonkin. It’s a journal documenting his experience running a math circle for young children in Russia in the 80s. It’s a wonderful read and is packed with interesting ideas that I’ve tried with my own kiddos.

  2. Angela says

    Yes, I have indeed heard of that book, thank you, and know it is a great one. Julia is also Russian and brings that perspective to her curriculum, as well. Thanks for reading!

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