I am not an expert on inquiry-based learning, but it seems to be a useful teaching technique to use in smaller classrooms. Since many college math courses are quite huge, I was wondering how inquiry-based learning can be implemented in this situation.

How can inquiry-based learning be utilized in a large classroom situation?

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    $\begingroup$ How large is large? What level of math? Do you have TAs? Do you specifically want inquiry-based methods, or just active engagement? Is this a terminal course such as a course for preservice K-12 teachers, or is it one where they need to master a body of knowledge to be used in later coursework? $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ Check out the classroom page at artofmathematics.org to get some ideas about using ibl in college classes :) $\endgroup$
    – user3518
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 3:01

3 Answers 3


IBL is a really wide umbrella term, nowadays at least. I strongly suggest browsing the Academy of Inquiry Based Learning website. They have videos for many of the talks at the R.L. Moore conferences, such as this one that seems to be about "larger" classes. The canonical text on "Moore method" may have some ideas for your larger classroom situation, but I think that you are right that there are not enough resources available.

Looking at the physics literature may help, because a lot of the "flipped" classroom enthusiasm recently comes from that direction. The videos from Sanjoy Mahajan's class on MIT's OpenCourseWare have some very interesting ideas that are closely related to IBL, for instance.

Finally, I would say on a personal note that just trying ONE activity that has the students trying to grapple with their own 'construction' of something is worthwhile. Surely you have one day that you can set aside for some activity that they can do in small groups that is 'inquiring'. See how it goes, get feedback - and be honest that they are doing a service to your future students, to make 'lecture' feel less like, well, lecture. I think many will respond to that.


There are numerous little things you can do to instill an IBL atmosphere in your class; most of them can be found on the AIBL website mentioned earlier.

I would also recommend watching this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover?language=en

I love his examples of getting the students to be the ones to generate the questions.

The main example that sticks with me is about predicting when a tank will be full. Textbooks typically will give you an abstract diagram of the tank and a flow rate then ask the question, "When will the tank be full?" He found a tank and made a video of the tank getting filled at an excruciatingly slow pace. Playing the video for the class motivated the students to be the ones to ask the question, "How long will it take for the tank to be full?" followed almost immediately by, "What do we need to know in order to figure this out?" He also had the class in groups placing predictions on the board which became more and more accurate. Further, instead of having the predicted answer cleanly in the back of the book, they simply watched the video until the end to see the time stamp.

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    – quid
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 10:00

The size does not matter as can be seen in this PRIMUS paper, "Moore and Less" in which I told the story of a very non-standard, absolutely student-centered multi-variable calculus course with 136 students! What matters is to create a "culture" for such an adventure. That is hard, indeed very hard, whether your class is small or large.
Though, I am obviously an advocate of IBL, I'd like to draw your attention to some of its disadvantages here as an answer to this question on MO: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Moore method?


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