Google part 2: Encountering the Asteroid Belt

Now that we’re blasting off and got some idea of where we are going, its time to make out way to the outer solar system.  Standing in our way are billions of irrelevant links, a bit like rocks in the asteroid belt, and we have to navigate through.  The question I think will get us straight through it:

How can the Australian Curriculum for Year 3 Mathematics be taught through Inquiry Learning?

To breakdown my question, I made a map of my search terms and their synonyms.

Mindmap by author, 2017.

For my first search string, I included all of the above search terms, with double quotations used to determine exact phrases and OR operators and brackets for my synonyms. I used the * symbol rather than the OR parameter because I noted that the word stems for math, maths and mathematics were the same. Math* would also allow for mathematical etc – terms which may be in the documents I’m looking for.  I did not include the AND operator as google automatically includes AND (eg. Inquiry AND learning would work the same way as inquiry learning).

Search string Results Analysis
math* (“Australian Curriculum” OR ACARA OR Australia)(“Year 3” OR “Grade 3” OR “Third Grade” OR “Year Three” OR “Grade Three”) (“inquiry learning” OR “Inquiry-based learning”) 5 Results for science and history and a document exploring a connected curriculum. While interesting, didn’t shed any light on inquiry in maths.


Unfortunately I’d crashed straight into some space junk.  It was a little saddening to see that there was nothing cut and dry for me to use here.  Trying again,  I decided to replace the “Year 3” synonyms with a simple “primary”.   I did not include “elementary” at this stage as I was only looking for Australian documents.  Having a “Year Three” search term was probably not essential.  I realised that I was probably looking for general overviews of how to plan and implement inquiry in Mathematics, and that this would be a similar process across all grades.

Search string Results Analysis
math* primary (“Australian Curriculum” OR acara OR Australia) (“inquiry learning” OR “Inquiry-based learning”)


373,000 Links to scootle resources, professional development, descriptions of further studies.  Some of these looked like they were trustworthy sources of information but I couldnt find any concrete examples or much specific information about how to employ inquiry learning in the classroom.  At this point I was becoming a little overwhelmed at the volume and variation of results.

Through this search, a webpage on Dr Judy Hartnett revealed a link to this video on Inquiry in Mathematics.  Part of series of videos promoting her program “Thinking Caps”, this was a general introductory video to inquiry in Mathematics and highlighted the use of the Proficiency strands in Inquiry-based mathematics.   It wasnt really what I was after, but I gave me courage that I was on the right track.

A few pages later, I found an another site, Teaching English and Maths Primary  which had some links to Inquiry Mathematics resourcs.  This site linked to reSolve Mathematics, as well as a new site “Inquiry Maths” and its sister site “Inquiry Maths PRIMARY“.

This site turned out to be a fantastic resource, full of ideas to start discussions on number, geometry and statistics, an overview of how inquiry lessons in Maths work, with concrete examples, global curriculum references, and links to research and articles.  I found links to the reSolve project on here, and references to Katie Makar’s (University of Queensland) cycle of inquiry, and many of the ideas that Mandy referenced in her slide presentation. including the different levels of inquiry.  There were also ideas for assessment and lesson plan templates.

This was such a fantastic resource, but it hadnt come up on my search, rather it had come up through a link on another page.   Why hadn’t I found this?  Surely the words I was searching was on this page. The number of irrelevant asteroids that were getting flung my way were frustrating.

I decided to limit my results further by excluding some of the big rocks I kept encountering: science, geography or history, policy documents and stores to purchase resources.

math* -science -geography -history -policy -purchase primary (“Australian Curriculum” OR acara OR Australia) (“inquiry learning” OR “Inquiry-based learning” OR “inquiry maths”) 2870 The only useful results I had already seen. The rest were very broad; books, papers on inquiry learning not related to my question.

Just one interesting result came of this on the second page.  Back-to-Front Maths had some helpful background about inquiry learning in Australian Curriculum Mathematics, and a step by step method, but most of the content on the site required a subscription.

I was starting to get really frustrated now.  I didn’t understand why I couldn’t find what I wanted.  I decided to go back to the drawing board with my search terms.  What I really wanted to know was what inquiry learning in Mathematics looked like in primary school.  I wondered if my inclusion of Australian curriculum was skewing the results into other directions.  Before I searched again, I searched for more synonyms for inquiry learning on google, and added “problem-based learning”, as I found Mandy Lupton has described “problem-based learning” as a type of inquiry, regularly used in Mathematics.

(“inquiry learning” OR inquiry OR “Inquiry-based learning”OR “problem-based learning”) (mathematics OR maths OR math) (elementary OR primary)


70,200,000 A huge amount of results but immediately the number of relevant sites on page one has improved. All have Inquiry and Maths in the title or preview. The first result is “Inquiry Maths”, the excellent site I found earlier.  This appears to be the best search yet, even though it is so general.

Here I started to feel like I was on the right path!  On the first page I found the blog Strategies for Teaching Elementary Mathematics, which had some informative and well-referenced pages on planning for Inquiry learning that matched with what I had already learnt.  The Mathematic Shed: Inquiry Maths page had some good resources as well.

The fantastic blog Authentic Inquiry Maths by a primary Maths specialist in Canberra listed excellent resources. The  PRIMAS project was also another well-referenced resource.    Emergent math had some fantastic resources on how to plan for inquiry learning, an article hosted by ABC splash documented one teacher’s experiences with Inquiry in Maths.  There was also a very good introductory video hosted on and a video from Dan Meyer on the importance of real world questions.

I felt a little overwhelmed now that I had gathered so many resources.  I started back at the beginning with my findings and read everything again, looking for gaps in my knowledge.  It turns out there was never going to be any generic “year 3 maths inquiry method” unfortunately, so it looked like I would have to work it out myself.  I still had gaps in my knowledge of assessment and differentiation, so those would have to stay as my next two questions.  I had some planning proformas I could pour over now, and the videos were particularly helpful in building my understanding of how inquiry in maths worked as a whole process.

So, about Google…

Google eventually sent me through the asteroid belt, but not after a lot of frustration and sorting through irrelevant links.   It got me wondering why I couldn’t find what I wanted with the more specific search strings.    I, of course, googled this and came across an article about RankBrain, Google’s new AI algorithm that learns on the job.    According to the article, RankBrain searches for “things not strings” and is able to use connecting phrases, themes and ideas in order to identify the most relevant results.  The article Use Less Boolean on Google for Better Productivity examines the effects of RankBrain and advocated against the use of operators in today’s Google search.

I thought I’d put this to the test with a simple string: mathematics inquiry.  

And up came almost every good result I’d found so far on the first three pages, plus a few more such as The Fibonacci Project.  I thought to myself “well Google knows now, because I’ve been searching for this”. So I experimented with someone else’s computer and google log in and got apparently identical results.   I guess what Google is trying to say is “Trust me. I know what you want”.

Excuse me while I get my tinfoil hat.



Banner source: Pixabay 2017


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