Integrating Open-Ended Questions into Math Curriculum

Succeeding in a math class often involves finding the one right answer. Yet, that closed-question approach might overlook equally important critical thinking skills students could be — and should be — developing in the classroom, according to Professor Marla A. Sole (Guttman Community College). Sole proposes integrating open-ended questions into mathematics lesson plans in a new pedagogy-focused article published in Mathematics Teacher.

Sole claims that open-ended questions help facilitate learning by improving students’ mathematical decision making and allowing them to use “multiple solution paths” to reach an answer. “When educators incorporate open-ended questions, students must go beyond procedural proficiency to make and justify decisions,” Sole writes. She points to data sets as one resource, stating that students can use tables, graphs, and more to support or refute a given question, like for example whether the gender gap in SAT math scores has been narrowing.

Open-ended questions also help teachers by promoting different types of instruction. “[B]y scaffolding thinking and challenging students to map out their own solution paths to open-ended questions, teachers can help develop students’ abilities to make mathematical decisions and apply mathematics to new situations,” Sole writes.

For mathematics teachers interested in incorporating open-ended questions into their lesson plans, Sole advises that students may need extra time to complete such assignments, and so lesson planning and classroom management will likely shift. That’s where small groups and textbook resources dedicated to open-ended questions can help. Sole encourages teachers to “modify traditional questions found in textbooks” or design their own questions to suit their students’ learning needs. “By using open-ended problems, teachers can challenge students who have diverse abilities and styles of learning,” she writes.

Sole told SUM, “I hope that by incorporating open-ended questions, which model real-world problems, teachers can create a culture of collaborative inquiry by giving students the opportunity to use multiple-solution strategies or even to discover new solution strategies and foster connections between different problem-solving paths.”

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Explore This Work
“Open-Ended Questions: A Critical Component”

Work By
Marla A. Sole(Assistant Professor, Mathematics) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Guttman Community College

Bonus Content
“What’s Brewing? A Statistics Education Discovery Project” (Journal of Statistics Education)

Related Terms

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