Exciting Opportunities for Inquiry Learning in the New Ontario Math Curriculum

boy solving math problems


On June 23 the Ontario government unveiled its new elementary math curriculum. In particular, one of the biggest changes with the new Ontario Math Curriculum is the focus on “back to basics” math, including memorization of basic math facts, as well as real-world math learning. Additionally, this also includes financial literacy; from recognizing and counting coins and money to preparing a financial plan to reach long-term goals. The new curriculum is set to begin in September of this year as part of the government’s four-year math strategy.


What’s New


For a long time, teachers and parents have been wanting more “real-life” skills embedded in the math curriculum. For example, how to design a budget, how to pay bills, and other tasks that children need to learn as they get older. The new math curriculum covers many of these areas, as well as a section on social-emotional learning skills. The hope is that the government can boost Ontario mathematics testing results.


Highlights of the new curriculum include:

  • progression between grades that is easier to follow
  • connecting mathematics to everyday life
  • teaching concepts such as financial literacy (budgeting, e-transfers, etc)
  • learning to code (starting in grade 1)
  • a heavier focus on rote memorization (particularly of the times tables)
  • tools and strategies to make fractions easier


The curriculum will be taught and assessed through the following areas:


Social-Emotional Learning Skills (Strand A)

  • identifying struggles in math and implementing strategies to overcome them
  • recognizing and accepting mistakes as part of the learning process
  • emphasis on a variety of mathematical strategies to help solve challenging problems

Number (Strand B)

  • emphasis on time stables and basic number facts
  • teaching whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and integers

Algebra (Strand C)

  • introduction to mathematical modeling and making predictions
  • development of algebraic reasoning skills through working with patterns and relationships

Data (Strand D)

  • collecting, displaying, and interpreting data
  • learning how to be critical consumers and spot patterns in data
  • using infographics to tell a story using data

Spatial Sense (Strand E)

  • emphasis on making connections between measurement and geometry
  • recognizing how spatial sense relates to graphic design, architecture, coding, etc
  • estimating and understanding different measures, including terabytes and nanoseconds

Financial Literacy (Strand F)

  • introducing students to financial management, including budgeting, consumer awareness, and the economy


In addition, the mathematical processes that support effective learning in mathematics will remain the same:

  • problem solving
  • reasoning and proving
  • reflecting
  • connecting
  • communicating
  • representing
  • selecting tools and strategies


Cross-Curricular Learning


The curriculum states that planning an integrated mathematics program should include opportunities for students to develop mathematical thinking while making connections to other subjects. Furthermore, applying learning to relevant real-life contexts will deepen students’ knowledge and skills across disciplines and beyond the classroom.


It is important now, more than ever, that students find relevancy in their learning. It doesn’t always make sense to teach subjects in isolation. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to touch on a few others when teaching one specific subject lesson. The same is true for math.


Below are some sample problems to test in your classrooms that involve using a variety of skills:


Sample Problem #1:

Adapted from the 2010 Centre for Research in Mathematics Education;
University of Nottingham

Essential Question: How might you solve this problem?


Smaller inquiry questions to consider:

  • Firstly, what is known and unknown?
  • In what ways can they equitably share the cost?
  • How can they make the cost fair among them?
  • How can I organize the data I’ve been given?
  • Which math methods can I use to start solving the problem?
  • What assumptions can we make?


Questions to ask as students are working:

  • What have you tried that didn’t work?
  • Why didn’t it work?
  • How did you communicate with your team when your idea(s) didn’t work?
  • Furthermore, how did your team respond to ideas that worked or didn’t work?


Questions to ask after attempting to solve the problem:

  • What was is about ____’s idea that enabled them to solve the question?
  • How was ____’s approach different or interesting?
  • What ideas did ____ have that you might use?
  • How did ____’s approach differ from yours?
  • What did you notice about how ____ solved the problem with his/her team?


Sample Problem #2:

Essential Question: How might you solve this problem?


Smaller inquiry questions to consider:

  • First, what is known and unknown about the question?
  • How can you make the question easier to read and pick apart?
  • How can I organize the data I’ve been given?
  • What strategies would be useful for me to use with this problem?


Questions to ask as students are working:

  • What connections are you making between the question and real life?
  • How many of you are making some mistakes? Remember that we want to make them because it shows us that we’re growing and making progress
  • Are you talking to your team? What ideas are you sharing?
  • How can you communicate with your team without talking?
  • Are there any tools in the classroom that could help you work this out?


Questions to ask after attempting to solve the problem:

  • What type of math did you recognize while working through this problem?
  • Overall, was your communication with your team effective?
  • How did each of you approach the problem differently? Or did you all approach it the same way?
  • What tools and resources did you use in the classroom? Do you think they were the best choices?
  • Finally, what did you find out about the problem? Was it easier or harder than you thought it’d be?


Putting It Altogether


So what are some practical ways teachers can prepare for the revised math curriculum (besides reading the material)?

  • Fill plastic tubs with fake money for younger students. Build in time for them to play with it – for example, role-play shopping trips, coffee runs, eating at a restaurant, etc.
  • Set money-related objects and photos around the room for students to look at (alternatively, you could ask students to take pictures of money-related objects around their home and bring them in)
  • Create learning provocations centred around money and finances, such as setting up a mock grocery store or restaurant with a cash register and credit cards
  • Read simple books about money
  • Talk about money around the world. Additionally, bring some foreign currency into the classroom (if you have some) to show students how it looks
  • To illustrate the importance of a budget, show students an example of a monthly budget (real or pretend) and co-create a class budget with them
  • Incorporate budgeting into math lessons (for example, building an amusement park under budget)


If you’re interested, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide about how to facilitate a financial literacy inquiry.


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