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Cougars & Mustangs 

Students have different abilities to learn any one thing and different knacks for learning that thing versus learning another thing. What can come naturally for one person can be an immense struggle for someone else, and there’s really no shame in that. Hopefully, this is something that anyone reading this column has already learned on his or her educational journey, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it reiterated. 

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However, knowing an area in which you struggle and knowing how to rectify said struggle do not go hand in hand. There are a wide variety of tools designed to help different minds, and Cougars & Mustangs is pleased to tell you today about a new one. Cal Poly’s Academy of Inquiry Based Learning will lead an effort to increase active learning in college classes across the nation, with research support from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Evaluation and Ethnography Research Unit. This is made possible by an incredible grant of $3 million from the National Science Foundation. Inquiry-based learning, also known as active learning, is a method of teaching math class that differs from a more traditional take on it. The class is built around the students and their active participation in the class lessons. By focusing on each student exploring mathematical strategies and skills, asking questions, understanding method rather than just seeking direct answers, any student can have a greater chance of taking away the process of the math rather than just the equation. 

The goal of a lesson moves away from memorization toward putting a concept into practice. As students may have his or her own unique struggles with a concept, this approach to teaching requires an ability to adapt a lesson to whatever new challenge may arise, perhaps leading to a different take on the same lesson between two separate classes. As Stan Yoshinobu, director of Cal Poly’s Academy of Inquiry Based Learning (and one of the project’s leaders) put it, “You need to actively engage students so that they construct their own understanding and ask their own questions, so they become better thinkers. This approach is confirmed by brain research and how people learn.” Active learning benefits all student groups equally, breaking down social divides that may influence how often students choose to participate in a classroom. The grant aims to increase dramatically the number of workshops and workshop leaders available to teach this new approach to education.

Contributor Chris White-Sanborn struggles with heavy equations, but she sometimes solves algebra problems just for fun. Send your collegiate news to

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