STEM is an acronym that is sweeping the world. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But STEM is more significant than its component parts. STEM seamlessly combines all four disciplines into one integrated study of how the world works. STEM is critical for young learners because it engages students deeply in the learning process as they see concepts connect to their lives. When teachers infuse STEM and inquiry, students move beyond simply learning about science, engineering, technology, or math. They begin to think like scientists, create like engineers, refine ideas like technical experts, and solve problems like mathematicians.
What Is Inquiry?
A student’s curiosity drives inquiry-based learning. They step into the driver’s seat in their learning by asking questions and trying different solutions. Educators are there for support and guidance when needed, but not to direct or overly correct. Teachers move from a role of delivering information to guiding and facilitating learning through activities. Young students become stronger critical thinkers who develop theories, interpretations, and ideas based on the information they can gather and analyze. Having strong critical thinking skills is useful not only in the classroom but also in the real world – particularly in the 21st-century workforce.
STEM Meets Inquiry
Inquiry-based STEM promotes unique hands-on learning and problem-solving. Since inquiry-based learning is rooted in asking questions, it encourages students to let their curiosity take the lead. This learning strategy teaches students to think like laboratory researchers, scientists, and engineers. Scientific breakthroughs are primarily driven by the curiosity of a scientist and those “what if” moments. What if I tried this or that? What if I combined these two formulas? Science is hands-on and not bound to a particular structure. Using this learning method, educators teach students how to use their natural interests to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Inquiry-based STEM, if executed properly gives students a more in-depth understanding of its four component parts. It helps students view the world with more wonder and engage in independent problem-solving. Every child is a little curious. Educators should let that curiosity drive a child’s educational experiences. The result is more well-rounded critical thinkers who are efficient in the classroom and maintain engineers’ and scientists’ mindsets when searching for real-world solutions to problems and challenges.
Inquiry is an investigation
Think of inquiry as an investigation; teachers give students the information and tools they need to close a case. They gather facts, ask critical questions, and test potential solutions. Students will quickly find that the first lead in an investigation doesn’t always close the case, just like the first attempt at a breakthrough in science isn’t always the cure. Inquiry-based STEM teaches learners to appreciate the process; to push forward and not get discouraged when something does not work the first time.
Inquiry in Action
Teachers looking to integrate STEM and inquiry into in-class or after school enrichment programs can start off small. What are the students interested in? What is a topic that will capture their attention? The topic should be intriguing so students are inclined to get involved and ask questions. Classroom-friendly, programmable drones are a great tool for inquiry-based STEM programs for many reasons, the first being that they are exciting! What better way to get students to look forward to STEM learning than the prospect of working with a drone?
As an educational technology learning tool, drones are a great way to demonstrate coding in action. Drones also help students learn about physics; specifically the laws of motion and principles of flight. Flying and programming these machines together in teams is also an excellent opportunity to teach collaboration. Students putting their brains together to reach a goal encourages them to consider not only their individual thoughts and ideas but also those of others. It gives them the opportunity to see potential solutions from various perspectives and to experience the satisfaction that comes with being part of a well-functioning problem-solving unit.
Inquiry-based learning fuels STEM by encouraging students to apply subject matter learned in the classroom to real-world scenarios. Students genuinely take the lead in their learning and become strong critical thinkers, something our young children today will require as they grow up and seek careers in a fast-paced and ever changing 21st century. Inquiry-based STEM education develops open-minded learners who are ready and able to step outside of what is comfortable, resulting in mentally strong and emotionally healthy adults ready to navigate the complex and rapidly-changing realities of our world together.