STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning is best done
through inquiry based, experiential learning.
Why? It’s more fun, more memorable and more comprehensive as well since it follows the scientific method.
How does it work? First, kids need to make an observation or a discovery that insights questions. This is extremely important to initiating the learning process. What you are looking for during discovery is the reaction of “Wow that’s cool! How does that work?” or “Neat! How did you do that?” from your students. I tend to try and make my discovery phase begin with a bang! I find a flashy experiment with fire or something eye catching or something interesting to create excitement in learning more. Once you have the reaction of –“Cool! How does that work?”- You’ve got them hooked on the adventure of learning. They will want to move forward with the lesson and hopefully they can discover the answers rather than you having to just tell them. This is what creates future scientists! Active learning based on excited discovery and connecting the “what” of science or observations, to the “why and how” or knowledge and explanations of scientific concepts. Science can be boiled down to the act of observing something in nature and then trying to explain how and why that observation occurred and finally testing your explanation in a carefully designed experiment.
Along with the inquiry based experiential learning method, I also utilize cross integration of content areas within my curriculum. This is why I use art to teach science. Art and Science are traditionally taught in different settings but why do you suppose it could be important to cross integrate content areas?
Why use art to teach science?
-Teaches creative problem solving skills
-Showcases links across content areas in order to show relevancy of learning both topics
– Can reinforce both topics and create holistic thinkers that can further the advancement of both disciplines
-Great for homeschool setting
Most kids love art so it’s a way to show them how science is involved in art and it encourages them to learn more about science by luring them in with art only to fascinate them with STEM topics.
The discovery phase usually involves just a basic observation of something of interest. It only requires mostly passive involvement from the students. Next we will begin to discuss the more active phase of inquiry based experiential learning which is learning by doing. The answering of the questions or the “whys and hows” that come up during the discovery or inquiry phase is connecting knowledge to the discovery. Connecting is the beginning of active work to learn more about the discovery or observation to gain knowledge or produce a hypothesis. So once you’ve ignited curiosity with a discovery or inquiry, then it’s easy to engage them in an activity to learn more about the “whys” of science or to connect them to the knowledge to answer their inquiry. Traditional teaching of the past has been to simply lecture, to just give the answer first and ask you to memorize it, which you may have experienced as boring and unmemorable thereby remembering it only long enough to take a test and it didn’t leave you wanting to know more. Using a question or discovery and observation first is what gets the mind going on a path of learning based on using the mind to happen upon the answer in an interpretive, intuitive way using inference to connect to the answers. When you feel that “aha” moment of connecting to an answer, that’s creating a new pathway of information in your brain. Teaching this way shows them that learning can be fun and boosts their confidence that they can do it. This is especially important with STEM topics as some kids feel these topics are boring or too difficult to learn.
We’ve talked about discovery or inquiry based learning and connecting that to new knowledge and why that is important for lifelong learning but what about the experiential part of the term inquiry based, experiential learning? Discover and Connect are the whys and how’s of science but now you have to put that into action through learning by doing. When I taught middle school science, I always taught my students the same information in three different ways. First we would talk about it through the inquiry phase- usually verbal and visual. Then I would use a visual aid such as a chart to teach them a concept. Finally we would do a hands-on lab or activity. This hands-on activity is the experiential aspect. Once again people are more likely to remember something they’ve experienced rather then something they’ve been told. Plus it’s just plain fun to work with your hands! Teaching a topic in several different ways also creates a repetition in learning that covers all the different learning types; verbal, visual and experiential.
Lastly, I always practice my lessons ahead of time to work out any kinks as I’m sure many of you may also do. I create outlines for my programs that include a script so I don’t forget anything I’d like to say or cover in the program. The outline also includes the time frame I’d like to keep to and the materials I need as well as the prep work that maybe necessary for the lesson. Many times during this preparation and practice time I have additional ideas that arise to add to the lesson. It’s never a waste of time to do this prep work because you’ll be able to use the lesson with students over and over again.