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.
How many times have you tried to get your kids to participate in an activity that you know is very educationally important but they just aren’t interested? Usually that’s a topic that you really think has great importance in their development as individuals and yet those are the things that most of the time they think are- BORING! Unfortunately STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics tend to fall into the “boring” category along with the category of “definitely needs to know”. Although educators are coming up with more creative ways to teach these subjects, how do we spur continued interest in these areas, not just muster up enough energy and excitement to get through a single STEM activity?
How do we help them develop a lifelong love of learning or the confidence and interest in pursuing a STEM career?
How about starting with the question- What do you like to do? Some kids naturally like science and they are a piece of cake. They are your cheerleaders and helpers when you do a STEM activity. Others have absolutely no interest, but believe it or not, these kids are the most fun when it comes to teaching a STEM program because your approach can be completely off the wall. These are the kids to whom you ask the question- What do you like to do? When planning activities for kids we want to include some of what they really like and a lot of educational, leadership building lessons that we think are important. To make sure both of these goals are accomplished, have a planning day where the kids write down their top 5 favorite things to do or subjects to learn about. I can guarantee you that every one of those topics will involve a STEM concept in some way, whether you can connect it right away or not. For example, in my curriculum I use art to teach science. Why? Because I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t like either art or science or better yet both. When you start with a topic that you know they already enjoy and then connect that topic to a STEM activity, then they will start to like STEM topics by association and they will see the sciences in a new creative way. At the very least, they will learn how the sciences are involved in what they love and how STEM topics are relevant to learn for future growth in the areas or topics they do like.
Ok, so you’ve discovered what they like to do but now you aren’t sure how to link that to a STEM genre? It’s easier than you think. There are a TON of great online resources for STEM activities. My all-time favorite is www.howtosmile.org because you can create a login. Then when you search their never- ending database of creative STEM lesson plans, you can save them in organized lists and refer back to them whenever you need ideas. Most of the activities are hands-on and easy to follow. You definitely don’t have to be a scientist to understand and facilitate the activities listed there. Another great feature is that the search engine will allow you to narrow your search in many usable ways ie: cost of the program, age group, time frame and type of activity along with subject area. This is in fact just one of many websites with similar capabilities. So take some time to get to know what your kids like to do and then get online to one of these websites and you will find it’s easy to create fun, educational STEM activities that every kid will not only enjoy but want to do more of in the future!
After I graduated with my BA and MS in Biology, I hoped that I could find a career that would encompass all my passions in life, not just science but also art, cooking, design and creativity. Then one evening I was watching a reality TV show called “Work of Art” where artists compete by creating artwork based on themes thrown at them. This episode’s theme was art inspired by nature and ahah! The idea hit me that I could mix my passion for the creative arts with teaching science via cross integration of curriculum and my company Bloom was born! Bloom’s goal is to show kids that science is not a sterile, unchanging and difficult subject to learn but rather that science is creative, inspirational and can open your mind to how the world around you works!
Not only do I use art to teach science because I like art and science but I also believe that society is programmed to only see art as a hobby. A useless hobby that only if you are famously rich from your art was it worth it. I think this is one of the biggest lies society tells kids and unfortunately a lot of creative people have lost touch with their gifts or are leading unfulfilled lives because they were told that their art would be a fools choice to pursue. Just like there is science in everything we do, so also is art and in fact both bring meaning to life in different BUT equally important ways. Without creative, artistic minds in science many discoveries would not have occurred.Here are a few examples.
LEONARDO DA VINCI
Leonardo Da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. Was this a coincidence that he was both a great artist and scientist? It was mostly through his artistic creations that he was able to make and explain his scientific discoveries.
Another great scientist that used art was Charles Darwin. When Darwin was exploring the Galapagos Islands and contemplating his Theory of Evolution, he spent most of his time drawing what he saw, most famously finches. There were no cameras invented to capture what he saw. Therefore being an artist was an extremely important characteristic of a scientist or as they referred to it at that time, a naturalist. Without accurate artistic depictions of the animals he observed, he would not have been able to fully contemplate or prove his hypothesis.
These are just two examples of well known scientists that used art to discover more about science and used science to be a better artist. I am sure there are many other examples from around the world that haven’t been widely discovered and discussed, many of whom would not be a scientist or artist if they hadn’t been encouraged by someone who believed in them. Mainstream society may not always show respect to art and the artist but I feel it’s so important to give these people the space, MONEY and time to fully express what they can in order for us to truly evolve and progress as people and in turn also progress in science, technology, engineering and math as well as many other important areas. This is why it’s important to encourage not dis-courage creative minds.