Guest Blogger

#PLA2018 From Passive Participants to Engaged Experimenters

It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. Inquiry-Based STEM Programming challenged us to embrace a learn-together model that puts students in the driver’s seat, empowering them to take ownership of their learning. We don’t need to be experts to impart critical thinking and problem solving skills, stimulate decision making and nurture curiosity, and ultimately create a cycle of continuous learning and trying new things.

We can build off of school curriculum without being bound to it. It’s a great opportunity for kids to explore science, tech, engineering, and math in a relaxed environment without judgment or pressure. It’s more intuitive to absorb knowledge and concepts when it’s through personal, hands-on experience. Kids should be encouraged to dabble and see what happens!

Inspire wonder. Relate science, technology, engineering, or math to real life, to something that will resonate with and excite kids. Pick a phenomenon and develop questions to drive the program. My personal favorite of the examples we got to see was ICEE science with the guiding question: can we prevent brain freeze? A presenter walked us through a program challenging students to innovate a cup design that might achieve this end.

Take off your instructor hat and get ready to facilitate. This is the real fun and bulk of an inquiry-based activity: meaningful, open-structure exploration. No precise directions, just a bit of introduction and acclimation to the supplies provided to get things rolling.

  • Great for pair or team dynamics.
  • Roam around. Ask questions! Guide. Help troubleshoot any issues.
  • No need to wait for everyone to get on the same page because rather than replicating an exact outcome, you are facilitating an open-ended learning experience in which everyone learns together (yes, including you!).

Reconvene to reflect and discuss. What did we do? What happened? What surprised us? What did we learn? Did it make us curious about something else?

I personally live for loosely structured, community building programs. It was awesome to see this method of learning be validated, illustrated so well (in far clearer terms than I would have been able to articulate before the session), and backed up with Next Generation Science Standards.

Have you tried anything like this at your library? Does inquiry-based programming sound exhilarating or scary? Consider giving it a shot: it’s less stress, less planning, more fun, and (in my experience) more engaging. Scale it up or down and see what happens!

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