Open-ended questions. For STEM to result in the freedom necessary for students to be involved as young scientists, students will need freedom to address “open-ended questions.” These types of questions are quite different than the more standard, closed-ended questions that have been part of the traditional curricula. The more standard approach might ask:
How one factor influences another. For example, what is the impact of weight on velocity?
What is the result of combining elements. For example, adding ice or oil to water.
How changing experimental conditions impacts an outcome. For example, what would happen if a pair of dice were thrown 20 times instead of 10?
In each of the above cases, students were asked to conduct experiments to determine an impact.
Students design their own hypotheses and experiments. To address open-ended questions, students are presented with situations and asked to design their own hypotheses and experiments. For example, students might be studying temperature and its impact on fruits and vegetables. Students would be asked to design an experiment, creating a hypothesis, noting results, and suggesting the overall implications.
A basic rule of thumb to move from a closed-ended experimental design with more narrowly defined “correct responses” to an open-ended experiment is to consider whether there may be an array of experimental designs and solutions. When more options are available, then the experiment is more likely to challenge students to pursue issues of interest to the individual students.
While some familiarity with closed-ended questions and experiments may be useful, teachers should strive to give students experiences where they are involved in pursuing answers to questions that the students develop.
One valuable resource. There are a myriad of websites and apps that are addressing STEM and curiosity. One of the challenges facing teachers and administrators will be to make decisions about which ones to pursue. Iridescent is a science oriented non-profit that has information from NSF funded research at its website. One of the features that increased our interest in this website is the evaluation results that are reported which show that over a two year time period 75% of the students increased their interest in science, 77% of the parents reported an increased understanding of science, and participating engineering students also reported an increased understanding of how to explain science to others.