Teaching with NASA STEM Inquiry Resources

Letting Students Stumble

I came to teaching with a passion for learning.  From the minute of my first day with my own class I knew my responsibility for my students was to help them love science and discovery. So inquiry was not something that was optional for me or my students, it was the journey we were on together to explore our world and all of its possibilities.

What do you have to gain? Everything. Learning is not a passive experience, it is an adventure.  Sure, the brain can memorize, classify and sort information presented to it.  This is a short term fragment, a scrap, a morsel.   It may lead to a flash of a memory that may occur to the student at the moment they need the information or not.  That is simply how the brain works.  If you want the brain to find information useful enough to create multiple links and levels of knowledge, you have to engage it in figuring out the solutions to several problems associated with the key bit of knowledge. (Pinkerton, K. (1994). Using brain-based techniques in high school science. Teaching and Change, 2(1), 44–61.)

What does the inquiry teaching strategy look like and how can NASA resources help
  1. The best teachers are people that are always learning themselves. Not afraid to say: “That is so interesting. We should dig deeper and see what we can find out.” In this way they are modeling learning for their students.  “See, this is what learning looks like.”
  1. Lesson plans are not a protocol. Write down what you want them to know at the end of the lesson.  What is the question? Reflect on the importance of what you want them to know. A thoughtful teacher is a great teacher. Lesson plans include a route to the key matter at hand, which is finding a solution to a question worth asking and a problem worth solving.
  1. Lead and then get out of the way. It is important not to be too helpful.  Use authentic data and resources to guide them to trying out the solutions. Praise the work and the intensity of the struggle to reach a probable explanation that will be tested.
  1. Let them try it! Let them work out the material selection and procedures. Remind them that collaboration of teammates will lead to the strongest conclusions.  Remind them to “Do the Math”. There is no science without math.
  1. Value and Validate their work. Let them report out to the rest of the class how they solved the problem.  Let them explain their procedure and outcome data.
How can NASA resources help the STEM inquiry teacher?
  1. The NASA Office of Education collaborates with the NASA Mission Directorates to bring free innovative, engaging challenges and resources that are available in many different convenient ways.
  1. Education websites and publications provide a multitude of interesting topics in all subject areas. Teaching Guides, lesson plans, multimedia presentations, PowerPoints and interactive technology are just a few example of the resources.
  1. NASA Resources are leveled by grade. Digital libraries allow you to search for an inquiry lesson by grade level, subject, and resource type, learning time, material cost and instructional strategy.
  1. Lesson plans are aligned with the National Standards. (NGSS, CORE)
NASA STEM Inquiry examples
  1. Mars- Extreme-o-philes: https://marsed.mars.asu.edu/content/xtreme-o-philes
  2. My NASA Data: Fostering Geospatial thinking : Space to earth: Earth to Space http://nasawavelength.org/resource/nw-000-000-002-927/
  3. Weather and Climate Web quest https://pmm.pps.eosdis.nasa.gov/education/interactive/weather-climate-iquest
  4. Infectious Disease and Climate Change: Is Climate Change Responsible for the Spread of West Nile Virus? http://esseacourses.strategies.org/module.php?module_id=150
  5. Star Power! Discovering the Power of Sunlight. http://www.messenger-education.org/teachers/Modules/Lessons/StarPower.pdf
  6. Decomposers get energy from Dead Things: http://astroventure.arc.nasa.gov/teachers/pdf/AV-Biolesson-5.pdf
  7. Elementary GLOBE; Picture books and Inquiry Learning. http://www.globe.gov/web/elementary-globe

By Susan Kohler
NASA EPDC Education Specialist
NASA Glenn Research Center