An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Climate Change Issue and Implications for Teaching STEM through Inquiry

An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Climate Change Issue and Implications for Teaching STEM through Inquiry

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0068-3.ch019
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The importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and teaching through an inquiry approach, are critical facets in education today. The purpose of this chapter is to share useful observations and recommendations about teaching STEM through inquiry for practicing teachers. Three cases are used to collect data about participant interactions with an interdisciplinary activity related to climate change, human population growth, and atmospheric pollution (e.g., greenhouse gases and smog). Fifty-five participants, most of whom were pre-service teachers, completed a technology-rich activity, post-test assessment, and survey about the experience. The findings discussed include research results, the perspectives of the facilitating instructor, and recommendations for teaching technology-laden investigations through an inquiry approach. In general, the challenges related to teaching with technology and time constraints were found to be significant limiting factors in the success of inquiry-based teaching in STEM.
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The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Board of Directors stated the following as part of their official position about scientific inquiry:

Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences. (NSTA, 2004).

Inquiry-based learning not only makes sense from a science perspective but also from the perspective of effective learning. Learning is essentially a social activity that requires the active engagement of the learner to construct meaning from the experience. Generally, the learner must perceive the experience to be useful and relevant in order to participate (Vosdianou, 2007). The inquiry process, based on Dewey’s philosophy that education begins with the curiosity of the learner, integrates these essentials of effective learning through the four primary interests of the learner: inquiry—the natural desire to learn; communication—the propensity to enter into social relationships; construction—the delight in creating things; and expression, or reflection—the desire to extract meaning from experience (Bruce & Bishop, 2002). A simple but logical rationale for inquiry-based instruction is found within the very definition of science. Science is a process of investigating the nature of the universe and asking questions is the essence of this process (Matson & Parsons, 2006).

At the center of inquiry-based science learning is language. Language, in the form of reading and writing is integral to the development of concepts in science. Wellington and Osborne (2001) point out the similarity between learning science and learning a new language. Students are able to clarify, question, hypothesize, and explain through discussion while writing seems to assist students in refining and consolidating these new ideas with prior knowledge. Rivard and Straw (2000) found that combining small group discussion with writing activities increased the retention of science knowledge (cited in Pegg, 2010).

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