Inquiry-Based Learning at STEM Camp


What comes to mind when you think of the way you were taught in school?

Chances are, you’ll remember long days and nights spent memorising definitions, dates and formulas…but what you might not remember, are the facts themselves!

But…what about the skills you’ve developed? Like learning how to ride a bike, building with blocks, or nurturing a garden?

Once you learn how they work, these skills just seem to stick.

The truth is, there’s a difference between learning methods that support building skills, and those that simply encourage the retention of facts.

The secret is an educational approach called “inquiry-based learning.”

Let’s dive into how it works.

Traditional Educational Structure vs. Inquiry-Based Learning

In traditional school settings, students are often given the roadmap to an exact outcome or solution. That is to say, you are given a problem and the steps to solve it.

Inquiry-based learning differs in that learners are given a problem and a goal, but not a step-by-step plan on how to get there. Instead, students are equipped with tools, resources and knowledge that they can use (as well as some helping hands nearby, in case they get stuck!). 

As an example, imagine that your goal is to build a solar-powered vehicle.  

The inquiry-based learning approach would mean that you aren’t told what type of vehicle, how it should move, the way it should be built, what the light source should be etc. 

How Inquiry-Based Learning Works

As the example above illustrates, inquiry-based learning puts campers at the helm of their own learning experience. 

At STEM Camp, this approach encourages them to build their knowledge based on how they experience and interact with the world around them.

Here is an in-depth explanation of how inquiry-based learning works, in 6 fundamental steps:

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1. Questioning

We start with posing questions that stimulate curiosity and inquiry. How could it work? What else could it do? What do we know that could help? Asking great questions is often the first step to finding awesome answers, but most importantly, to get us excited about learning more. 

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2. Investigation

Through hands-on activities, research, and exploration, our campers investigate and gather information related to the questions posed. This may include conducting experiments, gathering data, analysing sources, or engaging in other forms of inquiry to explore the topic.


3. Collaboration

Campers are encouraged to work together, share ideas, discuss findings, and collaborate on projects. By working together, kids further develop their critical thinking, communication skills, and the ability to consider many perspectives at once.

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4. Reflection

As they work together, campers are encouraged to reflect on their findings, experiences, and the learning process itself, too. Reflection helps them make connections, draw conclusions, and deepens their understanding of the subject matter. It also encourages metacognitive skills, as campers become more aware of their thinking processes.

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5. Constructing Knowledge

Campers are not passive recipients of information, but active participants in constructing meaning and understanding. They actively build their knowledge by drawing upon their prior knowledge, making connections, and critically analysing information. 

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6. Facilitation

Our camp counsellors are facilitators and guides. They support campers by posing thought-provoking questions, providing resources and guidance, and facilitating discussions and reflections. They encourage autonomy and critical thinking skills.

A Special Note on Failure

You might be wondering what happens when a camper’s approach to solve a problem doesn’t work.

The truth is that at STEM Camp, failure is awesome!

Something didn’t work? Amazing! The takeaway is that we learned something to get us closer to our goal next time.  

When you learn that failure isn’t negative but simply an event to learn from, it means that fear of failure is less likely to impact young minds from engaging their full creativity or going ‘all-in’ on collaboration. 

In short, when failure is just a step along the journey to the goal, you build resilience and confidence. And who doesn’t want more of that in life?

Raising Future Innovators

While each approach to learning (traditional education and inquiry-based learning) has its place and time, at STEM Camp, we believe that supporting the development of skills, like critical thinking, problem-solving, curiosity, and creativity, is key to helping kids grasp a deeper understanding of subjects and develop a life-long passion for learning. 

When inquiry-based learning is put into practice, kids create things you never imagined they would. 

These kids then have an opportunity to turn into adults who don’t feel as though they need to do things in a particular way, simply because that’s the way they were always done. 

In short, kids develop a mindset for innovation, which is a way of thinking that will serve them for a lifetime. 

Have your campers join Canada's future innovators, at STEM Camp! Register for summer camp 2024 today.

Have your campers join Canada's future innovators, at STEM Camp! Register for summer camp 2024 today.