STEM is the abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Campbell & Speldewinde, 2022)

Effective learning approaches should:

Ø Enable children to experience STEM to affirm their belief that they possess the capacity to learn these subjects

Ø Aim to improve the interest of children in STEM subjects and encourage them to interact with games and themes that cover STEM areas (Campbell et al., 2018)

Ø Ensure the STEM experiences, interests, and knowledge in early childhood setting build high possibility for the children to continue learning the subjects in the later stages of education

Ø Encourage partnerships between early childhood teachers with colleagues, parents, and administration (Wan et al., 2020). This promotes acquisition and application of STEM knowledge, and sharing of professional understanding of STEM

Ø Teaching and learning approaches should promote advanced inquiry and thinking abilities to enable learners apply apply new knowledge to solve problems they encounter (Campbell & Speldewinde, 2022)

Ø Allow children to explore the world, as this exposure allows them to gain and expand their STEM skills

Ø Enhance preschoolers numeracy and literacy skills through small group collaborations, vocabulary acquisition, and increased motivation (Miller, 2018)

Ø Include play-based learning contexts to enable children use resources such as technology to access mobile applications that STEM concepts like number sense

Ø Adopt methods that blend creativity with entertainment. Miller (2018) noted that children will not have fun with pedagogically accurate techniques if they disregard creativity

Ø Enable children to remember the content they have learned (like numbers, shapes, or colour) through fun and interactive activities


Why Inquiry-based learning is appropriate for STEM

Inquiry-based learning works well in kindergarten because children are naturally curious and filled with wonderment about the world.

Their early cognitive development improves as they play, explore, and question.

Children master a range of activities, competencies, and theories before they join preschool. Inquiry-based learning helps to nurture and develop the children’s inquiring minds to equip them with life-long skills that help them through years of schooling and in their future lives. In other words, it enables educators to preserve the remarkable elements of young minds such as their adventurousness, resourcefulness, creativity, and flexibility.

These are the features that make inquiry-based learning effective for teaching and learning of STEM subjects (Murphy et al., 2019; Attard et al., 2021):

Ø It is a teaching and learning approach that actively engages learners in activities where they share ideas, thoughts, questions, and observations

Ø Gives educators the responsibility to assess, redefine, and challenge, respectfully, the ideas brought forward by the students

Ø Clarifies the roles of both the teachers and students, and requires each party to fulfil their side to make the learning process successful

Ø Involves active learning contexts, where preschoolers work in groups to complete tasks assigned by the educator in accordance with guidelines

Ø Incorporates real-life experiences to build in children problem-solving skills

Ø Helps teachers to gradually move children from the stage of general curiosity to a state where they apply critical thinking and understanding

Ø Requires early childhood educators to motivate the young learners to ask questions and help them to perform investigations

Ø Relates the classroom content to real-life events to illustrate to learners the relevance of what they learn

Ø Encourages positive interactions within the classroom environment by helping the children to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships

Ø Equips children with adaptability, active learning, critical thinking, problem-solving, and complex communication skills that make STEM learning effective

Best Inquiry-based STEM Teaching Strategies

Murphy et al. (2019) and Attard et al. (2021) agree that effective STEM teaching/learning approaches should trigger curiosity of children and actively involve them in the learning process. Experiential learning should also be a priority to enable students with meaning-making. The following are the recommended teaching strategies:

1. Guided Inquiry: The strategy enables learners to explore real-world materials and assess them through questioning and observation (Attard et al., 2021). The children must also take active role in inquiry. The approach is vital for teaching and learning of mathematics. To assess children’s understanding of algebra, early childhood educator may give a collection of objects to the children and instruct them to organise the items based on identified features. For example sizes, shapes, or sizes. Successful execution of such tasks proves to the teacher that children have understood the subject area.

2. Intentional teaching: The desire to create a positive experience for all children is the priority. The teacher plans and prepares for learning sessions intended to improve children’s thinking skills and contribute to their cognitive, social, physical, language, literacy, and emotional skills development. When using this strategy to prepare for STEM subjects such as science, engineering, or mathematics, the teacher could incorporate technologies. Some of the technology-based items commonly used in early childhood classrooms include balancing scales, timers, and hand-held magnifying glass (Murphy et al, 2019). Murphy and colleagues stated that use of robotics and computers in early childhood environment expands availability of learning resources, encourages children to think critically, and enhances the development of problem-solving abilities. Attard et al. (2021) added that interaction with real materials boosts children’s comprehension of science and mathematics content because it improves their creativity.

3. Scaffolding: Enhances creativity by enabling the teacher to analyse the ideas, experiences, and questions that children ask (Craft et al, 2013). Through scaffolding, the teacher serves as the mediator who is tasked with ensuring that the needs of learners are met. Scaffolding is vital when introducing new concepts in science and mathematics as it encourages the teacher to allow learners to preview class materials before beginning a discussion.

4. Exposure to real world: Allows learners to link classroom lessons to real-life situations. This is essential in science learning (Attard et al., 2021). The educator provides the children with a wide range of materials to explore. Examples are when science teacher allows the children to experience real plants and animals to be able to distinguish the features of the real object from those they hear about in stories. Other helping children to separate fantasy from reality, the physical science experiences enable children to understand that there is nothing magical about the scientific procedures.

5. Motivation and affect: Helps to make children act positively toward mathematics and science lessons. Craft et al. (2012) stated that teachers should establish proper social environments to achieve STEM learning objectives. Under motivation and affect, Craft and colleagues added that science educators should make the learning context suitable for both indoor and outdoor learning.

6. Assessment of learners: Harrison and Howard (2011) explained that formative assessments aid acquisition of relevant STEM skills, attitudes, and knowledge. That is, assessment gives educators the chance to actively engage learners to understand if their thinking process matches the course objectives and expected outcomes. With this knowledge, teachers can establish supportive learning environments, utilise proper pedagogical practices, and adequately plan the time for learning.

7. Reflection: Early childhood professionals should allocate time to review their past teaching methods to distinguish what turned out effective from others that did not work, and go deeper into finding out the cause of such failures (Bancroft, Fawcett, & Hay, 2008). This act enables educators to challenge their past pedagogical practices so as to find and implement changes that will help learners to  advance learning.

Best Inquiry-based STEM Learning Strategies

8. Exploration: Play is essential way of learning for young children, and playful experiments can enable the young ones gain scientific knowledge (Goswami, 2015). Exploring plants and animals can, for instance, enhance children’s biological science understanding by helping them realise that these organisms are living things with basic needs. Exploration of physical science can also help children to know the changes that happen water freezes or when ice melts. These experiences demonstrate the relevance of such STEM areas in real-life.

9. Collaboration: Conversations between educator and learners is highly recommended in inquiry-based learning. Mercer and Littleton (2007) explained that conversations boost creativity and are, thus, essential for scientific and mathematical knowledge acquisition. Dialogues between a learner and peers are also valuable as they create room for children to ask questions and seek responses. Dialogues enables educators to gauge the children’s understanding of the STEM subjects and effectiveness of teaching strategies.

10. Inquiry and problem-solving: Children also gain more knowledge when they respond to or solve questions asked by the teacher.  Real-world inquiry and learning that focuses on solving problems have positive contribution toward STEM learning (Murphy et al., 2019). Children ask questions if they want to understand a phenomenon better. The responses received from teachers and peers enable the child who asked the question to expand their knowledge in that subject area.

11. Curiosity: Children have in-born curiosity. This curiosity causes them to wonder and ask questions about things they interact with in their world. These traits help the teacher to establish speculation and creativity in STEM disciplines (Chappell et al., 2008). Curiosity improves the ability of the children to observe and engage in critical thinking, to understand certain concepts.

12. Measuring and quantifying: Measurements are major components of science and mathematics (Attard et al., 2021). The skills gained from this activity enables children to know the similarities and differences by determining that one object is big while the other is small, based on observed measurements. Quantifications also helps learners to separate larger values from the relatively smaller ones.