Youth engage in inquiry based science – no instructions

Youth can design a wind turbine using the engineering design process.

Where are the instructions? The instructions are missing! According to Michigan State University Extension, we are so used to seeing step-by-step instructions when using a science activity or lesson plan. Just like we follow step-by-step instructions when using a recipe from a cook book. However, 4-H science programs are created to stimulate youth inquiry. By using the engineering design process, youth identify the problems and constraints, brainstorm ideas for solutions, and pick the best one. Youth then come up with a plan, draw a diagram, pick materials and build a prototype that will be tested. The next step in the process is the most important step -- Youth will discuss their prototype: what worked well, what did not work or what could be improved? Why did this not work well? How could we improve it? Plans will be made for improvements starting the engineering design process all over again. Hence comes the phrase, “Back to the drawing board.” The engineering design process is a continuum, never ending circle.

A typical inquiry based science activity is “Lift a Load” activity from the National 4-H curriculum, “The Power of the Wind.” The task is to lift a load using wind power. Youth will design and build a wind turbine that will lift a load of a minimum of four pennies in a small paper cup using wind power. Wind is created by a box fan, which will be positioned close to the wind turbine. The load will be lifted from the floor to a table top. No step-by-step instructions are given! Youth are given the problem, and a variety of materials to use including pennies, card board or index cards, round pencils, sturdy straws, cardstock, paper or plastic cups, paper clips, tape, rubber bands, plastic beads, and other miscellaneous hard ware or office supplies. In their journals youth draw their designs and make note of test results and discussion points. After designing, and building their prototype wind turbine, youth will test and evaluate it. To generate ideas for improvements for a new prototype, youth communicate and have discussions with other youth.

Using inquiry based science will not only make youth feel like real scientists, but it also will stimulate their creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills.

“Lift a Load” is just one example of inquiry based, hands-on science activities 4-H has available to be used with youth. You can find more activities at the Michigan 4-H Science website or in the National 4-H science curriculum.

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