From the time a 4-H member selects a project area until its completion, 4-H youth are immersed in solving problems hands-on. As you may know, the 4-H program is delivered primarily by volunteers using the resources of a land-grant institution. It's up to us as program leaders to make it possible for volunteers to help young people do hands-on learning in an effective way.
One challenge for 4-H is helping adult volunteers or mentors to guide youth down an avenue of scientific inquiry or problem solving without merely giving the answer. One approach is to lead the young person through a series of questions that build on one another, while adult help steadily decreases -- an approach known as scaffolding. In an inquiry-based approach, the volunteer must be a facilitator or guide. It's the subject of a webinar I'll be giving at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Nov. 18.
To facilitate effective inquiry-based learning, there are six common steps that adult volunteers must make sure youth are taking:
- Ask questions
- Explore by observing and investigating
- Analyze and describe findings
- Communicate and share by writing and discussing
- Reflect on what has been learned
- Determine how the newly gained knowledge can be applied
Initially, the adult volunteer poses open-ended questions to kick start the young person's thinking process, motivating him to develop his own questions. These questions become the focus of the research and learning. It's important that the volunteers allow time for the young people to make discoveries, to talk with their peers about it, and to make mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of learning, because they give an opportunity to re-evaluate decisions and correct so that next time, he succeeds.
Inquiry-based learning helps young people become productive members of society because they have the ability to think critically, solve problems and succeed. The critical thinking that takes place while working on projects help to shape them into the adults that they will become. Doing inquiry-based learning provides young people with a unique look into their future careers and endeavors.
How can we as youth development program leaders build inquiry learning strategies into volunteer-delivered youth programs, so that young people gain higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills?
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