inquiry-based learning

Technology and Design

DiScoro writes about inquiry-based learning, digital resources, and ways to encourage higher-order thinking. We focus on STEM education and the use of technology.

This time we write about Technology & Design as a school subject or project for students (grade 6 to 10). In several countries Technology and Design has become a school subject.
Most commonly students work on a task during more than one hour. The tasks are interdisciplinary and require many different skills: planning, sketching, creativity, safety, use of tools, research , construction, experimentation etc.
Technology is not limited to the use of digital technology. Technology & Design tasks have a strong practical component and aim at problem solving skills. By nature the tasks are often low floor-high ceiling tasks. This implies that it is clearly understandable what the goal is, all students are able to get started (low floor). At the same time the tasks offer enough challenges and opportunities to dive deeper both in creativity as well as in complexity (high ceiling).

To make a plan is usually a step in the process. It is up to the teacher to ask for a report of the process or not. This can be written, visual, oral, with the use of multi-media (photos, video) or a combination.

Topics that could be part of Technology & Design are

    • design and create a rocking horse for children age 2-3
    • make a piece of household furniture using recycled materials
    • make a gripper stick for waste picking, or for elderly people at their homes
  • engineering (using concepts from chemistry and physics)

Technology and Design will certainly focus on the new economy where circular design and production, and no or minimal waste, are the ultimate challenges and goals.


DaVinci Kindergarten

DaVinci Kindergarten is a pilot project in which we design, develop and try-out inquiry-based activities for children in the age 4-8. We have worked with children age 4-5 at two kindergartens in Norway. The activities focus on concepts from science, and technology and foster mathematical thinking.

We present some of the activities that have been developped. Contact us if you wish a complete description of the activity.

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  1. Show-box– sight lines and mirroring.
  2. How big is the panther? – measuring, human-based measuring units e.g. foot, thumb(=duym/inch), span (=fathom), step.
  3. How do you get the light on? – electricity, battery, light, lightbulb, lamp, electrical wire, curcuit.
  4. What weighs most/least? – experimenting with balance scales and different materials with the same volume and different weight.
  5. Discover more about your toys. What kind of materials are they made of? – Categorise, recognise, examine the different materials and discover their characteristics.
  6. Bee-bot – programming a robot.

How big is the panther?

Another activity for children age 4-8. This inquiry-based activity involves measuring up a big animal. The children will draw a big animal in its actual size, but the animal is in another room than where the animal must be drawn. Two children are sent to look at the animal and asked to come back and describe the animal. This process is repeated with the question to find out how big the animal is so that it can be drawn on the large sheet of paper.

measuring, measuring units, human based measuring units, measuring tools, categorizing, ordering, serializing, relative size, proportionality, counting, member of the ‘cat’ family.

size, height, width, big-bigger-biggest, large- larger-largest, small- smaller- smallest, thick, order, position, direction, shape, fur, skin, colour, tail, (girth).

The world for young children is primarily three dimensional. Young kids play with three dimensinal toys. A drawing or a picture is a two dimensional representation of objects from the three dimensional world and therefor more difficult to grasp.

Measuring starts with the use of measuring units that are available. People have used measuring units related to their own body to measure length or height over many centuries e.g. foot, fathom/span, thumb/inch.

Show-box and Sight lines

This time we write about inquiry-based science and math activities we tried out in kindergarten, but this is definitely suitable for first and second grade as well. The first activity is about experimenting with sight lines using a show-box.

Concepts: sight lines, mirror, reflection.

Vocabulary: in sight, out of sight, hidden, position, sight line, eye, straight line, corner, behind, in front of, next to, around the bend …

The children worked in groups of three or four children (age 4 and 5) on one show-box. First, the children are presented with an empty show-box with four spy-holes. They are asked to furnish the room and place some dolls/animals using items they have in class. Thereafter we ask them explore what they see and what not and reason about it. We ask them to look through their spy-hole and tell each other what they see. We ask them why they do not see the same items.

There are many questions to ask that require experimenting, thinking and reasoning.
For example:

  • Can you place an item so that this can only be seen from one spy-hole?
  • Can you position an item that can be viewed from just two, three, or from all the four spy-holes?
  • Can you place an item in such a way that it cannot be viewed by anyone?
  • Build a half wall and place an item behind the wall. Choose a hole from which you cannot see the item. Now use the mirror so that you can see what is behind the wall.
  • One child take a picture though one of the holes while the other turn their back. Show the picture ans ask from which hole it was taken and why they thinks so.

Climate change simulations

On October 4th 2016 the EU has signed the  global Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

Climate change and clean energy transition are complex challenges. The simulations of Climate Interactive enable you to simulate the many factors and see the result of policies. It is quite reveling and insightfull to see how much reducation in CO2 emmissions is required to minimize the temperature change to 2 degrees Celcius.
C-Learn simulation

C-Learn, C-Roads and EN-Roads are three simulations from Climate Interactive organization, based on systems dynamics modeling from MIT.

The simulations enable teachers, lecturers and students and people in general to see connections, play out scenarios, and see what works to address the biggest challenges we face: climate change and clean energy.

The simulations enable you to set up and compare many What if scenarios. The Climate Interactive website offers tutorial videos on how to use the tools.

  • C-Learn is the simple version of C-Roads and available online
  • C-Roads is the Climate simulation which has to be downloaded
  • EN-Roards is the simulation on Energy transition and climate goals

Target group: policy makers, lecturers, university students.
C-Learn can definitely be used at higher secondary level.

 Purchase  Free
 Hardware  iPad, PC
 Requirements  browser
Note: the downloads give security warnings.

Solubility in water

Water is the most important chemical substance on earth. Water has specific chemical characteristics unlike other substances. One of these characteristics is its solubility.

Students build an understanding of solution concentration by varying amounts of solute,
solvent, and solution. Students can investigate which substance can have the largest concentration (solves best) even if they do not know  the substance. This can be an introduction to a hands-on practical.

The students can observe the amount of mol/L (molecules that can be solved in one litre) and find out what saturated means? What can be observed when the solvent is saturated?


 Purchase  Free
 Hardware  PC
 Requirements  browser

Oplossen glazenDownload practical experiment on Solubility in water for primary school level.


bruistablet2Download practical on Solubility with the use of effervescent tablets.

Depending on how used the pupils are to carry out experiments, you can leave out some of the instructions (scaffolding). Purely inquiry-based would be:

  • Find out how you can influence the degree of solubility in water using the effervescent tablets and water.

Whereby the pupils have to set up the experiment themselves, record the results, and write a conclusion.


See the blogpost Density and Buoyancy for buoyancy in water.

The Moving Man

The applet The Moving Man enables students to experiment and learn about motion, position, velocity and acceleration. The movements of the man are plotted in charts.

  • Move the little man back and forth with the mouse and plot his motion.
  • Set the position, velocity, and/or acceleration and let the simulation move the man for you.

Moving man 1

Learning Goals

  • Interpret, predict charts/graphs on position, velocity and acceleration.
  • Describe, make sense of and reason about the charts.

If you register at the PHET website as a teacher, you have access to the information for teachers. The website offers examples of worksheets and questions for students at different levels.

Students can make a graph that fits a story, or make a story that fits a chart. At primary school level focus on one chart in the beginning. For example: What is the story behind this chart?

Do not underestimate the complexity of only the first chart. It shows a timeline, the position, negative numbers, and a man who covers a distance.

Moving man 2

 Purchase  Free
 Hardware  PC
 Requirements  browser, JAVA