Inquiry Based Learning in STEM Education: Engineering

Designing a 3D-printable Toothpaste-Squeezer

We all know the problem. When a tube of toothpaste runs low, we have to use a lot of strength and skill to get at the toothpaste at all. And no matter what we do, we get almost nothing or far too much out.

Can you develop a tool so that it is no longer so difficult to squeeze the remains out of a toothpaste tube?







IBL in this Example

Characteristics of IBL

How to use IBL in STEM Ed

In this task, students develop a product that is a solution to a real-world problem (toothpaste tube pushers are offered for sale on the Internet). Depending on the age, the task will be more or less open-ended. Students analyze and describe the problem, develop a solution themselves, and design according to their own specifications (appearance, functionality, handling, etc.). Later, the prototype is tested and usually optimized several times (research cycle).

IBL is characterized as follows:


  • create their own scientifically oriented questions;
  • give priority to evidence in responding to questions;
  • formulate explanations based on evidence;
  • connect explanations to scientific knowledge;
  • communicate and justify explanations

Conclusion: IBL tasks are self differentiating tasks

Usually, the students process an IBL task as follows (Research Cycle)

  1. Formulate a specific question (Ask)
  2. Use the existing knowledge to understand the problem and investigating possible solutions (Investigate)
  3. Create new findings based on the previous findings (Create)
  4. Discuss the explanation (Discuss) 
  5. Evaluate the result and, if necessary, improve the solution (Reflect)

Tasks presented

  • Are accessible by all students
  • Provide achievable challenges
  • Develop fluency, understanding and processes
  • Offer multiple entry points
  • Involve using a range of methods and strategies
  • Value the process rather than the answer


The role of a teacher in using IBL in STEM education

  • Looks into and challenges student thinking and reasoning
  • Instigates the evaluation and communication of strategies
  • Uncovers misconceptions
  • Supports student to learn from mistakes
  • Provokes and stimulates the exploration of alternative routes


More content