In inquiry-based learning, students take an active role and investigate a subject matter in a manner similar to researchers: They find problems and specify them, develop ideas on how to investigate these problems, formulate hypotheses, test them, discuss results, etc. In this way, in addition to the actual subject content, students also practice dealing with new questions on their own. The teacher's task is to create learning environments in which this is possible and to practice a culture of curiosity, constructive handling of mistakes and good communication with the students.
Authentic contexts are tasks with authentic references to reality; these can be situations from everyday life, professional life or of social relevance. The realistic depiction of reality plays a particularly important role in this type of task. Contexts from everyday life, science and the professional world or society can be very motivating. On the one hand, authentic contexts touch upon the students’ world since students may already have personal experience with the topic. And on the other hand, teaching content can be directly linked to everyday life and thus remain longer in the memory.
With ongoing societal issues like climate change or the current Covid pandemic, issues related to mathematics and science have become more and more centered in public discussions. STEM teachers should offer learning experiences in the classroom that engage our students with topics related to these societal issues to prepare them to actively partake in society. This type contexts are called Socio-Scientific Issues, or SSI for short. SSI are authentic societal issues with available scientific data, which may also be controversial. Because of the controversial nature of the issues, dealing with SSI requires both an understanding of the relevant scientific ideas and thoughtful consideration of the social, economic, political, and ethical aspects of the matter.