Header image with a brain, light bulb, question mark, error computer message, notebook, an thought bubble

13 Questions You Can Ask a Kid or Teen to Help Them Develop a STEM Mindset 

HK | Training & Development Manager, Camp Fire NHQ

This post was written by HK, Camp Fire National Headquarters’ Training & Development Manager.

HK Gilbert has been working with young people in the outdoors since they graduated from counselor-in-training as a camper! HK believes strongly in the power of trauma-informed, connection-focused youth work. They are passionate about teaching and supporting adults so they can be outstanding mentors who support young people in their authentic journeys!

When I was kid, like many kids, I wanted to be an inventor. I used to spend time dreaming up solutions to problems – usually in a Wallace and Gromit-inspired fashion (as complicated as possible, of course). A common experience for us would-be inventors is the moment our imaginations reach the barrier of our skills. Maybe we have an incredible idea – and yet, we don’t know how to accomplish it. All of a sudden, the reality of the incredible inventors we read about or learned about in school comes crashing down on us. We must not be geniuses – and all inventors are geniuses. Right? 

Many young people have an interest, even if it is just a tiny spark, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). But often, they have a similar experience to mine. These subjects are taught with reverence to “genius” scientists and engineers. They often emphasize challenging equations, and they often underplay key factors such as teamwork and managing failure – essential elements of any great discovery or invention. Many times, young people won’t learn about scientists who look like them, especially if they are Black, Indigenous, and/or women. These conditions make kids believe that STEM is an exclusive, difficult, lonely pursuit that only geniuses can do – and that’s just not true! 

As a parent, guardian, or mentor to a young person, you can play an essential role in myth-busting STEM and developing the skills that will serve them in the future – whether they choose a STEM career or not! These transferable skills are essential to success in engineering, computer science, environmental science, the skilled trades, and more. While it can be easy to get overwhelmed with options like learning to code a specific coding language or participating in an engineering challenge, you can start by simply developing a STEM mindset.  

My favorite way to work with young people on STEM is to ask them questions. As adult mentors, we can challenge ourselves to step in less and ask questions more. I’ve compiled some great questions to get you started. I encourage you to use them in a wide range of contexts – during a science project or robotics build is an obvious time to deploy them, but you can also ask these while walking in the park, baking a cake, and even hanging out playing video games! 

Keep it open-ended and cultivate curiosity. Questions like these also encourage young people to access their existing knowledge and experience. 

brain with yellow details

1. What does that make you think of? 

2. Have you seen something like this before? Where? 

Encourage teamwork. Scientists and engineers almost always work in teams, and seeking help or other ideas is essential to the process of experimentation and design. 

lightbulb with red details

3. Can you ask someone else their thoughts? 

4. Who could help you solve that problem? 

5. Can I share with you one of my ideas? 

Direct their attention to the problem, not the solution. As adults, we can be tempted to solve challenges for young people. Instead of giving them the answer, you can still support them by asking these questions to direct their focus.  

question mark with blue details

6. Where is it not working?  

7. What could you do to solve that problem? 

Demystify scientific thinking. Asking questions, making predictions, and testing your ideas are key steps to the scientific method and engineering-design method. 

computer error message with green details

8. What do you think will happen if we do X?  

9. How would you do this differently? 

10. Why do you think that happened? 

Shift from consumer to maker. Oftentimes, young people (like all of us) have complaints about the technology around us – from apps, devices, and even things like backpacks or shoes. Simple questions can help young people reframe themselves to future engineers who could create new solutions. 

notebook with light blue details

11. What would you change about that?  

12. What do you wish that did? 

13. If you made a new (blank), what features would it have? 

Not only will these questions help develop a scientific way of thinking, but they are also opportunities to connect with young people and learn more about their experiences, interests, and opinions. I hope you enjoy these conversations with the youth in your life and if STEM turns out to be a spark, that you support their interest with even more questions and discussions! 

Want to learn more about STEM and Camp Fire? Check out our blog post about building on our STEM foundations.

September 20, 2023

Related Posts