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The National Science Education Standards for Grades K-4 from the National Research Council are being presented in this blog in seven installments, with one “content standard” per posting. At the end of each Content Standard, we will look at how Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K) texts align with that section. Some Standards are a bit long, but Gravitas wants to present each to you in its entirety.

Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Developing Student Abilities and Understanding

From the earliest grades, students should experience science in a form that engages them in the active construction of ideas and explanations that enhance their opportunities to develop the abilities of doing science. Teaching science as inquiry provides teachers with the opportunity to develop student abilities and to enrich student understanding of science. Students should do science in ways that are within their developmental capabilities. This standard sets forth some abilities of scientific inquiry appropriate for students in grades K-4.

In the early years of school, students can investigate earth materials, organisms, and properties of common objects. Although children develop concepts and vocabulary from such experiences, they also should develop inquiry skills. As students focus on the processes of doing investigations, they develop the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed. Guided by teachers, students continually develop their science knowledge. Students should also learn through the inquiry process how to communicate about their own and their peers’ investigations and explanations.

There is logic behind the abilities outlined in the inquiry standard, but a step-by-step sequence or scientific method is not implied. In practice, student questions might arise from previous investigations, planned classroom activities, or questions students ask each other. For instance, if children ask each other how animals are similar and different, an investigation might arise into characteristics of organisms they can observe.

Full inquiry involves asking a simple question, completing an investigation, answering the question, and presenting the results to others. In elementary grades, students begin to develop the physical and intellectual abilities of scientific inquiry. They can design investigations to try things to see what happens–they tend to focus on concrete results of tests and will entertain the idea of a “fair” test (a test in which only one variable at a time is changed). However, children in K-4 have difficulty with experimentation as a process of testing ideas and the logic of using evidence to formulate explanations.

Guide to the Content Standard

Fundamental abilities and concepts that underlie this standard include:

Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment. This aspect of the standard emphasizes students asking questions that they can answer with scientific knowledge, combined with their own observations. Students should answer their questions by seeking information from reliable sources of scientific information and from their own observations and investigations.
  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation. In the earliest years, investigations are largely based on systematic observations. As students develop, they may design and conduct simple experiments to answer questions. The idea of a fair test is possible for many students to consider by fourth grade.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses. In early years, students develop simple skills, such as how to observe, measure, cut, connect, switch, turn on and off, pour, hold, tie, and hook. Beginning with simple instruments, students can use rulers to measure the length, height, and depth of objects and materials; thermometers to measure temperature; watches to measure time; beam balances and spring scales to measure weight and force; magnifiers to observe objects and organisms; and microscopes to observe the finer details of plants, animals, rocks, and other materials. Children also develop skills in the use of computers and calculators for conducting investigations.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation. This aspect of the standard emphasizes the students’ thinking as they use data to formulate explanations. Even at the earliest grade levels, students should learn what constitutes evidence and judge the merits or strength of the data and information that will be used to make explanations. After students propose an explanation, they will appeal to the knowledge and evidence they obtained to support their explanations. Students should check their explanations against scientific knowledge, experiences, and observations of others.
  • Communicate investigations and explanations. Students should begin developing the abilities to communicate, critique, and analyze their work and the work of other students. This communication might be spoken or drawn as well as written. [See Teaching Standard B]

Understandings About Scientific Inquiry

  • Scientific investigations involve asking and answering a question and comparing the answer with what scientists already know about the world. [See Content Standard G]
  • Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer. Types of investigations include describing objects, events, and organisms; classifying them; and doing a fair test (experimenting).
  • Simple instruments, such as magnifiers, thermometers, and rulers, provide more information than scientists obtain using only their senses. [See Standard C]
  • Scientists develop explanations using observations (evidence) and what they already know about the world (scientific knowledge). Good explanations are based on evidence from investigations.
  • Scientists make the results of their investigations public; they describe the investigations in ways that enable others to repeat the investigations.
  • Scientists review and ask questions about the results of other scientists’ work.

How Real Science-4-Kids Meets This Standard

All Real Science-4-Kids Pre-Level I materials support the National Standard for “Science As Inquiry” for Grades K-4, since RS4K student texts and lab workbooks are created from the perspective of science as inquiry. Below are just a few specific examples taken from Pre-Level I texts and workbooks that illustrate of the fulfillment of this National Standard as outlined in the above list of “Abilities.”

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms, and events in the environment. RS4K Student Texts for chemistry, biology and physics each have a companion Laboratory Workbook with an age appropriate activity (experiment) for each Text chapter. This allows hands-on use of the scientific knowledge imparted in the Text coupled with the student’s own “inquiry” and observations. For example, the first chapter of Biology teaches a logical way of using observation to sort and classify living things. It then goes further with the most basic information on the scientific classification system (taxonomy). The Teacher’s Manual explains how to gather a large assortment of items (mostly non-living) that the student can use in the Lab experiment that teaches how various “features” of one item might mean it could fit into more than one sorted group.
  • Plan and conduct a simple investigation. The Biology Lab Workbook has worksheets for the chapter 1 experiment described above. The sheets make it easy for a student to follow a process of systematic observation about the group of objects that were collected. In completing the forms, the student learns to notice details and make observations about similarities and differences. In words and drawings, the student learns to record data (descriptions). The experiment ends with questions designed to help the student summarize what was learned.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses. Because Pre-Level I books are for a range of ages, the parent or other teacher can decide which measurements for the experiments can be done by the student. A fun example of learning to use measurements is the lab experiment of “making goo” for Chemistry’s chapter 9 subject of understanding molecular chains and how a substance can change. The student measures specific amounts of glue and laundry starch to produce a goo that is no longer sticky like the glue and can be rolled into a ball.
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation. The Lab Workbooks for all three subjects guide the student to record observations logically. Questions designed to allow the student to use the gathered data to draw conclusions based on evidence follow the data gathering. There are spaces for the student to write (present) his or her conclusions. The experiment for chapter 5 in Biology is an excellent example. The student is asked to think about what might happen if a bean is placed in a cup of water for several days and to draw what is imagined (the hypothesis). Then there are instructions of how to place a bean in a clear cup of water. Spaces are provided for the student to draw what can be observed each day. The next section of the worksheets has questions that the student answers based on the accumulated drawings over time. The experiment ends with scientific information about how the bean seedling would behave if planted in soil. This allows the student to compare the results of his or her experiment with accepted scientific knowledge.
  • Communicate investigations and explanations. As described above, the Lab Workbook process takes the student through the process of summarizing data and stating (or drawing) a conclusion. In many experiments, there is additional scientific knowledge provided in the Lab Workbook or in the corresponding Teacher’s Manual.

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