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Inquiry: Learning Science by Doing Science

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD

Inquiry Abilities: National Science Education Standards for Grades 9-12

The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for the development of inquiry skills at all grade levels and note that even "from the earliest grades, students should experience science in a form that engages them in the active construction of ideas and explanations and enhances their opportunities to develop the abilities to do science." At the same time, students should "do science" in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

In the earliest grades, instruction focuses on the development of students' basic skills for science, such as learning to use simple measurement tools and making careful observations. Later, students develop their abilities to recognize patterns and cycles in nature. Usually, students in upper elementary school begin to use tools, such as microscopes, to extend the senses. Students in these grade levels also begin to understand cause-and-effects relationships among single variables. Middle school students are able to design, conduct and, most importantly, explain controlled experimental designs.

High school students should be able to formulate a testable hypothesis and design a simple investigation. They also should have opportunities to learn to analyze evidence, use mathematics and technology to interpret or communicate data and explanations, recognize alternative models, and be able to formulate and defend an evidence-based scientific explanation.

When students are allowed to build on previous knowledge and skills, they acquire more thorough understandings than if they are taught new skills and processes in isolation.