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Inquiry: Learning Science by Doing Science

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD

Change in Approach to Science Education

The National Science Education Standards, the National Science Foundation and Project 2061 (among others) promote dramatic changes in the ways science is taught. These changes reflect growing recognition of the need to engage students actively in the process of science through collaborative investigations; cover fewer topics, but with greater depth; and use evidence to formulate explanations. These approaches also imply important changes in the roles of teachers and in the ways that student learning is assessed.

For example, research is beginning to show that students benefit more from the study of fewer topics-with greater in-depth coverage of those topics-than from the superficial coverage of many seemingly unrelated topics. In fact, the typical US science curriculum has been criticized as being "a mile wide and an inch deep" (Schmidt et al., 1999).

In addition, science learning should build on earlier experiences as students move through grades K-12. As noted by the National Science Education Standards (1996), "in the early grades, instruction should establish the meaning and use of unifying concepts and processes-for example, what it means to measure and how to use measurement tools. At the upper grades, the standard should facilitate and enhance the learning of scientific concepts and principles by providing students with a big picture of scientific ideas-for example, how measurement is important in all scientific endeavors." At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that students often will have their own ideas about natural phenomena that are inconsistent with accepted science knowledge. Since these ideas can be resistant to change, it is important to provide students with opportunities to challenge and change their own understandings through inquiry.

The Standards also note that relating science to students' own experiences helps to demonstrate the relevance of science to everyday life and can be an important force in motivating students to learn.

When students investigate a scientific question, they develop content knowledge in addition to task-specific and critical thinking skills.