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Know your students: Implications for student learning about the nature and process of science

Students entering middle school have participated in investigations in kindergarten through fifth grade that build the foundation for their developing understanding of what science is, how science works, and science as a human and community endeavor. Through hands-on science experiences, middle school students continue to develop skills of investigation and an understanding of the nature and process of science. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students should be engaged in activities that help them think critically about evidence and the relationship between evidence and explanation.

During the middle school years, students tend to ignore evidence that does not support their current thinking and explanations about the world. Correspondingly, investigations that challenge their current explanations and understandings should be part of the middle school curriculum.

Middle school students should be involved in conducting investigations that focus on providing explanations for questions that are relevant and meaningful for them. These investigations should develop student's skills of observing, testing their ideas, gathering relevant data, looking for patterns in their data, communicating and sharing with others, and listening to and questioning the explanations proposed by others. Once sixth, seventh and eighth grade students have developed these skills, they can begin to understand that scientists rely on multiple lines of evidence, that science is open to new ideas, that science accepts new ideas if the evidence suggests that they are the best available explanations, and that new evidence may cause revision of ideas.

Differentiation between science and technology can begin when students are in middle school — although this distinction will not be easy for sixth grade students to grasp. Participation in design and problem-solving tasks can be the basis for understanding the similarities, differences, and relationships between science and technology and can assist students in learning that science and technology are dependent upon one another.

The use of case studies and historical vignettes can help students understand that the scientific community is diverse, that many scientists work in teams, and that all scientists communicate with others about their research, evidence, and explanations. Through both historical and modern examples, you can show that men and women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and cultures engage in science activities and that science is a human and community endeavor reliant upon intellectual honesty, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.

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Text provided by Sharon Janulaw, Project Advisory Board, Understanding Science

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