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Know your students: Implications for understanding the nature of science

For primary grade students, understanding the nature and process of science is dependent upon the student's developmental level and the experiences teachers provide for students. Learning opportunities should facilitate the development of process skills and concepts, as the students' abilities to observe and communicate observations improve. Kindergarten, first, and second grade students can begin to understand what science is, who does science, and how scientists work through classroom activities, stories about scientists, and class discussions.

Although kindergarten students wonder about their world, they need their teacher to model the formulation and verbalization of questions — followed by many opportunities to practice these skills. They will also need guidance through appropriate questioning strategies to gather evidence and formulate explanations. Teachers should provide kindergartners with many opportunities to make observations with all their senses, to look for patterns in what they observe, and to share with others what they did and what they learned from their observations. Kindergartners can be introduced to the idea that lots of different sorts of people do science and can begin to learn how scientists work by hearing age-appropriate stories about scientists. A foundation for understanding the nature and process of science can be initiated by discussing and comparing what the scientists in the stories did with what the students do in their own classroom investigations.

First graders are able to formulate, verbalize, and write their questions. They can investigate questions and gather evidence through observations. Their observations are becoming more detailed and relevant to the question at hand. First graders can record data from their observations and from their expanding range of experiences. They should be provided with opportunities to practice these skills through classroom investigations in which they look at evidence and notice patterns. Class discussions to share evidence and ideas should accompany the investigations so that students can employ their emerging ability to revise ideas based upon new evidence. Stories about scientists can help first graders learn that scientists are creative and curious — and that they work together and share ideas. Through expository literature, students can also learn that anyone can do science.

Students in second grade are developing the ability to design and conduct investigations to answer the questions they pose. They should be encouraged to draw what they observe and to communicate their thinking based upon their observations. They should have guidance in using their observations to construct reasonable explanations to answer the questions they asked. Reading and discussing stories about what science is, who does science, and how science works are effective strategies for making second graders aware of the nature and process of science — and can also help introduce new scientific concepts.


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

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