At the end of the school year, there are certain conceptual understandings that we want our students to have. Achieving these learning goals lays the groundwork for more sophisticated understandings as students proceed through their learning experiences. Furthermore, developing instruction around particular learning goals can increase the effectiveness of instruction by helping instructors focus on what they really want students to understand. The Understanding Science Conceptual Framework is an effective tool for identifying a sequence of age-appropriate conceptual understandings (K-16) to guide your teaching. See the complete conceptual framework for all grade levels.
The conceptual framework is aligned with the 2012 Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In the concepts below, conceptual alignment is indicated by a code that follows each aligned concept. For example, P3 indicates correspondence to “Planning and carrying out investigations,” the third of eight Science and Engineering Practices listed in those documents, and NOS2 indicates correspondence to the second concept outlined in NGSS’s appendix on the nature of science, “Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence.” Read more about Understanding Science and the NGSS/Framework alignment.
The Understanding Science Framework for these grade levels is divided into seven strands:
What is science | How science works | Hypotheses and theories | The social side of science | Science and society | What has science done for you lately | A scientific approach to life
What is science: concepts for 9-12
- Science is both a body of knowledge and the process for building that knowledge. NOS5 (See lessons)
- Science aims to build explanations of the natural world. P3, P6 (See lessons)
- Science focuses on natural phenomena and processes. (See lessons)
- Science works only with testable ideas. P2, P3, NOS2 (See lessons)
- Moral judgments, aesthetic judgments, decisions about applications of science, and conclusions about the supernatural are outside the realm of science. NOS8
- Scientists strive to test their ideas with evidence from the natural world; a hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing. P3, P4, P6, P7, NOS2 (See lessons)
- Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as new ideas surface and new evidence is discovered. P4, P6, NOS3 (See lessons)
- Scientific ideas cannot be absolutely proven. (See lessons)
- Because it has been tested, scientific knowledge is reliable. NOS3 (See lessons)
- Science is ongoing; answering one scientific question frequently leads to additional questions to be investigated. P1 (See lessons)
How science works: concepts for 9-12
- The real process of science is complex, iterative, and can take many different paths. (See lessons)
- The process of science involves observation, exploration, testing, communication, and application. (See lessons)
- Scientific observations can be made directly with our own senses or may be made indirectly through the use of tools. (See lessons)
- Scientists test their ideas (hypotheses and theories) by figuring out what expectations are generated by an idea and making observations to find out whether those expectations are borne out. P4, P6 (See lessons)
- Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable. (See lessons)
- Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence. P6, NOS2 (See lessons)
- Scientists often try to generate multiple explanations for what they observe. P7 (See lessons)
- Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observations, comparisons, and modeling) to collect evidence. P2, P3, P4, NOS1 (See lessons)
- Scientists look for patterns in their observations and data. P4, P5, NOS2 (See lessons)
- Raw data must be analyzed and interpreted before we can tell whether a scientific idea is likely to be accurate or inaccurate. P4, P5 (See lessons)
- Analysis of data usually involves putting data into a more easily accessible format (visualization, tabulation, or quantification of qualitative data). P4, P5 (See lessons)
- Scientists try to be objective and work to identify and avoid bias. (See lessons)
- Different scientists may interpret the same data in different ways. P7 (See lessons)
- Researchers share their findings with the scientific community through scientific publications. P8 (See lessons)
- Scientists aim for their studies to be replicable. (See lessons)
- When a study of a phenomenon cannot be replicated, it may suggest that our current understanding of the phenomenon or our methods of testing are insufficient.
Hypotheses and theories: concepts for 9-12
- Hypotheses are proposed explanations for a narrow set of phenomena. P6 (See lessons)
- Hypotheses are usually inspired and informed by previous research and/or observations. They are not guesses. P6 (See lessons)
- Theories are powerful explanations for a wide range of phenomena. P6, NOS4 (See lessons)
- Accepted scientific theories are not tenuous; they must survive rigorous testing and be supported by multiple lines of evidence to be accepted. P6, NOS2, NOS4 (See lessons)
The social side of science: concepts for 9-12
- Science depends on communication within the scientific community. P7, P8 (See lessons)
- Scientists usually work collaboratively. NOS7 (See lessons)
- Scientists scrutinize each other’s work through peer review and other processes. P7, NOS5 (See lessons)
- Through a system of checks and balances (which includes peer review), the scientific community helps ensure science’s accuracy and helps detect bias, fraud, and misconduct. P7, NOS5 (See lessons)
- Science relies on the accumulated knowledge of the scientific community to move forward. NOS5 (See lessons)
- The scientific community is global and diverse. NOS7 (See lessons)
- The diversity of the scientific community helps facilitate specialization and provides different points of view that invigorate problem solving and balance biases.
- Scientists are influenced by their personal experiences and cultures. NOS7 (See lessons)
- Anyone can participate in science, but the pursuit of science as a career often requires extensive formal training. (See lessons)
- Scientists are creative. NOS7 (See lessons)
Science and society: concepts for 9-12
- Science is embedded in, and influenced by, the broader society. NOS7 (See lessons)
- Scientific research is often focused on topics with the potential to help meet societal needs.
What has science done for you lately: concepts for 9-12
- Science builds knowledge about the world, but people decide how that knowledge should be used. NOS8
- Science contributes to many different sorts of new technologies.
- Advances in science often drive technological innovations, which may, in turn, contribute to new scientific discoveries. NOS7
- Scientific knowledge and research have led to many medical advances.
- Scientific knowledge helps us make decisions that affect our lives every day. (See lessons)
- Scientific knowledge informs public policies and regulations that promote our health, safety, and environmental stewardship.
A scientific approach to life: concepts for 9-12
- Problem-solving and decision-making benefit from a scientific approach. (See lessons)
- Controversies about the ethicality of particular scientific methods or about the applications of scientific ideas may occur within the broader society, but do not necessarily represent a rift in science. NOS8